As well-regarded as Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 novel Dune is, it’s had quite the journey making it to the big screen. First, there was a failed attempt in the mid-1970s by avant-garde auteur Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose efforts were documented in 2013’s Jodorowsky’s Dune. Then came the 1984 adaptation by then up-and-comer David Lynch, who has since disowned the film despite its small but fervent cult following. Now Denis Villeneuve, who earned his sci-fi credentials with Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, is up to translate Herbert’s expansive work to cinema and he proves that the third time’s a charm. Simply put, this is large scale science fiction done to perfection: wholly immersive, richly detailed and bursting with imagination. If you’ve been waiting to go back to the theaters, it’s difficult to imagine a better movie for which to return.
The year is 10191 and humans have populated throughout the universe. The ocean planet Caladan is governed by House Atreides, led by Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and his partner Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) with their heir Paul (Timothée Chalamet). By decree of the imperial emperor, Atreides is called to take over control of the desert planet Arrakis from House Harkonnen, led by the corpulent Baron Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgård). During their reign, Leto aims to make peace with the Fremen, a nomadic group of natives who vigorously protect the planet’s prized natural resource known as “spice”. After an ambush on Arrakis splits Paul and Jessica up from the rest of House Atreides, the two must navigate the treacherous deserts with the few resources they have at their disposal.
While Dune weaves in dense futuristic concepts, myriad new terminology and lots of different languages into its narrative, its primary tale is modeled after the hero’s journey popularized by Joseph Campbell. If you’ve seen The Matrix or the original Star Wars trilogy, this story template will feel familiar, even though Herbert’s novel pre-dated all of those movies. Villeneuve spices up this formula with a world that is overwhelming in its scope and exemplary in its specificity, a treat especially for those unfamiliar with Herbert’s work as I was before watching the film. There are times I allowed myself to tune out of the plot for a moment and surrender to the meticulously rendered images. For that reason, among others, this film should richly reward rewatches.
Villeneuve has assembled some talented casts in his previous films but he’s really outdone himself this time. The ensemble, which finds Villeneuve teaming up again with actors like Josh Brolin and Dave Bautista, features each actor and actress in a role that’s perfectly tailored to their skillset. For example, Charlotte Rampling is only in one scene but her chilling presence gives her limited time a memorable stamp. I can’t say I’ve entirely warmed up to Jason Momoa just yet but as a cocksure pilot named Duncan Idaho, he’s playing perfectly in his wheelhouse and makes the most of his swashbuckling screen time. As the leads, Chalamet and Ferguson get the most time to shine and both give lived-in performances that register on a deeply empathetic level.
Inexplicably, Warner Bros. has yet to officially greenlight a sequel, even though the movie is titled on-screen as Dune: Part One and it ends on a cliffhanger that explicitly sets up a larger battle to come. This is the same studio that waited to announce It Chapter Two only after It made beaucoup bucks at the box office, even though the first movie only told half of the story from the book that inspired both films. WB’s reticence in allowing Villeneuve to shoot both chapters at one time likely comes from the financial disappointment of Blade Runner 2049 but if that’s the case, why give him Dune in the first place? Even if Part Two takes longer to arrive than it would if things had been planned better, it’ll be more than worth the wait if the follow-up is as stellar as this opening salvo.
Score – 4.5/5
New movies coming to theaters this weekend:
Last Night in Soho, starring Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy, is a psychological horror movie about a present-day fashion designer who is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s, where she encounters a dazzling aspiring singer.
Antlers, starring Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons, is a supernatural horror film about a middle-school teacher whose enigmatic student hides dark secrets that lead to terrifying encounters with a legendary ancestral creature who came before them.
My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission, starring Daiki Yamashita and Nobuhiko Okamoto, is a superhero anime which follows a group of heroes as they try to stop a group of terrorists who are out to eliminate superpowers around the world.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup