Film Review – Dune (Second Take)
Director Denis Villeneuve has built up enough of a diverse and fantastic resume that he is now one of the top directors in the world. Lately, his genre of choice leaned toward fantasy and science fiction with Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Arrival (2016), and now Dune (2021). He has a knack for otherworldly scope and beautiful films, and Dune is no exception.
I will not try to explain the film’s plot in detail as it may take up most of this review. Suffice it to say that Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is a reluctant heir to a dynasty of his father, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac). His mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), is the Duke’s concubine and a member of Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, whose members have mystical talents. House Atreides takes over the management of the planet Arrakis from the Emperor. This planet is special because it is where “spice” is harvested and used for space navigation. The intrusion of House Atreides on Arrakis is not taken well by the Baron (Stellan Skarsgård) or his people. The native people of Arrakis have yet another intruder to deal with who wants to decimate their lands for spice. In the midst of all this, Paul has dreams of Arrakis and a girl (Zendaya). The dreams appear prophetic, worrying his parents. A major conflict arises, and the film proceeds from there.
Dune by Frank Herbert is a massive book, both in reference to the book’s length and the fanbase. The first film based on the book came out in 1984 and will always be remembered by me as that film that Sting was in, not something that a six-year-old found particularly interesting. Flash-forward to 2021, technology has made it possible for science fiction and fantasy films and television series to depict their stories as realistically as possible. Being both a fan of Villeneuve and science fiction, Dune suddenly became a topic of interest, and I tried to read the book but didn’t make it very far.
Book readers will have an advantage, I assume, of knowing the background of the different families and the politics of this universe. It is glossed over or not explained well, but a film bogged down by background details can make for a boring one. Dune somewhat tells the audience relevant information about what is going on and why, but it leaves many questions with no answers. Those needing more information will have to pick up the book or search for it on the internet, potentially opening themselves up to spoilers they may not want.
However, there is no question that Dune is a space epic that will draw comparisons to Star Wars and Game of Thrones, two different stories that are at the forefront of the current audiences’ minds. While comparing Dune to both may seem lazy, and I’m not the only one comparing them to Dune, the scope and story are remarkably similar with their themes and settings.
While we can argue whether you should see this film in a theatre in an ongoing pandemic, Villeneuve is on the pro-theatre side of that argument. His Dune premieres on HBO Max at the same time. I have restricted myself from going to theatres because I live in Texas, the state of “personal freedom.” Thankfully, the screening for Dune was press-only, and I felt better about seeing it, especially since it did screen in a large Dolby Atmos theatre. Experiencing it in such a theatre definitely made the experience more positive because seeing these massive space crafts on a large screen will not match your television at home. With the Dolby Atmos, the score by Hans Zimmer vibrated the seats and took precedence over hearing some of the dialogue. Nonetheless, I am grateful that I could see it in a theatre, but if it had not been for a press screening, I would have settled for my TV as I have for many other films. If you choose to watch it at home, maybe sometime post-pandemic, there will be screenings of all these films we wished we could have seen in a theatre.
Villeneuve and Warner Brothers took a significant bet on this film; while it took a lot of money to make, Dune is only part one. As you see it on the screen, the film’s title is Dune: Part One, but it has not been marketed as such. Dune is only half the story, and if the second part is not greenlit, it will be one of those films with no continuation. The biggest comparison I can think of is the American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) by David Fincher, but at least that story was self-contained. Many people have lamented that the two films should have been filmed back-to-back, much like Lord of the Rings. Instead, if the second part is made, the whole production will have to regroup. Hopefully, all those behind the scenes and in front of the camera will be able to return.
Dune is not perfect, and I don’t think there is any way to make a film adaptation of it and make it so. While we see Villeneuve as a film director, there could have been the potential to make this a television series and work out the kinks and tell the story completely. Nevertheless, I do absolutely want to see Dune again, much like other visually overwhelming films. It will find its audience, and there will be those that will salivate over the experience. On the other hand, there are issues with the story and how it glosses over important details. I wish there were more character development as I found many interesting and unique and wanted to know more about them. Dune is blessed with amazing cinematography, beautiful CGI, and a mesmerizing score. It will be a travesty of cinematic art if Part Two isn’t made.