One of Science Fiction’s most lauded stories has once again been adapted to screen. But does Dune (the film) live up to the hype?
Thousands of years in the future, the human race has colonized the galaxy. They are ruled by a mysterious Emperor, and many serve powerful “houses”. Dune follows the family of House Atreides as the Emperor gifts them control of the planet Arrakis: the most strategically important world in the Empire. Arrakis’ claim to fame is its natural spices, without which interstellar space travel would not be possible. But there’s a couple of problems: House Harkonnen (the previous rulers of Arrakis) are angry they’ve lost their greatest source of riches, and the warrior inhabitants of Arrakis (called Fremen) resent Imperial oppression.
Full disclosure: I’ve never read the Dune novels. Feel free to call me a “fake sci-fi fan” in the comments, or whatever… In any case– I’m just judging the film as a movie-goer. So if something’s explained in the book which I missed, it doesn’t count! Movies ought to stand on their own.
In that regard Dune partially succeeds. It’s a solid movie, but only half a story. Dune spends a good deal of its 2.7 hour run-time setting up plot points which never come to pass. Obviously this was meant to be Part One of 2. The opening titles even say “Part 1”. All this to say: don’t go in expecting closure of any kind. This is just the beginning of a sure-to-be-epic tale.
The movie never pretended like it was meant to stand alone, and I’m interested enough in this world that I’ll be sure to attend part 2 (if/ when it comes out). But Dune ends more abruptly than it could have! Some compelling stuff happens and then… it’s just over. Not only is the story incomplete, but it FEELS incomplete, which is frustrating.
Let’s talk about the world of Dune some… I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie which developed such a well-realized lore for itself. Dune reminded me of Star Wars in the best way: where the film drops you into a fully-formed world and leaves you to figure out the details through osmosis.
You’d think that’d be confusing, but the exposition was handled well! I mean, you still have to pay attention. I’ll bet you’d be at least somewhat lost otherwise… But the movie is still accessible.
Dune is the kind of movie that made me love films in the first place! It’s not just a story; it’s an experience. In fact: Dune might be my most memorable theatre experience since Avengers: Endgame (and Dune, while arguably not as entertaining, is better-crafted than the former).
The plot wasn’t consistently gripping (for reasons I’ll touch on momentarily) but my attention never wavered. Dune‘s world had me invested from shot 1. You might expect a near-3-hour movie to lull in many spots, but my mind barely wandered. I was always interested in what was happening.
So why wasn’t I fully absorbed? Well, this is probably a subjective thing but hear me out… Dune is one of those movies where plot and world-building are prioritized over character development. Not to say the characters don’t develop but, there were more interesting aspects of the story. Dune’s focus on plot, such as it was, served to stimulate my mind rather than my emotions. That’s not my favourite kind of movie but it’s a perfectly valid way to tell a story and I respect it
To be clear: there are emotional moments, but my connection to most of the characters was loose, ensuring their stories’ impacts weren’t so strong as they may have been. It was more “Yeah, yeah. I like you. I wanna see what happens” than “OMG! I love you and I’ll be devastated if X/Y/Z happens!” I was perfectly entertained by the characters and fascinated by their stories. And for someone like me, who connects to character more than anyone else, that’s the bare minimum I require. So it’s fine.
How about I talk about those characters now:
Paul Atreides (our protagonist– Timothée Chalamet) is possibly a “chosen one” figure of sorts. But, what I find different about him compared to other prophesied heroes, is that he was created rather than found. See, there’s this shadowy organization called the Bene Gessirit (of which Paul’s mother is part) who have plotted for centuries to create the ultimate human. They mixed their bloodlines with certain households and manipulated untold factors in order to create this person. Paul’s mother gifted him special powers, and Paul’s father provided him riches and social status.
All this to say Paul is a chosen one by birthright. I like this because it’s somewhat true to life. If you’re born into certain families you’re automatically granted the privileges and responsibilities and baggage that comes with your bloodline. What’s interesting is that Paul never asked for these responsibilities and doesn’t particularly want them. He inherited a mess that he didn’t create but now he’s got to deal with it. That’s also true to life.
Paul is a good protagonist because he’s still learning about his world and himself, and we can learn through him. He also asks the questions many people in the audience are thinking. I also find his story inspiring. His journey is the answer to a question: how can one survive and thrive in circumstances beyond their control? And aren’t most of us in that boat?
In Dune‘s major supporting role is Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). She struggles to balance being a parent with her duty as a Bene Gessirit. Because many parents deal with similar issues (balancing life commitments with family), Jessica is arguably the most relatable character in Dune!
It’s also interesting to me that Dune is mostly a mother and son story. Usually plots of family dynasty feature male relationships. So Dune had a refreshing angle there. Also, Jessica and Paul get along perfectly well for the most part. So that’s another movie-trope subversion.
Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) is a notably menacing villain. He actually creeped me out! And that’s not easy to do anymore (I’m rather desensitized). Beyond intimidating screen presence, the Baron’s mannerisms were repulsive and off-putting. The way he ate his food particularly got under my skin. He’s not the first villain I’ve hated for pigging out at the dinner table and he won’t be the last! It’s one of those weird things which makes me angry and hate people.
I could break down more characters but I wanna skip ahead to rave about the actors… Dune‘s performances were fantastic across the board! Of course the acting wasn’t bound to suck with such talents as Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem. But the most memorable performance for me was Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica. She gave the character a great deal of nuance. I could always see the wheels turning in Jessica’s mind, and how she wrestled with her decisions. Ferguson gave the character an impressive level of depth and pathos.
Timothée Chalamet was the other highlight. He communicates his feelings well with little more than a gaze. I could often tell what Paul was thinking whether or not Chalamet had dialogue. He also felt believable as an inexperienced youth who would be destined for greatness someday. I imagine that’s a hard balance to pull off. Too childish and nobody will buy you as the hero; too badass and people will complain he didn’t develop enough. Chalamet simultaneously carried the physical and emotional aspects of his role with aplomb. I’m used to seeing big-muscly action-hero types in these roles, so having more of an “everyman” like Chalamet in this part was refreshing.
Now for the part I wanna rave about for a few paragraphs: Dune is the most beautiful movie I’ve ever seen! As good as the rest of Dune was, its visuals carry the movie. Every shot is a beautiful painting, rendered masterfully by artists at the top of their game! Such work inspires the filmmaker in me to be more creative with my visual choices going forward. I can’t tell you the last time I was so impressed by visuals. I’ll bet you could understand what’s happening with the sound off. Even in a visual medium like film, where that should be the case more often, it’s all too rare to see such competent visual storytelling.
Nowadays every movie is trying to offer some kind of spectacle. Problem is overuse of CGI has rendered most visual effects boring. Well, to be more clear, the problem is an overuse of bad and incomplete CGI. I could hardly tell what was real and what wasn’t in Dune. I just enjoyed it, and that’s how movie-watching should be.
Oh yeah– Dune‘s set design was intricate and incredible. A lot of thought went into the locales. Each planet felt distinct. Heck– each individual room had its own personality!
I really felt like the people who made Dune CARED about what they were putting out. That love shines through in droves. To the cast and crew of Dune: Thank you all for your efforts. I don’t say that enough, but this film especially compels me to acknowledge your talents.
Most of the comments I’ve made range from positive to mostly pleased, but now we get to the one glaring negative: Dune is a lengthy movie. And that isn’t a deal breaker for me but you FEEL it on this one. Dune‘s pacing feels off.
It’s a relatively slow-burn plot, which is good for absorbing the information thrown our way, but once I understood was happening I wanted to reach the payoff more quickly. Maybe that’s just me being a young, impatient person? I dunno. I believe I have more patience than most. Not to say anything in the film was outright unnecessary, but the scenes could have been a tad faster.
Dune‘s sound design is also incredibly powerful. This is largely a positive, but the sound was poorly balanced in some sequences. I found it hard to hear dialogue at times. It wasn’t as bad as Tenet in this regard, but Dune’s excessive audio was an issue in multiple instances.
Dune isn’t a movie you can just “hear about” to get the gist. You have to experience it for yourself, preferably on the biggest screen possible. I would never want to see this one for the first time at home. Everything I touched on in this review barely scratches the surface of Dune’s intricacies.
Just go see it please? I beg of you. I need more movies like this in my life and any support of Dune will go a long way to making that happen. This is both art and entertainment! We can have both at the same time! Show Hollywood that visionary Directors like Denis Villeneuve are worth our time and money (and more importantly to the businesses, their time and money).
The story left me somewhat cold but, for its exceptional world-building and visuals Dune is a Must See (I repeat: on a big screen).
Can anyone else not wait to see more from Director Denis Villeneuve? What did you think of Dune? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,
REVIEW METRIC: Don’t bother; If you’re bored; Worth a watch; Pretty darn good; Must see; Watch it A.S.A.P.