Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Starring Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling, David Dastmalchian, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Chen Chang and Babs Olusanmokun.
Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel, about the son of a noble family entrusted with the protection of the most valuable asset and most vital element in the galaxy.
Rippling through the sand dunes, thrumming in your chest, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune finally arrives in all of its stupendous majesty to deliver a vision perceived to be unfilmable, for an audience its hoping will be receptive to its heavy-metal bagpipes, spice mine lore, and thunderous spectacle.
Dune is a lot to take in. You’ll repeatedly be rubbing the sands of Arrakis from your eyes, as both a reaction to the sheer size of Villeneuve’s world-building and subsequent destruction, and in befuddlement at some of the exposition heavy sci-fi speak, which at times feels as though it’s being read straight from a compendium they should have handed out beforehand, and in some scenes it actually is.
It’s all necessary and eventually digestible, particularly upon a rewatch, and it’s important to acknowledge that this is a huge operatic first act, a $200M set-up, a beautifully crafted board upon which the pawns are moved into place before the real heart (something the film is sorely lacking) of Frank Herbert’s story plays out in the bean-counter dictated follow-up.
However, we don’t all have Paul Atreides style future visions, so let’s stick with what has been put in front of us. On which, Dune should be experienced, because that’s what it is, a huge, eye-watering, deafening experience, on the largest canvas possible.
The world that Villeneuve has built is one of the most impressive since Peta Jackson and his WETA wizards plucked Middle-Earth from our imaginations. Aged cities, places which feel as though they ache with history and thousands of stories. These aren’t those familiar shiny space veneers, they’re locations with real weight and intimidating size. If you were impressed with the way he writ future large for Blade Runner 2049, your jaw will drop lower for the scale of the topography on show here.
The movie which plays out upon this landscape feels like one gigantic propulsive set-piece, like an unrelenting sandstorm rolling towards uncertainty. Along the way we’re given some moments for which cinema was made; most notably a terrifying sandworm encounter, during which you feel as though you’re about to be engulfed by the enormity of it all, and a genuinely thrilling escape sequence that has so many moving parts that it might have collapsed in the hands of a lesser director.
All this artistry would be for nought should the story be a load of space balls. Remember, they’re counting on you wanting to come back for more, so it can’t all be impenetrable pomposity and politics. For a while that’s what it threatens to be, the stuff of “Trade Federation” nightmares, but Villeneuve has assembled such an incredible cast that you that invest in them straight away, although you don’t necessarily care about them, for now.
Immediately flying in the face of that criticism is Jason Momoa, who shakes the film from its intentional po-faced posturing every time he’s on screen. He’s an absolute delight, and the kind of roguish, wise-cracking hero scattered throughout the science-fiction galaxy. Timothée Chalamet is the antithesis of this, but he does internal suffering like few others (Beautiful Boy, Little Women, Call Me By Your Name), effectively imbuing Paul with a weight-of-the-world conflict that drives the movie towards a point which makes it impossible not to want to see the second part. It’s testament to what a supernova of a talent he is that with this maelstrom of effects swirling around him, it’s the potential to see what his character can become that’s the true cliff-hanger. The same can be said about Zendaya, with her frustratingly fleeting appearance suggesting bigger things to come, as well as the prospects for the perennially brilliant Rebecca Ferguson, whose multi-faceted character evolves beyond recognition from her wonderful opening scene introduction.
Overwhelmingly epic, immense in scale, but unavoidably incomplete, we will only truly grasp what an achievement Villeneuve’s Dune is if we’re able to finish the journey, learn more about these characters, and hear less of the bagpipes, so do us all a favour and immediately spice up your life.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter