From Arrival to Blade Runner 2049, no other mainstream Hollywood director has impacted the sci-fi genre as much as Denis Villeneuve has in recent years. It’s a fitting match that he would be the one to tackle author Frank Herbert’s Dune, whose series of novels go down as some of the most influential in all of science fiction. There have been many attempts in the past to adapt the holy grail, from David Lynch’s 1894 film adaptation to the Sci-Fi Channel’s miniseries, but none so far have been able to capture the grand and complex nature of the novels. That is until Villeneuve’s adaptation. Dune is about as big as films get, delivering one massive set piece after another as it explores the intricate worlds of its vast universe. It’s epic in every sense of the word and worth experiencing on the biggest screen possible.
Dune is a massive universe, and Villeneuve’s film only covers roughly the first half of the novel, which is clearly established by the Part One attached to the title screen at the beginning. The film follows the young Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), son of Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) and heir to House Atreides. Their House is sent to the hostile planet of Arrakis by the Emperor of the universe to take over the mining and production of spice, a vital element in space travel, from House Harkonnen. There’s lots of money and influence to be made though, and the Harkonnen’s aren’t going to go quietly. Between them and the harsh environment itself, including giant sandworms inhabiting the planet’s deserts, the threat of death looms around every corner.
Dune is one of the best looking films of the year with absolutely breathtaking visuals that capture every little detail of a scene. The environments are stunning, from the cool and thriving planet of Caladan to the harsh and desolate Arrakis. It truly feels like being transported to another universe while watching the story unfold. Every scene feels massive in scale, no matter what is happening. Even mundane actions like walking from a building to a ship have a grandiose weight to them. Dune will leave you wide-eyed for the entire film, not just because it’s jaw-dropping gorgeous, but also because you won’t want to blink in fear of missing every little detail.
The story itself is great as well and does a fantastic job at covering the basics of the novel. I say this because no film can ever really match the level of detail novels can go into, but Dune is the best adaptation we’ve had of Frank Herbert’s source material so far. For those that haven’t read the book, I feel the film can be a little overwhelming. There’s a lot to cover and the film packs plenty in its already full palate so some ideas are glossed over. There are lots of terms to learn and while you never really feel lost following what’s going on, being familiar with the novel gives just a little more insight and background into everything. Timothée Chalamet is fantastic as a young Paul, a boy torn between living up to the ideals of his family and the people around him. The same can be said about Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto and Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica. So much of the film relies on their expressions rather than words, and all of the main cast delivers. A lot of the novel is told through the character’s thoughts. David Lynch’s Dune featured plenty of voiceover to express this, but Villeneuve forgoes this and instead relies on his actors to show rather than tell. That, coupled with one of the best scores from Hans Zimmer, manages to get the job done quite well.
My only complaint is that because this is only Part One, some of the supporting cast like Zendaya and Javier Bardem aren’t fleshed out all that much. I’m sure they’ll get their due come Part Two if/when it gets made, but until then so much of the story is left open-ended.
For some, Dune is just a tease, a fabulous and beautiful puzzle with many of the pieces still missing. You can see the bigger picture and how amazing it will be in the end, but it’s still incomplete. I personally loved every minute of the film, and cannot wait to return to Arrakis and finish the puzzle. Denis Villeneuve has done a phenomenal job at building this universe and capturing the complexities of Herbert’s novel. It’s only right that he gets to finish it too, hopefully sooner rather than later.