Despite being a fan of sci-fi and fantasy fare, I had never read Frank Herbert’s “Dune” novel. To be honest, the plot summaries of trade wars and odd names didn’t exactly appeal to me. So, I came into this film armed only with the expectations that director Dennis Villeneuve (one of my favorite film helmsmen) would probably do a good job with the material. That sentiment turned out to be an enormous understatement.
For a very basic overview, “Dune” tells the story–set thousands of years into the future–of the planet Arrakis, notable in the galaxy for its rich deposits of a spice that powers interstellar travel. Once ruled by House Harkonnen, Arrakis is being transferred to a new bloodline, that of House Atreides–with much political intrigue afoot. Central to all this is Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), a young man who not only is being recruited into a behind-the-scenes string-pulling society inhabited by his mother (Rebecca Ferguson), but also begins having visions of fulfilling a savior prophecy amongst the Fremen (Arrakis’ desert inhabitants). Truth be told, trying to sum up “Dune” in a few sentences is nearly impossible and comes off sounding boring or trite. Rest assured, however, that the film is anything but.
Perhaps the biggest draw here is the work of director Villeneuve, who may now be nipping at the heels of Christopher Nolan in terms of directors with the prominence to create a project with this type of scale. His ability to take a plot that, yes, essentially stems from a trade war and make it utterly compelling cinema is remarkable. It’s Star Wars meets Lord of the Rings with the best themes of each franchise being showcased.
Having a stellar cast certainly doesn’t hurt, either. Besides Chalamet & Ferguson (both excellent), veterans of the craft like Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellen Skarsgard, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, & Zendaya play key roles. In a film that requires characters to look and feel epic in nature, that is easily accomplished with such a distinguished group.
The visuals and music soundtrack also heavily contribute to the sense of scale in “Dune”. While not flashy in any way, this is a film that begs to be seen on the big screen, where the planetary geography, interesting technology, and swelling score from Hans Zimmer can all best penetrate the senses.
Yes, this film is technically “half a movie” in that a sequel will be released at a later date to cover the rest of the source novel. But never for a moment did I feel in any way cheated or frustrated by this fact. In this case, I actually appreciated the way the filmmakers set the groundwork without rushing to try and cram everything into a single runtime.
Overall, my theater experience while watching “Dune” was one of the best I’ve had in some time. Truth be told, the only reason I deduct even one star is because I have to wait to pass final judgement until the sequel is finished. But I’ll have absolutely no trouble going back to re-watch this effort again in anticipation of that conclusion. In a film era of endless sequels and IP-related projects, “Dune” felt original and fresh in a way that is (sadly) growing more and more rare.
Review by zkonedog