Frank Herbert’s “Dune” is a novel you might not know about but authors and writers whose works you enjoy know about the series. It and its sequels have been so influential, that the best sci-fi stories of all time are based on them. Star WarsThe book was taken directly from Herbert and used in many other ways. It’s a book of war, religion, political intrigue, familial bonds, and tyranny, and giant sandworms.
While the book may be complex and lengthy, Herbert makes it an exciting page-turner.
My loyal readers will know a few facts about me and one of those is that I’m a huge lover of sci-fi. I’m the guy who went to see every recent Star Wars movie hoping against hope that this time the series would redeem itself. It didn’t happen, and I couldn’t find good science-fiction anywhere other than videogames.
Despite my fears that it would turn out horribly, my excitement for Denis Villeneuve’s take on “Dune” couldn’t be contained. Firstly, it’s my humble opinion that Villeneuve hasn’t made a bad movie yet. He’s a director that can make someone staring into the distance a mesmerizing spectacle. Every scene is given beauty and weight by his cinematography.
However, I was aware Villeneuve had a lot of work ahead. DuneIt is. For those who have never stepped foot into Herbert’s vision of the distant future, the book is heavy with information that would take a long time to digest and sort out. You will find plots inside plots and factions among them, as well as backstories that rival J.R.R. Tolkien.
A few efforts have been made to make Dune a screenable movie, but none of these attempts has proven to be successful. The most famous of these is David Lynch’s adaptation in 1984, a film that did its absolute best to bring the scope and size of the “Dune” universe into focus but didn’t quite get there.
If anyone was going to give Herbert’s creation another live-action attempt and succeed, it was going to be Villeneuve. His use of scope, size, and storytelling seems very in rhythm with Herbert’s.
How did he manage to do it?
I’ve now seen Villeneuve’s DuneThe second time, I was as impressed and enthralled with it.
I’ll keep this review spoiler-free.
I would give a rundown of the movie splitting the good and the bad into two different parts of this article, but the bad is actually rather minuscule and even some of it is just issues that couldn’t be helped. I’ll, instead, lace complaints in with the review.
Let’s start with the obvious question for many “Dune” fans. Villeneuve captured the story perfectly?
It’s hard for me to figure out a way that it could have done better. To avoid the movie becoming too long or elaborative, there were certain scenes in the book which were removed or modified from the film. Each of the moments in the film felt like they had been incorporated naturally into the story and were not forced upon the viewers. To save time, these informational moments could be paired with character development.
However, if you’re looking for a complete story, you won’t find it in this film. Villeneuve had always wanted the movie to be split into two parts. He delivers on his vision. As a result, the movie does feel like it just kind of…ends. The moment where it leaves off is, in my opinion, not the best, but Villeneuve does do a fairly decent job of making it clear that the lead characters are stepping into a new world with the last shots of the movie to give the audience a “tune in next time” kind of excitement.
The film does an excellent job of maintaining the balance between intrigue and action. Villeneuve was able to complete the details about some of the more action-packed moments in Herbert’s book. Despite being a sci-fi tale of war, rebellion, and tyranny, “Dune” is actually more of a political thriller than an action novel. Despite this, even moments where politics is happening, there’s a grandeur to it that stops it from devolving into a room of people talking intrigue together for too long.
Villeneuve transforms small moments into great ones. Stepping off of oppressively large ships is accompanied by an army of bagpipes, the signing of political documents is done in front of troops in ceremonial garb chanting the name of their lord’s house. Even when visual grandeur isn’t an option, Villeneuve uses strange customs, dreadful tension, and a near-perfect musical score to bring the epicness into view.
There were a few casting choices I wasn’t sure about when they were announced, but the movie quickly allayed my fears. Timothée Chalamet seemed a bit too boyish for the role of the story’s protagonist Paul Atreides, but he takes the shift from the reluctant son of a duke to a cold and calculating man bent on revenge with seeming ease. What’s more, this shift happens multiple times in the film, making the performance that much more impressive.
The other protagonist and Paul’s mother, the Lady Jessica, is played by Rebecca Ferguson who is a bit over a decade Chalamet’s senior, but the two work so naturally on screen as mother and son you quickly forget the small age gap. Ferguson conveys both Jessica’s power and fearfulness, as she struggles to choose between her love for her family and her duties as a member a pseudoreligious group.
Other notable characters include Baron Vladimir Harkonnen played Stellan Skarsgård. Skarsgard is terrifying in his betrayal and made me think of what Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone would have been like if he was evil. My one complaint was that he didn’t have more scenes and I felt the film would have benefited overall if they did. Atreides commander and expert warrior Duncan Idaho is played by Jason Momoa who acts just like Jason Momoa, though this actually plays to the character’s strengths as a highly competent, loyal, and happy warrior. With light humor, his presence helps to balance the seriousness of this film.
Despite the film’s solid pacing and well-crafted exposition, strangers to Herbert’s universe are still going to have trouble keeping up with all the factions, politics, and relationships in the story. Villeneuve scatters the power and scope of the Bene Gesserit through various scenes, Baron Harkonnen reveals he and Duke Atreides are actually cousins in one line, and the importance of what the universe’s MacGuffin, the “spice,” is definitely highlighted, but all of what it can do and where it comes from isn’t fully explained. Moreover, viewers will be curious as to why advanced computers don’t seem to exist in this futuristic world, or that humanity has regressed to feudalism, and that’s never touched on.
YouTube is a great place to find new information and fill in the gaps. Villeneuve had to chuck a lot out to maintain a fast-paced film. Newcomers will undoubtedly be left with a lot of questions, and they won’t find these answers anywhere except outside of the movie. Although it may be annoying, this was essential. Herbert’s “Duniverse” is massive and trying to cram all the information into a single movie is impossible.
All things considered, Dune is probably some of the best sci-fi I’ve seen out of Hollywood in years and doesn’t rely on the same flashy visuals for the purpose of selling merchandise as Disney does with Star Wars. To be sure, the visuals are stunning, but nothing is put there specifically to make the audience “ooh” and “aww.” It all contributes to the story in some way. It doesn’t go to waste. It really highlights the fact that Star Wars has become sci-fi McDonald’s.
To that end, it doesn’t rely on quippy humor to entertain the audience or relieve stress. There’s a grand total of one joke throughout the film and it’s uttered by Momoa but it serves to show the friend/tutor relationship between Paul and Duncan. It’s a movie that takes the source material seriously and does it justice. It’s a breath of fresh air in a culture that seeks to imbue modern politics or ideologies into anything it gets its hands on.
You won’t find modern politics in a space-political movie, which is odd. However, many readers may consider that the best bit.
Go see “Dune,” but if you do, I would recommend you go see it in theaters, specifically IMAX. You can view it on HBO in your own living room but like the massive epic that is Dune’s story, its visuals are best experienced where the sounds and sights are just as epic.