Synopsis – Feature adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel, about the son of a noble family entrusted with the protection of the most valuable asset and most vital element in the galaxy.
My Take – With films like Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2013), Sicario (2015), Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017) behind him, director Denis Villeneuve has already quite well proven that he is a brilliant filmmaker, one of the best of this generation, and probably may go down as one of the best of all time. Hence it made complete sense when he picked up to write, produced and direct the constantly deemed impossible to adapt Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel Dune as his next project.
Cited as the world’s best-selling science fiction novel, over the years, the series has been widely influential, inspiring numerous novels, music, films, television, games, and comic books, with numerous works such as Star Wars owing their existence to Dune. And ever since the release of director David Lynch’s 1984 troubled box office bomb feature, an un-materialized version from director Alejandro Jodorowsky, a flawed 2000 TV miniseries, and Paramount Pictures‘ 2008 attempt with Peter Berg attached to direct, fans of the acclaimed novel (and the continuing series) have been clamoring to see a faithful adaption on the big screen.
So it should not come as a surprise that director Villeneuve, backed by a stellar cast and a team of well qualified creatives, delivers on point, what might be one of the visually most impressive films of the genre so far. Acting as first chapter of a two-part adaptation, the film is just as enthralling, epic and stunning as fans have always hoped for.
Though the film’s 155-minute run time and the cliff hanger ending may act as a deterrent to the general audience or especially those not familiar with books, however, anyone who loves the template or has the patience to slowly be introduced to a new science fiction world supported by adrenaline-filled scenes teamed and Hans Zimmer’s omnipresent, bombastic score, will definitely appreciate the effort. It’s most definitively made for the big screen, absolutely no doubt about that.
Set in AD 10,191 in a universe ruled by an interstellar empire in which noble houses fight to control planetary estates, the story follows Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the ducal heir of House Atreides led by his father Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), who has been plagued by visions of a mysterious Fremen girl (Zendaya), and is struggling to comprehend the meaning behind it, even with the help of his mother the mystical Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). And when Duke Leto, who has been governing planet Caladan all this years, is tasked by the Emperor to move and administer Arrakis, an inhospitable desert planet abundant in spice, a mind-altering substance that is crucial for interstellar travel, Paul believes this to be a path to decode his visions.
While both Duke Leto and Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), the weapons master of House Atreides and one of Paul’s mentors, believe this to be a trap, since the planet’s previous ruler Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard) of House Harkonnen, sworn enemy to House Atreides, are not pleased with this development, they accept in order to develop an alliance with the planets residents, the Fremens led by Stilgar (Javier Bardem). However when a coup takes place, Paul, in which the Fremen at court see the Messiah promised to them from outside their world, and Jessica are forced to flee into the relentless desert made treacherous by the presence of gigantic, territorial sandworms.
Though the set-up is effective, the film doesn’t even begin to describe the complexities of the book‘s universe, a world made of a myriad of characters and exploring many themes, from religion and politics to environmental change, all while following a young man’s journey of discovery of his own identity, and a quest to fulfill his destiny that sees him battling against powerful, unknown forces.
But what’s really impressive about the film is that it’s surprisingly easy to follow as co-writers Denis Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth keep things simple and cleverly weave information into the narrative in a way that ensures even non-readers are also immediately able to grasp the essential facts necessary to know about a world that never fails to be absorbing and intriguing, as there’s just as much mystery and action to keep us entertained throughout.
In fact, it’s easy not to notice that the film is nearly three hours long, as it’s so effortless to get drawn into an utterly fascinating world we can’t wait to explore, made all the more compelling by the film’s sound design and cinematography, as well as a series of memorable performances that will have your eyes glued to the screen. It also helps that director Villeneuve makes the film epic is every way possible. Its grand production design and world-building take ones’ breathe away from the first glimpse of the desolated planet.
The Harkonnens’ attack on Arrakis is also a prime example, as is the scene in which Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), the sword master of House Atreides and also one of Paul’s mentors, manages to dispatch half a dozen enemies with relative ease despite a serious stab wound to the chest. The visual effects are jarring and completely emerge into the real set pieces to make a realistic depiction of a future world. Costumes and make-up are creatively put together and adapts an impossible atmosphere to the story. This one is no doubt a stunning-looking film.
Sure, it can be very frustrating to get invested in a story that ultimately leaves you with no answers and no real resolution. Only time will tell what it will look like as whole and whether or not we will get part two of the story, however that does not discount the film for what it is a faithful to the source material that also acts an immersive, epic cinematic journey that will leave you aching for more.
Performances wise, Timothée Chalamet successfully embodies a young man hesitantly embracing the perils and the responsibilities of adulthood. As the lead, Chalamet, does an amazing job portraying this ambiguous hero. Rebecca Ferguson delivers a quieter yet powerful performance. Sharing many scenes together, Chalamet and Ferguson complement each other perfectly, and the chemistry between them is undeniable.
Oscar Isaac is admiral as Duke Leto, while Stellan Skarsgård brilliantly portrays Baron Vladimir’s greed and pure evil. Sharon Duncan-Brewster is a pure stand out. Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa and Chang Chen, have small roles, but leave a big impact. Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista and Zendaya don’t get much opportunity to do in roles which will expand in the second film. In other roles, Charlotte Rampling, David Dastmalchian, Stephen McKinley Henderson are also good. On the whole, ‘Dune’ is an immersive cinematic epic that is technically flawless and requires to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Directed – Denis Villeneuve
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 155 minutes