REVIEW: ‘Dune’ Is a Visual Spectacle, but Hints at a More Intriguing Story

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Dune

Dune is directed by Denis Villeneuve and co-written by Villeneuve with Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Frank Herbert. Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) has been having recurring dreams of the planet Arrakis and a mysterious girl (Zendaya) who lives there, along with a holy war that spans the universe. Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Issac), is assigned fiefdom over Arrakis to harvest its “spice”—a substance that increases human vitality and allows pilots to navigate the universe. House Harkonnen, who previously held dominion over Arrakis, plots the downfall of House Atreides while Paul and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) encounter the Arrakis natives known as the Fremen.

Dune is not only known as one of the most influential novels in the science fiction genre, but it’s also been notoriously difficult to adapt. Alejandro Jodorowsky attempted to make a film adaptation of Dune in the 1970s, but the production fell apart. Other filmmakers, most notably David Lynch, have given their own take on the novel over the years, but Villeneuve’s is arguably the most faithful to the source material. That is partly due to Villeneuve’s decision to split the book into two parts to capture the novel’s events fully. However, this has the unexpected side effect of making the film feel like the buildup to far more interesting events—it literally ends as one character says, “this is only the beginning.” Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson was able to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels into full-fledged films; I think that with a bit of tweaking, Villeneuve could have easily made a three-hour cut of Dune. (Especially since he’s on record saying that the second part depends on the first’s box office returns.)

There’s also the matter of culture to consider, particularly MENA culture, as the Fremen are inspired by Arab culture. Though Villeneuve is on record saying that he didn’t want Dune to be interpreted as a white savior story, I feel that it would have made more of an impact if the Fremen themselves were portrayed by actors of MENA descent. David Dastmalchain, who actually is of Iranian descent, has a woefully small role as the ghoulish Piter de Vries-the right-hand man to Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård). And while I admire Javier Bardem’s performances, he’s about as Arab as I am. Villeneuve has said that Dune is a passion project, so it’s strange that he hadn’t taken this into consideration.

I will give Villeneuve this: he knows how to make a visual masterpiece. Cinematographer Greig Fraser shoots some stunning images: a massive spaceship rises from the waters of Caladan, where House Atreides makes its home. Golden rays of sunlight fall on the sandy dunes of Arrakis. A trail of missiles leaves fiery orange trails in their wake as they descend upon the ground and consume ships in a gulf of flame. Villeneuve also approaches Dune the same way he did with previous films, including Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival; he takes his time and lets the scenery wash over the audience, immersing them in the world. This is the right approach to take with a book like Dune, which was packed with paragraphs full of description.

The film also boasts one of the most star-studded casts in recent memory. Chalamet is a solid presence as Paul but ends up being outshined by many of his co-stars, including Issac, who shifts from parental pride to righteous fury with ease. The standouts of the cast are Jason Momoa as swordmaster Duncan Idaho and Josh Brolin as weapons master Gurney Halleck. Momoa’s boundless charm makes Idaho one of the most interesting characters in the film, and Brolin brings his trademark intensity to bear when Gurney and Paul engage in sparring matches. Ferguson is also a compelling presence in the movie, as it’s revealed that Jessica is part of the Gene Besserit—a secret society comprised of women who hold designs on the shape of the universe. And Dave Bautista is pure nightmare fuel as Harkonnen’s nephew Rabban, a hulking albino behemoth who is chomping at the bit to slaughter his uncle’s enemies.

Dune is a visual marvel and boasts a star-studded cast, but splitting the book into two films leads to what is essentially an extended prologue. Should Dune: Part Two be greenlit, it will contain the most exciting sequences in the book and will hopefully be worth the wait.

Dune is currently playing in theaters nationwide and will be available to stream on HBO Max through November 21.


Dune
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Dune is a visual marvel and boasts a star-studded cast, but splitting the book into two films leads to what is essentially an extended prologue. Should Dune: Part Two be greenlit, it will contain the most exciting sequences in the book and will hopefully be worth the wait.