Review: Denis Villeneuve’s Cinematic Masterpiece ‘Dune’
Writers: Jon SpaihtsDenis Villeneuve Eric Roth
Stars: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem
It’s been nearly 40 years since David Lynch directed DUNE (1984). The film received an Oscar nomination, and has since been a cult favorite. Now 37 years later, Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel has been re-made by acclaimed writer-director Denis Villeneuve (ARRIVAL, 2016) and his co-writers Eric Roth (Oscar winner, FORREST GUMP, 1994) and Joe Spaihts (PROMETHEUS, 2012). I’ve never read the books nor have I seen the original film, so I had to use Villeneuve’s adaptation as my guide. Villeneuve is of course, no stranger to the mind-bending sci-fi genre, prior to Dune, he gave us the 2016’s Blade Runner 2049 and 2017’s Arrival, two epics that wrestled with grand visuals and big ideas.
The story of Dune goes as follow, Paul Atreides, son of Leto, Duke of House Atriedes relocates with his family from the planet Caladan to the desert planet Arrakis. Paul and his family go to Arrakis to take charge of the Imperial mining operation on Arrakis as it is being mined for the drug Melange aka “The Spice”. However, Arrakis is a deathtrap as the corrupt Emperor Shaddam IV whom sent House Atreides to Arrakis has plotted with the evil Baron Vladimir Harkonnen of House Harkonnen to rid the Galactic Empire of House Atriedes as the Emperor fears Duke Leto will sit on the throne and rule the universe. Arrakis is an inhospitable desert wasteland. However, it is the only source of ‘the spice’, which along with offering many health benefits and enhancing cognitive abilities, it is essential for folding space, the only method that exists of crossing vast interstellar distances. Consequently, this seemingly worthless world is actually the most important planet in the universe.
For first timers into the Dune world like myself, I highly recommend getting a bit of knowledge on the plot before going into this one, to get a bit of a grasp of the story or you can quickly be left behind in Villeneuve fast paced interpretation. Based on the first half of the first book in a series covering 19 volumes, Dune wastes no time to set the stage, and director Denis Villeneuve shows little inclination in exploring the finer details of the story. For hardened fans of the books it’s a good choice, but for people who are jumping into the story feet first it could pose a bit of a risk. Although at the same time I assume this film will be the first of many, so as the story unfolds I imagine we’ll get a lot more detail on both the characters and the planets. Dune although it’s only telling half a narrative, distracts the audience from this, by immersing them into a richly rendered universe, assuming they can keep up without guide ropes. It’s carried pretty far on the strength of spectacle alone, with its sharp landscapes, detailed spaceships, and the thrumming Hans Zimmer score.
Chalamet plays Paul, who at first comes off as a Luke Skywalker type character hungry for adventure, is quickly revealed to have certain gifts. It hints at the prospect that he could be “The One”. In a role that maybe a lot of people would have been skeptical, and a lot of actors couldn’t succeed in, Chalamet delivers it with certain charisma and vulnerability. For Zendaya fans you may be a little disappointed though because her character Chani barely features in the movie. She gets the opening narration, but is otherwise a peripheral figure. As gauged by the prophetic glimpses that Paul sees throughout the movie, Chani will most likely be a major player in the second movie, assuming we get one. Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, and Oscar Isaac have to get honorable mentions, skillfully adding their own big-franchise flourishes from the Marvel and Star Wars universes.
The story of Dune is lyrical and almost poetic at times; Villenueve’s film I feel everyone can agree is visually impeccable and profoundly beautiful. From a design standpoint, this is quite frankly one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. The costume design is as rich and detailed as it is bizarre. It reminds me much of the three prequel Star War films that starred Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman. There’s never a moment in this film where you’re not blown away by the visuals. Thankfully we have arrived at a place in cinema where the scope and scale of Dune can be fully realized, and it’s artfulness can truly come to life.
I suppose when all is said and done, all you really need to know is this; put your phone on silent, strap in, and save the questions for the foyer. Dune is a sensory journey that should be experienced first and discussed second. It’s the break from reality many of us have been searching for, and in 2021 it’s it’s precisely the reason why we even go to cinemas.
Film Premiere Courtesy Of Warner Bros Australia