Frank Herbert’s renowned sci-fi novel, Dune, has been bought to life by one of the greatest directors of all time – Denis Villeneuve. This sci-fi epic of monstrous proportions follows a young noble, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), who must learn about and come to terms with his destiny when dangerous forces initiate warfare, fighting for the most vital resource in the galaxy.
Dune is a massive, expansive novel, which is why a translation to film is so difficult – trying to introduce, explain and develop a thriving universe with immense depth in a matter of two-and-a-half hours is a tough task. However, if there was ever one man to do the job, it’s writer/director Denis Villeneuve. Time and time again, he’s proven his worth behind the camera, and this time he’s created an absolute beast of a film that blows you away. Dune is grand in scale, ambitious in reach and flawless in execution. It’s big, loud and truly magnificent in every sense of the word. Denis Villeneuve wastes no time and cuts no corners when it comes to thrusting audiences into this sprawling galaxy of conflict, politics, betrayal and treaties. The first half (largely) is jam-packed full of names, families, relationships and visions, getting you up to speed with this universe in a manner that’s one of the film’s best qualities, but also where it’s at its weakest. The early moments of this film ask a lot of its audience – it throws out so much information that it can be hard to keep up, and many people will be unsure of what’s happening for the first 30 minutes or so. That’s about how long it took me to fully process what exactly is happening and who all the characters are, in relation to each other.
I likened it to Star Wars in the way A New Hope (1977) begins as if there was an entire movie of content before this that we didn’t see (Rogue One, 2016) that was briefed to us through dialogue. That’s the same approach used in Dune, and just like in Star Wars – it works! And yes, I understand that Dune predates Star Wars and was one of its influences. Once that moment kicks in where enough time has passed for you to grasp the purpose of all the players in this game, it locks you in and never lets go. It hooks you on the concept, the characters, the worlds and the future of where the narrative is heading. There’s no questioning the fact the Dune doesn’t rush to get to its finish line. It’s a very slow-building narrative that lets you soak in the grandiose of almost every single moment, take in the scope of what you’re witnessing and permit you to ponder what could happen next. It lingers on meaningful moments, and takes the time to make sure it’s properly fleshing out the universe and its characters before thrusting them into the thick of the story.
It may take a while, but once that climax kicks off, it’s balls-to-the-wall action, thrills and tension – making the journey to get there well worth it. As with the rest of the film, the action is grand – it’s fast-paced and contains an insane variety of gun battles, hand-to-hand fights, chase sequences and some aerial combat. Everything about this world is infinitely captivating – from the sandworms and the uses of spice, to the lifestyle of the Fremen and politics of who is in charge of the galaxy. It’s truly mesmerising in the way the world is explored and developed, resulting in an awesome final product.
The brilliance of this film doesn’t stop there, Greig Fraser’s cinematography is simply world class. Every single shot is something to marvel at – and that is no exaggeration. Whether it’s one of the grand action sequences, a sweeping vista on Arrakis or something as simple as an interior dialogue scene – the scale of every shot matches the epic nature of the series. The impressive visuals are just one of the reasons why Dune MUST be experienced in the theatre at least once. The other reason being Hans Zimmer’s heart-pounding score, one which drowns out all other sound in the theatre and transports you to this universe from the opening scene.
In terms of the performances, there’s absolutely no shortage of star power, and absolutely everyone nails their performance. Timothée Chalamet leads the film as Paul Atreides, and it’s all eyes on him whenever he’s on screen (which is most of the time). Despite his fantastic work in films like Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name, this will certainly go down as one of the strongest and most impactful performances of his career. He’s dedicated from beginning to end and never snaps out of character – which is crucial to the film’s impact as so much of the narrative rest on his performance. Then you have the likes of Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson, who are all brilliant in their respective roles. They’re all so experienced that they just have this natural class and charisma about them, making their respective characters that much more compelling to follow. In terms of the film’s antagonists, Stellan Skarsgård is another tier of menacing in his performance as Baron Harkonnen. Every time he speaks he evokes a similar level of fear, control and power as Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine.
In the end, the entirety of Dune can be encapsulated by one word – phenomenal. It is a truly breathtaking work of art that doesn’t put a foot wrong. The truck-loads of information that is thrust on audiences early on in the film is a lot to take in, but everything it delivers is essential to the enjoyment and understanding of this film. You must also understand that this is a Part 1, meaning the story doesn’t necessarily have an ending, rather it’s more of an intermission until we get to Part 2. It’s an epic piece of sci-fi on a scale that is hardly ever touched by filmmakers for the sheer difficulty of successfully pulling something like this off. It’s beautiful, tense and utterly mesmerising – a true cinematic experience like no other. For any sci-fi fan, this is essential viewing, as Denis Villeneuve has crafted a vision so true that it will go down in history.