Before there was Star Wars or Blade Runner or Alien or 2001: A Space Odyssey there was Dune! Frank Herbert's epic science-fiction novel is The Odyssey of the genre, blending sci-fi with fantasy and touching up themes of religion, colonialism, capitalism and influenced by Islam. It is an ambitious story to adapt to the big screen, as filmmaker David Lynch can attest to. Lynch's 1984 adaptation is a bizzare, messy attempt at cramming Herbert's novel into one, 2-hour movie. For this knew version, Denis Villenue has the advantage of time on his hands.
Dune sees House Atreides given control of the desert planet of Arrakis, which is a source for Spice, a vital ingredient in space travel. On Arrakis, the family must survive the harsh environment of their new home, the native Fremens and the invading House Harkonnen. Soooo yeah, not one you can just knock off in a couple of hours.
Villenuve has already expressed a love and appreciaction for high sci-fi with Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 and here is no different. This is a breathtaking feast for audiences. Stunning cinematography of the various planets, mind boggling visual effects and intricately detailed sets and costumes suck you into this weird and wonderful world and demonstrate the care and budget put into this movie. It is filmmaking you expect from Villenuve but one you don't expect from a multi-million dollar movie that doesn't feature capes or laser swords. With all all-star cast, this is sure to be intended as a franchise (and as a early title reveal shows, this is only Part 1).
The movie's only and biggest failing is this hidden subtitle of 'Dune: Part 1', with Part 2 announced after a successful box office run. As a result, this movie is all set-up with very little if any pay off. It makes it hard to judge because the story is incomplete and storylines left with only the possibility of being wrapped up in satisfying manner. Once the end does come around, it is abrupt and flat. There was no way to tell the story in one movie without breaking records (and people's attention spans), but there could have been more character story conclusions beyond a quick death. This is the film's only misstep, which affects the closing feeling on the movie but shouldn't detract from everything else.
Something to be appreciated about the movie and Villenuve is the sincere commitment to the source material. In the modern blockbuster, franchise heavy landscape that begrudgingly acknowledges its origin as disposable, campy stories about people in spandex, it is refreshing to see an absolute commitment to something so silly. Jason Mamoa is...Duncan...Idaho? Yeah sure. The Bene...Jesserit? Cool. Characters honestly refer to "desert power" with no pause for laughter. It helps bring you into this world by not lampshading how goofy certain elements are.
Underneath the spectacle and social commentary, there is also an emotional story about legacy and journey as Paul Atredies struggles to accept the role he must play in his family and the brewing galatic conflict. Unsurprisingly, in such a talented cast, the performances are high quality. the stand-outs being Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson, whose stories are the main emotional throughline.
Dune is the rare blockbuster that is filled with style and substance. Villenuve faithfully brings Frank Herbert's world to life with breathtaking visuals and production design, a powerful score from Hans Zimmer and strong performances but unfortunately leaves you on an unfulfilled, sequel baiting end.