Dune (12A) Review - A Desert Treat or Disaster?

A short while ago, in a galaxy pretty close by... Denis Villleneuve released one of the year's most anticipated films. But did it live up to the hype?

Adam Tibke
27th October 2021
Credit: IMDb
Dismissed as unfilmable for decades, adapting Frank Herbert’s 1965 science-fiction epic was never going to be an easy feat. Fortunately, with visionary director Denis Villeneuve at the helm, Dune succeeds at bringing Herbert’s world to life through incredible performances and awe-inspiring cinematography, all told from the perspective of a young man trying to find his place in a vast and unforgiving galaxy.
Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet in Dune, Credit: IMDb

Roughly 10,000 years in the future, Paul Atreides is haunted by dreams of a Fremen girl on the dangerous desert world of Arrakis, the same planet that his father, head of House Atreides, Duke Leto, has just accepted stewardship of. Arrakis is the only planet on which the most precious resource in the universe can be found, the substance known as Spice. Once on the desolate world, Paul must contend with political conspiracy, religious turmoil, and a destiny beyond his own understanding.

You are never lost or overwhelmed; instead exposition is delivered naturally

As one of the best directors of the last decade, Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Arrival (2016), and Prisoners (2013)) was perhaps the only choice to adapt Herbert’s novel, even with his affinity for the source material aside. Villeneuve’s vision has given the world of Dune its most realistic interpretation. It’s a testament to his skill as a director that you are never lost or overwhelmed; instead, exposition is delivered naturally and the astonishing work of the production team visually distinguish the different factions at play in the story. Greig Fraser’s immense cinematography coupled with Hans Zimmer’s omnipotent score compound the feeling that we are witnessing something monumental.

Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica, Credit: IMDb

In his first ‘blockbuster,’ Timothée Chalamet delivers an impeccable performance as Paul Atreides, a young man tortured by the pressure of the responsibility put on his shoulders as both the heir to House Atreides and the possible Messiah. Many young actors would crack under the strain of being the focal point of a film like Dune, but Chalamet is as magnetic as he is empathetic. Rebecca Ferguson shines as Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica. Her story echoes her son’s in that she is equally torn between her duty as a mother and her role as part of the Bene Gesserit, a shadowy religious cult pulling the strings in the background. Dune’s supporting cast – an impressive ‘who’s who' of Hollywood A-listers – are excellent, with Oscar Isaac’s Duke Leto being a personal favourite and Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho bringing moments of levity to an otherwise sombre affair.

Much like Villeneuve’s other works, Dune is rather methodically paced. It is not the sci-fi action film the marketing may have you believe. That isn’t to say the film lacks action, the attack on Arrakeen is one of the most stunning sequences in the film, but the scenes are spread out, separated by intimate character moments and sequences that forward the plot. The last hour of Dune is particularly slow, however, by that point, Villeneuve has you so invested in the characters that you don’t mind the more deliberate pace.

Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides, Credit: IMDb

As revealed by the title card that opens the film, Dune is but the first part of a larger story. The sheer size and scale of Herbert’s first novel necessitated its bisection. It’s a credit to Jon Spaihts, Eric Roth and Villeneuve’s screenplay that Dune is simultaneously and effectively the first half of a two-part saga yet still a complete film in its own right. Unlike many films that are hacked into two parts, Dune ends in a way that is satisfying but nevertheless leaves you wanting more. You want to see part two because of the brilliant world-building and engaging characters as opposed to a cheap cliff-hanger. Unfortunately, with it yet to film, a follow-up is dependent on this movie’s success.

Dune is more than worthy of being called epic

Many films are often labelled as epic, however, few of them are truly deserving of that title. Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is more than worthy of that superlative. Its scale and magnitude, along with its methodical pace make it feel like the Hollywood epics of old. Despite the prodigious world and the sweeping themes of religion, class, colonialism, and ecocriticism, Dune never forgets the hero’s journey at its core.

I implore everyone to go to the cinema and see this magnificent science-fiction epic; as more than any film I’ve seen recently, Dune deserves its part two.

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