WARNER BROS. PICTURES (2021)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem
Fear is the mind killer.
When a movie such as Dune is released, there is always the fear that it could be a crushing disappointment. You have all the required ingredients – lore-heavy source material, a visionary director, a cast bursting at the seams with talent, Hans Zimmer (!), and even a dodgy David Lynch version - but, like any good cake, you have to combine those ingredients perfectly to achieve the calorific goodness that is so desired.
Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel had previously been labeled ‘unadaptable’ and Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049, Arrival) was tasked with achieving the apparently impossible job of bringing the story to the big screen. Villeneuve’s studious approach seemed a perfect fit, especially given his stellar work on 2049, and he proved to be more than up to the task here – Dune is a wonderfully realized, huge-scale epic.
The exalted House Atreides, led by Duke Leto (Isaac), is forced into war for the rulership of the planet of Arrakis against the fearsome House Harkonnen and the native Fremen. The seemingly barren planet is the only source of the powerful drug known as 'spice' (or melange) - a drug that gifts elevated powers of the mind, elongated life, and the promise of great wealth – and the mysterious Emperor has nefarious designs for the planet and the destruction of House Atreides. Leto’s Bene Gesserit (a sisterhood that trains their minds to achieve superhuman telekinetic abilities) partner Lady Jessica (Ferguson) and son Paul (Chalamet) accompany him; however, Paul has been suffering from dreams of a girl on Arrakis and troubling visions of a dangerous future that could threaten the existence of House Atreides and alter the direction of what lies ahead.
That’s fairly top-level in terms of the plot of Dune. A complex layer of subplots and narrative strands permeate the story in a way that may not be wholly accessible to some – Dune is loaded with lore, exposition, and unapologetically heavy dialogue that requires the viewer's full attention but also negates the need to have read the book beforehand. Additionally, for the most part, the movie is played fairly straight in terms of tone – a few quips here and there aside – which adds to the feeling that Dune may not be to everyone’s tastes (it clearly appealed to a certain Mr. George Lucas, mind...)
The story carries a lingering air of dread as the unavoidable threat of war and destruction is on the horizon - something that Duke Leto is extremely aware of. The trap has been sprung and House Atreides are just pawns and players in the deadly game. The ramifications and fallout from the major events further fuel the sprawling narrative leading to a conclusion that will leave you wanting more in the best way and the frequent, beautiful dream sequences including Zendaya’s Chani sprinkle an additional layer of mystery and intrigue to the overall plot. House Harkonnen is immediately presented as nothing short of devastating and their threat and power are established from the outset (Skarsgård as the Baron is deliciously menacing and vile) whilst the Fremen’s equivocating nature adds another source of question and intrigue.
Despite the resolute tone and approach, Dune saunters along at a consistent pace. Villeneuve never lingers for too long on the smaller, introspective moments nor does he extend the crunching action to unnecessary levels. Crucially, we’re afforded time with the characters, we get to know their motivations, strengths, and weaknesses alongside their place within the wider story - with such a vast ensemble, this is quite the feat. As a collective, the cast of Dune is superb. As a focal point, Chalamet displays the naivety, vulnerability, and self-doubt of Paul Atreides and the growth of the character is delivered wonderfully. Ferguson too is excellent as the conflicted partner, mother, and sister who carries a large air of ambiguity throughout. There really are no weak performances (yes, that includes Bautista too) and the star-studded cast delivers.
Alongside DoP Greig Fraser (Rogue One, Lion), Villeneuve has crafted an expansive, sweeping, and grand affair that captures the extensive scope of the story in the most cerebral and striking of ways. The shifting palettes on display are dazzling and the scale of locations, ships, and battles are presented in a majestic, looming fashion that leaves no doubt as to the grandeur and vastness of the world, and, indeed, the production itself. The sound design is similarly well-executed especially within the chaotic action sequences that fizzle with explosions, fire, and DEATH.
As the title card confirms, this is just Dune: Part One, approximately the first half of Herbert’s novel. Box office returns and streaming figures will ultimately determine whether we see the culmination of the story (of course we will...surely?) but I would've gladly watched more of Part One such was its quality. The sheer magnitude of Dune demands a follow-up and Villeneuve deserves the opportunity to complete the story – the combination of director and source material is perfect and there isn’t a director working today that could’ve taken on the task and delivered such a spectacular result. Dune is epic, bold, and breathtaking. This is awe-inspiring sci-fi at its best and the new benchmark.
October 18th 2021