Love it or hate it, “Dune” is bound to leave every viewer in awe. Featuring some of the most striking visuals of all time, the movie is a one-of-a-kind experience.
Often considered the “unadaptable novel” — legendary director David Lynch attempted (and failed) the daunting task in 1984 — written by Frank Herbert, the book’s complex structure with hundreds of characters, religious allegories and a high-concept premise seems more fit for the page than the screen.
Many directors have stayed away from the text while others, such as George Lucas, took the “chosen one” theme and made their own movies. In 2017, Denis Villeneuve finally stepped up to the plate and signed up to take on the gigantic sand worm.
Arguably the most exciting director in Hollywood, Villeneuve’s vision wound up perfect for Herbert’s words, creating a sumptuous and scintillating spectacle on the largest scale the industry has ever seen.
“Dune” takes place in the year 10,191 where planets in the galaxy are run by different families. House Atreides, led by Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), rules on the ocean planet of Caladan and has been commissioned by the Emperor to take over the planet of Arrakis — home of the valuable substance known as spice and the indigenous Fremen people.
The beastly House Harkonnen, led by Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), also have a vested interest in spice and will not let House Atreides take control of Arrakis that easily. The Duke’s son, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), finds himself thrust into this dangerous world and caught up in a galactic warfare of honor, legacy and power.
Even though it’s easier than ever to watch movies at home, “Dune” is a film made for the theater. Watching this movie at home would be an absolute disservice to Villeneuve’s vision and the grand set pieces.
Using IMAX cameras, he’s able to capture every inch of the vast landscapes, from the scorching Arrakis desert to the lush greenery of Caladan. The battles feel overwhelming, making the viewer feel as though they’re a member of House Atreides fighting for their pride.
In a pivotal action sequence on Arrakis, Villeneuve (“Arrival,” “Sicario”) creates the most visceral sequence in a sci-fi movie of the past decade with thousands of soldiers battling as helicopters and large ships explode, all to Hans Zimmer’s (“Inception,” “Dunkirk”) booming score.
The goal of any action sequence is to immerse the audience and get their adrenaline pumping — movies that rely heavily on CGI fail to do this (see: any MCU movie’s third act). Villenueve has a special ability to blend special effects with natural locations and in “Dune,” he’s never been better.
Aside from the technology, the “Dune” lore from Herbert is dense and complicated. Lynch crammed the first book into one movie — a big mistake. Villeneuve brilliantly adjusts by adapting only the first half of the novel.
The storytelling is difficult to navigate at times but Villeneuve’s patient, controlled direction makes it more manageable. He isn’t worried about completing anyone’s arcs knowing this is the first installment of a planned franchise.
While some characters could’ve used more screen time, the writing does a good job in highlighting the important ones.
Chalamet (“Lady Bird,” “Little Women”) nails the angsty aura to Paul and really shines in the final third, breaking out of the lazy origin hero trope and claiming this franchise as his own. Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis,” “The Card Counter”) gives a suave, confident performance as the Duke — and his beard game has never been better.
Other standout performances include Jason Momoa (“Aquaman,” “Justice League”) and Josh Brolin (“Avengers: Endgame,” “Deadpool 2”), who add nice bits of humor to the movie. Zendaya (“Spiderman: Homecoming,” “Malcolm & Marie”) warranted more screen time, but she’s poised to be a big part of the sequel.
Even though most of Villenueve’s movies are about the visuals, he’s excellent at developing big ideas. He leans into the concept of the “Chosen One” and doesn’t stray from the religious aspects in Herbert’s novel by connecting it to the concept of the “Mahdi” in Islam or a Messianic figure in other Abrahamic religions.
This is what makes “Dune” unique — it doesn’t feel liable to fan service like other big-IP movies. Villenueve is telling the story he wants and, more importantly, at the pace he wants. As a result, this sci-fi epic culminates in one of the best in-theater experiences of all time.
Here’s hoping we get a sequel soon — if not, we’re going to need a whole lot of spice.
“Dune,” rated PG-13, is now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.