Movie Review: Dune

Dune (2021)

Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Zendaya

Directed By: Denis Villeneuve

Frank Hebert’s sci-fi epic Dune has long believed to be unfilmable, and judging from the previous David Lynch and Syfy channel original attempts, they were right. But after doing the impossible with Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villenueve has staked his claim in a property even loftier than the Blade Runner universe. Hebert’s original novel is a densely packed tale of greed, legacy, power, and revenge, so big that Villenueve has made it publicly known that this film is only going to cover the first half of the novel (the title screen even refers to the film as Dune: Part One). It’s a risky gamble even without the box office slowly recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic (once again, please get vaccinated if you have yet to do so), the chief gamble being if Villenueve can even make the original text something that the average moviegoer can digest.

Like the source material, Dune is a dense story. It’s so chock full of characters, locations, and numerous space jargon and lore that it’s overwhelming at times, even if you’ve read the book or seen previous adaptations. Yet amazingly, Villenueve has crafted something digestible, even if it’s a very filling meal. Dune is worthy of repeat viewings (one of the reasons why I’m happy it’s also on HBO Max), as it slowly pulls you into the story of Paul Atreides and his family’s journey to Arrakis.

Covering roughly the first half of the book, Dune tells the story of House Atreides, consisting of Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and Paul (Timothee Chalamet), who have just been reassigned to govern the planet Arrakis by the mysterious Emperor. Formerly under the control of the brutal Harkonnens (run by a grotesque Stellan Skaarsgard), Arrakis is the sole provider of “spice”, a special mineral that essentially powers the galaxy. Able to power spaceships, prolong life, and enhance the abilities of those not used to it, the planet is a boon for anyone who is powerful and crafty enough to tame it. Of course, things don’t go well as the new stewards of Arrakis find that they are not only facing trouble from the native Freman, but also from the Harkonnens themselves, who are not entirely pleased that they are no longer in charge of the cash cow of a planet.

I won’t say more, even though the book has been around for decades, but the true strength of Dune comes from Denis Villenueve. You can practically feel his love of the source material in every shot on screen. Adapting this tale is no small task, and while filming only half of the story is an extremely risky gamble, Villenueve still pulls it off. There are some absolutely jaw dropping scenes and sequences in this film, the key being the first time we witness the power of the famous Sand Worms. Slithering through the sands like the shark from Jaws swims through the water, they present a terrifying sense of scale that is both unfathomable and awe-inspiring. Villenueve also finds beauty in the quiet moments of the desert planet, crafting some truly haunting visuals as well.

The cast, like the man behind the camera, is also swarming with talent, and while not all of them get an adequate amount of screen time, those that do make the most of it, and those that don’t, well, let’s just say they’ll be in the (hopeful) Dune: Part II. The internet’s boyfriend, Timothee Chalamet, does a good job in the lead role of Paul, who in this adaptation is plagued by the stories that he may be the prophesied “chosen one” of the Fremen (this didn’t seem as overt in the first half of the novel when I read it, but it may have been something I missed the first time around). Chalamet does well showcasing the journey Paul goes through in this half of the story, going from a slightly spoiled son of royalty to being thrust into the responsibility of leadership and destiny, even if we don’t get to see the full conclusion of that just yet.

Rounding out the Atreides clan are Lady Jessica and Leto, played by Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac, respectively. Isaac’s role isn’t that large, but he certainly makes the most of it, giving Leto a sense of nobility and grace that may remind some Game of Thrones fans of Ned Stark, while Ferguson’s Lady Jessica is pretty much the second lead of the story. Jessica’s story is easily one of the strongest (if not THE strongest) subplots in the novel, and it’s great to see an actress of Ferguson’s character step into the role and pretty much knock it out of the park. Torn between he love of her son and her duty towards the Bene-Gesserit, Ferguson conveys the weight of that balance in every scene she shares with Chalamet, and the two make a great team.

The cast is filled out even more, with appearances from Zendaya as Chani, the mysterious Fremen woman that Paul has seen in his dreams, Dave Bautista as the monstrous Beast Rabban Harkonnen, and Javier Bardem as the Freman leader Stilgar. But arguably the two cast members who steal the film are Josh Brolin’s Gurney Halleck and Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho. Not unsurprisingly, they both get the bigger action pieces as the two “military men” of House Atreides, with Idaho serving as their reconnaissance man who checks on the Fremen before the rest of the clan arrives on Arrakis. Brolin and Momoa are both having a blast in the role, and Momoa really shines in some surprisingly emotional scenes as well.

Dune does sometimes struggle under the weight of the story it’s adapting, and while you can feel some of the wheels of exposition creaking at times, it’s still an exhilarating sight to behold. Yes, it’s long, coming in at just about two and half hours, but there’s not a wasted moment in the film, and it’s clear that Villenueve swung for the fences here. While it may be a little much for those completely new to the franchise to take in, I do think it does a better job of explaining the world and characters than the Lynch version did. And for those who have read the source material, I think they’ll agree that Villenueve was the right director for the job.


Posted on October 22, 2021, in Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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