Directed by Denis Villeneuve
In theatres and streaming
Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune is a singular experience. It’s not a remake of David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation, but it does have some love for that magnificent failure. And it’s not drawing anything from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s planned but never filmed adaption, but it also has some love for that magnificent acid trip, that bewilderingly could-have-been. And it is pretty much ignoring the 2000 TV series that I completely forgot existed until recently. That thing was bad. Like, made it through 12 minutes and scrubbed it from my brain with steel wool bad.
Anyway. Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. This adaptation isn’t a full adaptation, it’s more of an adaptation of the first half of the novel. And this really is the only way to adapt that giant novel. Split it up into separate films, more space and time to tell the story. Hopefully we get the second film. This film has a satisfyingly ending but it leaves us wanting more, needing more. It ends at a good spot, but it aches for the lack of closure.
Dune, at its most stripped down and over-simplified, is the story of teenage Paul Atreides, the heir of House Atreides, possible Messiah and maybe the culmination of centuries of genetic manipulation. I was going to go farther down the rabbit hole and had actually written out a pretty sweet synopsis but then I realized part of the joy of something like Dune is jumping in feet first and letting the experience happen. And for those people that have never read the novel or watched any of the adaptations and are going in with a near awareness of anything Dune, I envy you. The world building in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is near perfection.
And it’s been a long time since I’ve seen world building done this well with minimal exposition. Lord of the Rings had a bigger upfront exposition dump than Dune. The Dune universe feels new and exciting but also familiar. The source material has influenced so much of what came after that it could run the risk of feeling derivative. Dune’s fingerprints can be found on movies as varied as Beetlejuice and Star Wars and Alien. But, somehow, against all odds, after 56 years of influence and more homages than I’m going to count, Mr. Villeneuve and his team have made something that feels wholly original.
This is the first movie that I’ve seen that actually makes the desert feel like an ocean of sand. Everyone, going as far back as Lawrence of Arabia, has tried and some have come close, but no-one has ever made a desert feel like Dune does. The sandworms don’t just disturb the sand where they move, they leave wakes. When they dive back down, the sand moves like water, it splashes and moves almost like a liquid. The shots of the sand, of the never-ending dunes, are like something rarely seen in blockbusters.
Dune is something rarely seen anymore – it’s an epic. Like, a true epic. The scope, the scale, it’s like something from another time. Characters are dwarfed by their environments. Even in smaller rooms, they still feel, well, small. Isolated.
And Dune is an extraordinarily beautiful movie. Like, gasping for breath, tears at the corners of the eyes beautiful. I don’t have the words to convey how beautiful this movie is. The shades of the sand, the white heat of the sun, the reds of blood, the colours of skin, everything is tangible and beautiful and awe-inspiring.
And then there’s the performances. Oh, my. Every single performance, from above the title to background extra, every single performance is perfection. It must say something about Mr. Villeneuve’s directing style that Dune can look like it does and still have these jaw-droppingly good performances. Also, the film may be about Paul Atreides, and Timothée Chalamet is all kinds of awesome, but the heart of the film lies with Lady Jessica, played by Rebecca Ferguson. Her powerless grief and her determination and her love for her family is so heartbreakingly real.
So, is Dune worth seeing in a theatre? Yes. A million times yes. The sounds, the visuals, the performances, the Hans Zimmer score, everything about Dune is darned near perfection. And it truly never feels like it’s 2 and a half hours long. It’s a testament to its pacing that I feel like most of the audience I saw it with didn’t want it to be over. They wanted Dune: Part 2 now and would have gladly sat there for the end of the story.
So, yeah. I enjoyed Dune. A lot. And I’m really hoping that in the future I can re-title this write up Dune: Part 1.