Film Review: Dune
Director: Denis Villeneuve
In Theaters and Streaming on HBO MAX 10.22
There have been a lot of highly anticipated holdovers from 2020 coming to the big screen of late, but perhaps none is quite as highly anticipated, and certainly none quite as spectacularly in need of the biggest screen possible, as Dune, director Denis Villenueve’s epic adaptionaton of Frank Herbert’s seminal science fiction novel. But is it the predestined box office savior that has been prophesied?
Dune takes place in the year 10,191. Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac, the Star Wars sequels, The Card Counter) is assigned stewardship over the desert planet Arrakis by the Emperor of the Known Universe. Arrrakis, also known as “Dune,” is the only source of the valuable substance melange, a spice that extends human life, provides superhuman levels of thought, makes faster-than-light travel possible and tastes divine on a rotisserie chicken.
Though Leto knows the opportunity is an intricate trap set by his enemies, he takes his heir, Paul (Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Namee, Little Women) and Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson, the Mission: Impossible films, Doctor Sleep) to Arrakis, where the Duke takes control of the perilous spice-mining operation. Meanwhile, Paul, taught the ways of the ancient order of theologian women known as Bene Gessirit by Jessica, begins to have visions about Arrakis and about the planet’s native Fremen.
Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) is the perfect choice to do Dune to put right what David Lynch once made wrong, right to the big screen, with much of the film shot using IMAX cameras It’s an awe-inspiring visual feast that is likely to sweep the technical and design Oscars—the desert hasn’t looked this gorgeously cinematic since Lawrence of Arabia. In terms of storytelling, Dune is made as easy to follow as can be expected without dumbing things down, but a certain familiarity with the source material is helpful. The deliberate pacing and the slightly detached feel adds to Paul’s feelings of being unsure where he belongs and felt very motivated to me.
If anything, I left Dune the same way I did with The Fellowship of the Ring, thinking that all I needed was a bathroom break and was ready for the second part. And therein lies the one big concern: the opening title identifies the film as Dune: Part One, and the movie is very definitely only the beginning of the story, but no part two has yet been made, so this one had better be a big hit.
The acting is spot on, and I can’t picture anyone else but Chalamet in the role of Paul, who was doing the whole “Chosen one” thing long before Neo or any of the Skywalkers, and Chalamert brings his patented mixture of youthful naivete and ageless wisdom to the film. Ferguson and Isaac bring a powerful presence, and Josh Brolin is excellent as Gurney Halleck, the career soldier and Warmaster to House Atreides. Jason Mamoa (Aquaman) may be a limited actor, but he’s well-cast as Duncan Idaho, soldier and right hand man to the Duke, and Javier Bardem practically steals the film as Stilgar, the leader of a Fremen tribe. But those coming primed to see Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Dave Bautista (Guardians in the Galaxy) will likely be disappointed by their almost shocking lack of screen time, but hopefully they will be so distracted by just how much Stellan Skarsgård (Good Will Hunting) in his heavy prosthetics and bodysuit bring to mind the episode of The Simpsons where Homer hatches a plot to work from home and starts wearing a mumu that they get passed it. Moreover, fans of super-composer Hans Zimmer are really in for a treat.
Dune is one of my favorites of the year and a triumph for sci-fi fans, but it’s a movie aimed at a specific audience, and will play best to those who geek out to 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Empire Strikes Back with equal gusto, and enjoy the cerebral as much as they do blockbuster action. Dune is an epic adventure for the hardcore science-fiction crowd and will play very well to fans of the books. While it does have some ability to cross over to mainstream audiences, it definitely takes a certain amount of patience, and if you’re worried this isn’t for you—especially if you didn’t like the book—then you are probably right. –Patrick Gibbs