‘DUNE’ review

David Eckstein-Schoemann, Reporter

Based on one of literature’s biggest science fiction novels, “Dune” to many is a spectacle in every sense of the word. Everything from the characters to the story to the worldbuilding is the definition of epic. As you can imagine this has resulted in multiple sequels, and even multiple creators attempting to bring this story to life. This includes David Lynch’s interpretation from 1984, a film that everyone can agree failed to capture what made the story so great. There was also a 2000 miniseries that while better, still wasn’t what fans of the book were looking for. Now in 2021, we finally have the latest version with director Denis Villeneuve, backed up by a star studded cast that aims to be the definitive adaptation of the story. 

The story takes place in the far future where humanity lives throughout space. We are then introduced to the House Atreides, led by Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) who is given stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis (commonly named Dune). Arrakis holds a special place in this universe as it is the only source of a valuable substance called melange (spice), a drug that extends human life, provides superhuman levels of thought, and makes lightspeed travel possible. Leto brings his son Paul (Timothée Chalamet), his concubine Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and his most trusted advisors knowing full well this is a trap set by his enemies, House Harkonnen, led by the Baron (Stellan Skarsgård). Their new home is a dangerous place as not only is there hardly any water, but it’s also infested with colossal sandworms. If this wasn’t enough, Pauls starts having visions of the future as his people must endure suspicion, betrayal, and hardship in this seemingly inhospitable world.

 Courtesy of Warner Bros.

This film has been built up to be one the biggest cinematic experiences on par with the likes of “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings”. Having read the book I was interested in seeing how they adapt this classic novel. I knew it could not have been an easy task, as you need to find the right people to portray both the scope and pathos of the story. Having seen the movie for myself I can safely say that I was impressed with how well the movie turned out. Not just on a technical level, but also being able to tell a complex story while still remaining faithful to the book’s roots.

However, people need to be aware that the movie is adapting the first half of the book, in that it’s part one of the story. I feel that’s going to be confusing to some people as the film was not marketed that way before release. In fact, I remember seeing my family scratch their heads when they saw “Part One” appear under the title card. Despite this, I can understand why the people behind this made this choice as the book is a large story. You understand that they are not trying to cram it all in one movie, and are aiming to tell it more as a film series. Which is a smart choice as this allows the creators to be more faithful to the source material, and not feel the need to cut out or rush certain plotlines. Choices like these are understandable, it’s just that the marketing team should have made the public more aware of this.

 Courtesy of Warner Bros.

With that said, I feel that Denis Villeneuve is one of the most ambitious filmmakers in the industry today. One of the parts of this movie that blew me away was the scope. I mean this film is HUGE in terms of size and scale. If you can see this on the big screen, see it! Because the visual effects here are top notch much like they were in Villeneuve’s other works such as “Arrival” or “Blade Runner 2049”. A lot of what makes this aspect work is how the camera is able to allow us to see the size of something in comparison to something else. Whether it be comparing a massive ship to a planet, or a colossal sandworm to a human being, this successfully recreates the massive feeling of depth from the novel. While a lot of this universe does feel familiar, they design it in a way that makes it feel otherworldly. The art and costume departments outdid themselves here. The design of the ships look unique. The interiors of the sets look fantastic. Even the planets that are shown here give you the feeling you are experiencing a tangible world that you can see existing. It also helps that the movie is topped off with a brilliant Hanz Zimmer score that adds so much energy to the film.

 Courtesy of Warner Bros. 

The cast here is also phenomenal. Timothée Chalamet is excellent here. He really sells that he’s this teenage boy thrust into these harsh situations with a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson are  amazing to watch. Even actors such as Josh Brolin, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Jason Momoa are also really cool as their characters.

To me, this is one the few adaptations that nailed their casting choices. Whenever I visualize the characters in these setups while reading the book, these are the people I see in these roles.

However, because this is only part one of the book, there are going to be some characters who aren’t in it as much as people hoped they would. For example, Zendaya is only in the film for about eleven minutes. If you were excited to see her here, know that she’s mostly shown in visions and doesn’t appear in the story until the last thirty minutes. Even the film’s antagonists such as the Baron or his nephew Glossu Rabban, played by Dave Bautista, don’t have that much screen time. These are easily two of the most villainous, heinous characters ever written and they aren’t shown as much as I thought they would be. The book and even the previous adaptations gave them plenty of screentime, but here they don’t have as big a presence. I know they are building these characters up for bigger roles in the next film, but I wish we got to see more of them here.

Since this is such a big story, one of the hardest parts about “Dune” is how much lore is included with each installment, so how much information does the viewer have to understand in order to follow this narrative? There are terms that most audience members will be unfamiliar with such as “Bene Gesserit” and their power called “The Voice”, or the specific ways how people such as the “Fremen” survive on Arrakis. All of this has to be communicated to the audience naturally. This is very difficult as most writers have to make sure they are not overwhelming people with information, or over-explaining in a way that distracts from the plot. This can be difficult as the first book alone has so much lore and backstory established. Since this is a film adaptation of the first half of the novel, I feel that they chose the correct key elements to focus on, so that people who are unfamiliar with the books can understand and relate to these characters.

 Courtesy of Warner Bros.

When you watch characters such as Paul go on this journey, you immediately see the weight of the situation. While there is a lot of talk of mastering certain abilities, there’s also this long interwoven history of politics as different sides are on the verge of all out war with one another. It’s a lot like “Game of Thrones” in that you have people fighting with swords, but you also have people negotiating with truces, agreements, etc. This is a lot of story to cover, and probably the main reason why most people thought adapting this story to a feature film was almost impossible. But this movie managed to find the right balance.

Admittedly, it does run on a lot of the classic hero’s journey tropes. Such as the prophesied chosen one, or the downfall of a kingdom that causes a large scale war. These are tropes that have been done so much over the years that they aren’t taken as seriously now. But you also have to acknowledge that this story is one of the first narratives to use these tropes, and you get invested because it allows you to breathe in the situation and absorb what is being shown to you on the screen. 

 Courtesy of Warner Bros. (Chia Bella James)

This is a film I want to see do well. As of now we are in a position where a sequel is still up in the air. I hope we get a “Dune” Part Two as I’m a huge fan of this setup, and I love complex, huge sci-fi stories. I want to see this story conclude and even evolve into a franchise with multiple sequels and spinoffs, much like the book series. It’s still too early to see how most mainstream audiences will react to it as there is a lot of talk about politics in a world that has a lot of elements to it. There’s also the fact that it’s only part one of the story, and there are people who want to see the full picture. Personally, I feel this movie is going to mostly appeal to fans of the book, or people who are semi interested in the story. But who knows, maybe there are people in the audience who will find something in this movie. I know I’m only speculating, but I’m also interested to see if people will get into this film or not. Does it have as much action as something like “Star Wars”? No. Is it gonna feel too long for a lot of people? Most likely yes. But its scope, characters, and world building more than makes up for that. It’s the perfect balance of style and substance.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Spinnaker Sails


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