Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, and Zendaya
Frank Herbert’s Dune to many is one of the greatest pieces of sci-fi ever created. It has been claimed time and time again that the story is unfilmable. For a lot of people the first adaptation by David Lynch is only proof of that. When Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve was announced to be making his own version of the classic sci-fi novel, there was a sense of hesitant excitement. Surely if anyone can bring the sprawling epic to the big screen it’s the director of two of the best sci-fi films of recent years? Any anxiety was eased by the overwhelming positive reception the film got at Venice Film Festival earlier in the year. Dune is finally here, and Villeneuve’s adaptation gives justice to Herbert’s book.
If you’ve seen the previous adaptations or read the original novel, then the story will feel very familiar. This is a very faithful adaptation of the spice mining epic. All the politics and nuance is here, and the story is given time to breathe. The film, which is shown as Part One when the title appears at the beginning, adapts roughly half of the original book. While it hasn’t been greenlit yet, the second part will adapt the second half and a third part will adapt the first sequel, Dune Messiah. Those not familiar to the source material don’t need to worry. The film does an excellent job at building the world in an accessible way and you’ll be fully invested by the time the film reaches the end.
The film is gorgeous. From the opening frame Villeneuve has created one of the best-looking films in recent years. The world is awe inspiring and you’re sucked into the screen and taken away from start to finish. It’s a work of art. On top of that is Hans Zimmer’s score. It’s loud and epic, with thumping and pulsating moments. Even the quiet moments feel extremely silent, contrasting the loud moments.
The cast is perfect. Timothée Chalamet is an excellent Paul Atreides, he’s confident and thoughtful. You can tell straight away that he is born to be a future leader. Oscar Isaac is great as Leto Atreides, the Duke who takes his family to Arrakis to take control of the spice mining. Rebecca Ferguson plays Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother. She’s protective and in control, a fierce fighter when needed. The relationship between Paul and his mother is the backbone of the film, through tragedy they are forced to survive together in the wilderness of Arrakis. Stellan Skarsgård is channelling Marlon Brando from Apocalypse Now as the villainous Baron Harkonnen. Jason Momoa is great as Duncan, a born fighter and Paul’s mentor.
This is a long film, over two and a half hours in length, and at times you really feel it. The first half builds the pace nicely, giving enough time to introduce you to the world and move the narrative forward without slowing down. Then as the film goes beyond two hours, you start to feel the length. It spends the last act setting up the second film, which loses some of the momentum. Sadly, this isn’t like the first Lord of the Rings, where you finish the film amazed at how fast three hours went. The fighting also leaves a lot to be desired. Apart from when Jason Momoa is on screen, the choreography for the fights is really tame. The violence mostly happens off screen and it’s not very brutal when you do see it. The mid-way point of the film is a massive battle, that’s not very entertaining. It feels like it’s holding back to ensure it doesn’t get slapped with a higher age rating.
Despite its flaws, Dune, is a worthy adaptation of a classic book. Unlike Lynch’s version which throws you in at the deep end, Villeneuve eases you into the story and dense world. The cast are great, the visuals are excellent, and the score is outstanding. It’s an epic sweeping film and part two can’t come soon enough.
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