Might contain spoilers.
Dune is a book I adore, together with Dune Messiah .
Unfortunately, I misplaced my copy of it a while ago and our only other one is in storage, so I
haven’t revisited it in a decade. My memories of the details are fuzzy. This film is phenomenal
nevertheless: gripping; intense; unbelievably well-made; brimming with meaning, resonance, and
import; visually stunning; and distinctly unforgettable. Even the scene with the Herald of the
Change is marvelous, with the stillness, the framing, the performances, and the momentous chants of
A small part of me does feel it’s too American and verging on unintentionally hilarious at times, most notably due to how some of the vocalizations in the score are timed. A couple of moments with Gurney and Duncan are jarringly clichéd, such as Duncan coming back to life to save Paul. The sinister voice that guides Paul is a tad ridiculous. The Fremen’s desert walk looks a touch silly in practice.
I also can’t ignore the fact that so many clearly Middle East–derived characters are played by Hispanic actors. The performances are obviously great; it’s just a very visible reflection of Hollywood’s biases. The other disturbing thing is that, based on the behind-the-scenes videos made available, the creative team seems quite homogeneous, which goes some way towards explaining why the movie appears to be building a white saviour narrative.
Denis Villeneuve had apparently been preparing for a while:
He wanted to make a faithful adaptation, so he waited until he'd done sci-fi films Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017) first so that he would have sufficient experience in the genre before starting work on Dune (2021). In fact, scenes from his prior films are strongly influenced by his interpretations of scenes from the novel.
So it’s only natural that Dune reminds me of his recent work: Sicario , Arrival , and Blade Runner 2049 . Hans Zimmer does his best impression of the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson on the soundtrack. The visuals employ more refined versions of Villeneuve’s tricks for depicting scale. The saturated colour schemes are everywhere.
Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin are all perfectly cast. Timothée Chalamet is surprisingly good except when he needs to speak more formally or at length, like when he speaks to Kynes or when he sobs over his visions. Rebecca Ferguson is very good but Lady Jessica lacks purpose, at least in this instalment—she can only cry and look scared. Sharon Duncan-Brewster seems miscast at first, but she brings appropriate intensity and emotion to Dr. Liet Kynes.
I spent the whole movie wondering why Baron Harkonnen looked and sounded familiar without realizing it was Stellan Skarsgård. I also never thought of David Dastamalchian as anything except ‘the Russian guy from Ant-Man ’ before seeing him as Piter de Vries.
The visuals are overwhelming. Every frame is truly a painting. The æsthetic of each planet and locale is unmistakable. Paul’s visions are carefully delineated through colour. The Harkonnen attack is a parade of breathtaking images. The special effects are seamless—I can only point to the sandworm as being less believable, and then perhaps only because the concept is so far removed from what we know. The little moment when Thufir Hawat’s eyes turn white as he enters the mentat state is satisfyingly tactile.
The sound design deserves an award of its own. Jessica and Paul’s constant silent communication as
well as the curtain of silence masking Reverend Mother Mohiam’s meeting with Baron Harkonnen are
spectacularly effective choices. There are moments of the score that seem absurd, as I mentioned
earlier, but entire sections of it can only be described as magnificent. I must confess, though, it
feels odd hearing words like
Harkonnen pronounced so differently
compared to the games and adaptations I grew up with.
On a personal note, hard as it is to imagine how any film could justify its inclusion (to say nothing of one already trying to streamline the story), I’m sad my favourite scene won’t be put to screen: Dr. Liet Kynes hallucinating Pardot Kynes explaining the terraforming project. It’s a pity Shadout Mapes’s story is also hollowed out for the sake of brevity.
The movie raises questions about the sandworms that I never considered before. Why would such a huge creature ever chase a human? Considering the expenditure of energy, the latter would have negative nutritional value. Leaving that aside, how does a sandworm, designed to digest desert animals and the occasional human wearing clothes, consume an entire sandcrawler?
Paste Magazine highlights the limitations of the two-part format, and it’s hard to wait until 2023 for the second half, but I don’t know anyone other than Villeneuve whom I would trust to handle so many moving pieces with finesse, style, passion, precision, and vision. It’s a pleasant surprise to see that a movie as dense and thoughtful as this has been such a huge success. I eagerly anticipate the arrival of Alia, Irulan, Feyd-Rautha, and the Guild Navigators, not to mention the mounting of the sandworms.
I wish my father, who introduced me to the books so long ago, could have seen this. I can only imagine how much he would have loved the film.