DUNE is, in a single word, mesmerizing. Telling the story of Paul Atreides, the heir to a noble house in the Imperium who find themselves gifted Arrakis – the only planet in the universe where the coveted spice is found. Spice is the substance that makes travel possible for the Imperium, without it the empire wouldn’t function. He who controls the spice, controls the universe. This doesn’t sit well with House Atreides enemies House Harkonnen, the previous ‘stewards’ of Arrakis and they aren’t going to let it slide. What unfolds will change the universe… just maybe not in this first part.
Director Denis Villeneuve has assembled an absolutely stacked cast and crew to adapt one of the most important works of sci-fi ever. And it’s a daunting property at that having already had one film adaptation largely regarded as a disaster, and a 2000’s Sci-Fi Channel miniseries. Both attempted to translate Frank Herbert’s massive work into something new yet true – to mixed results. But Denis Villeneuve knows how to go massive. Huge in scale and scope, DUNE is a story about warring noble houses ruling planets across a vast Imperium populated by space witches, ultimate space warriors, super-brained human computers, and of course, giant sandworms.
The cast is filled with amazing performances. Oscar Isaac as the charming, kind, and inspiring Duke Leto. Josh Brolin as the hardened warmaster who loves a bit of poetry, between gritted teeth, Gurney Halleck. Rebecca Ferguson as the mysterious, powerful, and loving Lady Jessica. And of course, the star himself Timothée Chalamet as Paul. Timothée delivers a perfectly tuned performance of a young man who has been raised for a higher purpose but isn’t ready for that responsibility and that change. he is moody and self-reflective, but he is young and hopeful. Paul knows something is changing something is up, but he doesn’t want it to be, not yet. His scenes with Duncan Idaho, played with charm and ferocity in equal measure by Jason Momoa, show him as all of that and more as he vacillates between wanting to be on the leading scout mission and jumping into Duncan’s arms when he sees him again. Paul is young but thoughtful, worried but eager — plagued by dreams and fear, but he must not fear…
Let’s talk about the world-building we get on screen. Stunning! These worlds, these people, these ships, everything looks so good. The scale of everything is something I’m not sure we’ve ever seen before, not even in Star Wars. It’s literally awesome the size of these ships in orbit or landing near our characters or taking off – everything is so gargantuan it feels impossibly large next to our character. And yet it is as it should be! These things should feel giant, oppressive, and terrifying, it’s an incredible galaxy-spanning Imperium! DUNE delivers. The cities, machinery, everything is brutal and massive.
And it’s not just about what you see, it’s about what you feel. DUNE is so atmospheric, every scene has something that evokes more than a simple steel wall or starfield. Scenes with Paul and Lady Jessica in mist, desert sand storms that whip about obscuring all vision, darkness, rich artwork. It all feels so unique from other science fiction. Let’s not forget to mention the music, my god the music! The drums, the ululating, it is LOUD and it enhances the atmosphere incredibly. It speaks to something deeper in you, echoing this prophecy that is spread throughout the culture of the DUNE universe, specifically in the Fremen. It feels spiritual and powerful and parallels the visions and experiences of Paul as well as the signs others see in him.
All of this does come with one big caveat that has to be mentioned – DUNE tells only half a story. While the marketing doesn’t do a great job of setting this up (it does say ‘IT BEGINS’ on the poster) the movie announces itself with a title card as DUNE: PART ONE and it really is just that. There isn’t a satisfying ending to be had here because we’re only getting half the story. Should the movie do well enough – and I have to believe it must, we’ll get a part two, and together the 5 or 6-hour DUNE will no doubt be one of the best films ever made. For now, however, it is incomplete, if hopeful. The stage has been set, the pieces maneuvered into places – now it’s time to see it come to fruition.
Just remember, Fellowship of the Ring was just the first part of The Lord of the Rings and it ended with much to go – of course, New Line had The Two Towers and Return of the King on the calendar, Warner Bros. is walking a more nerve-wracking path. Just so long as they walk without rhythm!
Denis is totally correct here this movie has to be seen on the biggest screen possible with the loudsest sound system out there. Watching it at home on your flat screen just isn’t going to do it justice. Your home isn’t going to be loud enough for this movie, it’s not big enough for the ships! For later viewings, absolutely but unlike certain other filmmakers who have been vocally opposed to WB’s HBOMax deal, Villeneuve is entirely correct about what is needed for this movie that first go around, especially taking into account that it is just half the story. Seeing it in anything less would be doing the movie and the viewer a disservice. For me, a longtime fan of both the filmmaker, the novels, and all of the cast involved DUNE is an achievement!
Dune is in theaters and HBOMax October 22nd.