Denis Villeneuve brings Frank Herbert’s Dune to the big screen with a film that must be experienced on the biggest screen possible.
I’m going to be honest that this review took me a bit longer to write. This is not so much because I had the trouble finding the words but because a Ted Sarandos-triggered depression has been kicking my ass since the screening ended. Wednesday was slightly better but at some point, I have to put words to screen.
There’s a lot to be said about Dune. The question is what hasn’t been said by now. For this film in particular, you’ve probably already made up your mind. You’re either the person tweeting non-stop about the greatness that is Dune or you’re not. I went into this film with an open mind. Didn’t read the book. Didn’t watch the earlier David Lynch film. I’ll do me and you do you.
The story of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) falls along the traditional hero’s journey during a galactic struggle for power. In order to see the survival of his family and people, he has to take a journey to the most dangerous planet that exists. There’s more to his story but things unfold little by little. He has a way of seeing events happening in the future (The Force, anyone?). But almost as soon as they arrive on the planet, things soon take a turn for the worse.
Paul is the son of Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), a Bene Gesserit. It’s fate that has taken his family to the planet of Arrakis in their bid to control the Spice. Everyone wants it including the House of Harkonnen. But getting the Spice comes with it’s own costs–a trap put in place by the very Emperor who sends them there. For one, there’s the indigenous natives of Arrakis known as Fremen. One of which is Chani (Zendaya), who Paul keeps getting visions of. The House of Atreides only knows them as Dune. And then there are the sandstorms and sandworms.
Frank Herbert’s story has a lot going for it. It’s a coming-of-age tale with a backdrop set against rivalries, tribal clashes, social oppression, and ecological disaster. You have both a father-and-son and mother-and-son story at the heart of it. This type of story is bigger than just science-fiction. While sci-fi may be what drives this film, the story itself could be in any genre. At the same time, there’s so much story to tell that it cannot be told in just one film. You cannot blame filmmakers for finding a way to retell the story in their own words and under a different title! This is a story that is so relatable. The book was released in 1965 so yes, it came before Star Wars. More on this in a moment.
During the film’s final half hour, you get a sense that this half of the story is coming to an end. But at the same time, you also know you’re going to be waiting a bit for the second half. It’s a big screen spectacle and it shows all throughout from the cinematography through the visual effects. Both aspects are astonishing. And again, you need to experience it on the big screen. Like I told the local rep following the screening, I could not imagine my first viewing being on HBO Max. I understand why someone would go that route especially with safety precautions. This film is over two and half hours so I can understand the need to be extra precautious. But if it is at all possible, please see it on the big screen. Note: the studio is not paying me to say this–I’m stressing it myself.
Behind the scenes, Denis Villeneuve reteams with a number of department heads including editor Joe Walker and and composer Hans Zimmer. Hans Zimmer can do no wrong. He is one of the masters at his craft! But when it comes to Walker, this film is very different than Widows. Cinematographer Greig Fraser collaborates with the filmmaker for the first time. The work is simply astonishing. It is a spectacle to behold! The sets are especially magnificent. It is hard to watch this film and not appreciate the technical achievements. There are so many across the board!
While watching the film, I had a few thoughts. How much of Star Wars was influenced by Herbert’s novel? Also, there’s quite a few Marvel Cinematic Universe cast members in the movie! But back to Star Wars, it is very easy to see where George Lucas draws on the novel’s story for the saga. There’s a lot of good vs. light so to speak. Let alone the idea that Paul Atreides has a destiny that not even he understands! At one point, you don’t know if it’s Anakin Skywalker or his son, Luke Skywalker. But unlike Star Wars, this film doesn’t have a definitive ending. It’s only telling part one of a two-part story.
Watch Dune on the big screen. You will not regret it!
DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve
SCREENWRITERS: Jon Spaihts and Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth
CAST: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, David Dastmalchian, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, with Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem