Dune – Film Review
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Synopsis: On the harsh desert world of Arrakis, the Atreides family are entrusted with the stewardship of the planet that is home to the most valuable resource in the world….
Review: When it comes to science fiction and fantasy storytelling, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are two of the pinnacles of the genre, and have inspired generations of filmmakers and audiences. Yet, there is another body of work that is hugely influential to the genre. A story that featured a vast array of planets and civilisations, hailed by many as the greatest science fiction novel of all time. Now, in the hands of one of the finest directors working today, a new adaptation of Dune is here, and ready to win over a brand-new generation of fans.
In the far future, the most valuable resource is the spice Melange, harvested on the planet of Arrakis. For years, the planet and its people, the Fremen, have been under the brutal rule of the Harkonnens, who have ruled with an iron fist of fear. Now, it has been decreed that the planet, and the monumental task of mining the spice, will fall to the House Atreides, led by Duke Leto (Isaac). By his side, will be his son Paul (Chalamet) and Paul’s mother, the Lady Jessica (Ferguson), who belongs to a mystical order of powerful women known as the Bene Gesserit. There’s a lot of pressure on Paul’s shoulders, as the Bene Gesserit believe Paul could one day turn out to be the Chosen One.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Frank Herbert’s novel has been adapted for the big screen. However, for reasons that are far too numerous to list here, David Lynch promptly disowned his 1984 adaptation upon release. Villeneuve has cited Dune as one of his favourite novels growing up, and from the very first minute, it is clear why he was the perfect director to helm this new adaptation. A glance at Villeneuve’s body of work has demonstrated his outstanding skill to bring jaw-dropping visuals to any story he directs, often in part due to astounding cinematography. While there’s no Roger Deakins behind the camera here, Greig Fraser is an extremely capable replacement. The gorgeous visuals are expertly combined with the sheer scale of this universe, and it is nothing short of epic.
Due to the extremely dense nature of the source material, it is a necessity for Villeneuve and writers Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts, to take their time. There is a staggering amount of existing lore and mythology to establish, as well all the various planets and Houses that exist within this story. It would be easy for any newcomers to get lost in the enormity of the world-building. Hence, the screenplay bides its time, and gives the audience ample opportunity to take everything in. The use of the practical, real life sets for the film’s production design, such as the immense Jordanian desert amplifies the impressive nature of the construction of this universe. As Villeneuve memorably said in an interview last year, “They didn’t shoot Jaws in a swimming pool!” The use of practical sets adds so much richness to the film and ultimately it makes it unlike anything that we’ve seen in this type of big-budget blockbuster filmmaking in a very long time.
At the centre of all this is Chalamet’s Paul. He’s an actor who has carved himself a career in a plethora of Indie films over the years. The central role in a gargantuan behemoth that is Dune, is quite the step up. However, he makes that transition into a leading man seamlessly. Ferguson as the Lady Jessica is a fierce and strong-willed woman. However, there is a vulnerability that she brings to the role as she is fiercely protective of her son and the gifts that he possesses. This adds considerable depth and nuance to the relationship between Paul and Jessica. Oscar Isaac brings a lordly aura to that of Duke Leto. Yet, despite his very many duties as the leader of a great House, he still exhibits warmth, especially where Paul is concerned.
Meanwhile, the characters of Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho and Josh Brolin’s Gurney Halleck, core components of the inner circle of House Atreides, are the notable standouts. Opposing the Atreides, is the ruthless House Harkonnen. Right from the moment they are introduced, they are instantaneously the foreboding and ominous threat that any film with such a richly developed universe, incomparable in its scope and majesty, requires. Furthermore, Stellan Skarsgård as the villainous Baron, is an on-screen presence that you will not be forgetting in a hurry.
Reuniting with Villeneuve after collaborating on Blade Runner 2049, it feels like there aren’t enough superlatives to describe just how special this score by Hans Zimmer really is. The true power of a good film score is how a single note can transport you into that world, and this score by Zimmer will take you back to Arrakis in an instant. While the cast are all phenomenal in their roles, given the obvious influences of Arab culture into the source material, it is disappointing that there is a distinct lack of MENA cast members present. However, as this film only represents one half of Herbert’s novel, a second part would give Villeneuve the chance to rectify that missed opportunity.
To give audiences one half of this incredible story, only to not tell the second half would be extremely disappointing. Sweeping epics like this seldom come around very often. Hence, the spice must flow sufficiently enough to ensure that second part will come to fruition, and not be something that will be swirling in our dreams from the deep forever more.