Frank Herbert’s Dune is not exactly best built for being turned into a film. The novel is dense with world-building that is compatible with Lord of the Rings in its terminology and epic nature. The story has led to one unsuccessful movie attempt in the 1970s and a mixed-bag adaptation in the 1980s.
Now director Denis Villeneuve takes a whack at the material. He’s an ample choice given his work on harder sci-fi such as Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. So it should come as little surprise that he understands this material enough to deliver one amazing picture.
Eyes on Arrakis
Villeneuve makes the smart choice in not overloading his film with exposition. There’s less time wasted on trying to explain the specifics of the Spacing Guild and Bene Gesserit. There’s enough faith placed in the direction to make this story easy enough to pick up as you go.
The story itself is not all that intimidating. The opening narration by Chani (Zendaya) sets the stage well. Arrakis is a planet that has been colonized for its resources and its people ravaged by war.
Arrakis used to be mined by the ruthless Harkonnen Empire. The Spacing Guild, however, transferred that power to House Atreides of the planet Caladan. The Atreides have a much different view of this desert planet.
A Dark Prophecy
He views himself as learning the ways of the native Fremen. He also watches as those closest to him die in a horrific tragedy, including his best friend and swordmaster Duncan (Jason Mamoa). There’s a fear of the future he feels he cannot change.
Another issue is that Paul is the daughter of Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), a member of the Bene Gesserit. The Bene Gesserit are a collective of witches with the power to manipulate with their powerful voices. Jessica believes that Paul is not only capable of this, despite being a man, but that he may also be a chosen one of her people.
The Awe of Arrakis
Paul’s trip to Arrakis is kept dark but also atmospherically epic. House Atreides occupies a kingdom of the planet that is a mix of both ancient structures and richly royal. Everything from the stone walls to the decadent tapestries evokes just the right mood of prestige and darkness.
There’s also a grandness to just about everything. I particularly dug how intimidating the sandworms appear. The teeth are the most visible aspects of these towering beasts who consume all beneath the sand.
One of the most exciting scenes features Paul and Leto attempting to save a Sandcrawler team from a worm. They narrowly escape before the ground is swallowed. The first glimpse of a sandworm is truly terrifying with its scale.
The Perfect Cast
As you may have noticed from the credits, Dune has an incredible ensemble cast. The aforementioned roles are all great. Momoa brings his usual smirk for action and Isaac gives off powerful leadership vibes.
But the supporting roles are perhaps even more intriguing. Josh Brolin is perfectly in his element as the short-fused and brave weapons expert Gurney. Stellan Skarsgård looms with a powerful presence as the evil and conspiring Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.
Javier Bardem is a real treat as the stoic Fremen leader, Stillgar. Dave Bautista is the muscle with anger as the Baron’s nephew, Rabban. I’ve also gotta give it up for David Dastmalchian doing a flawless interpretation of Piter, the Baron’s advisor and Mentat.
For someone not familiar with the books, there’s likely a lot of questions. For instance, what’s a Mentat? What’s the deal with the Spacing Guild? Why do the Shadakur want to wipe out House Atreides?
While complex at first, Denis Villeneuve has enough faith in the viewer to pick up the material as the story progresses. This is reflected in how he lifts dialogue sparingly from the book.
It’s a far cry from the David Lynch film that slowed down too much to explain itself. Villeneuve’s film is not only free of that but also the direct narration of the characters. Pay attention and you’ll be fine.
As a fan of the books, I really dug the way Denis dices Dune into his own film. The reveal of Doctor Yueh (Chang Chen) is rather unique in how his intentions are kept more aloof. It’s a great surprise for the tragedy that follows.
The Gom Jabbar sequence, where Paul is tested with pain by the Bene Gesserit, also has its own style. This scene occurs fairly early in the book but Denis still keeps it after more of an intro to Paul. It’s similarly paced to the 1984 film.
Speaking of the 1984 Dune movie, this 21st-century adaptation takes hints of inspiration from Lynch’s film. It’s not just in the pacing or even the staging of the characters. It’s the technical aspects as well.
The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer has shades of the score Toto had previously produced. There’s a sweeping epicness to the music but also a bigger Middle Eastern inspiration. It’s a great mixture of adventure, sadness, and surreality all at once.
Not the Whole Story
The full title of this film, revealed in the beginning, is Dune Part One. Thankfully, there is a Dune Part 2 on the way. As the name implies, though, you’re only getting half the book.
This may be frustrating for some but it’s a smart choice to dice up this dense novel. There’s a lot of ground to cover in this epic and it needs room to breathe. This picture also cuts off at just the right point where time is required to pass.
Everything about this interpretation of Dune is stellar. The atmosphere is perfect, the casting astounding, and the whole experience is certainly one you won’t forget. It’s every bit the escape I expected from Denis and his powerful direction.
The film was made available on both HBO Max and in theaters. I saw it in the theater and there’s nothing quite like it. It’s another rousing reminder of just what makes the movie theater such an exciting experience. This is the best iteration of Dune to date.
What did you think of Dune? Did you see it in theaters or watch it on HBO Max? How does it compare to other fantasy epics such as Shang-Chi? Let us know in the comments below.
An entrancing sci-fi epic that does justice to the original novel with amazing VFX and a strong ensemble cast.
- Perfect tone that replicates the feel of the book.
- Top notch casting.
- Visually stunning sets and effects.
- Only half the book.
- Not all characters are present.