In this year’s “Dune”, Denis Villeneuve takes Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel, and adapts it into one of the most epic films of the year in terms of it’s scale and impact that it will have on 2021’s cinematic offerings. The cinematography is just absolutely stunning, the characters are deeply storied, and the tensions are vast. Everything you could come to expect from the film, is hand delivered to you. But when it’s done, you’re just left wanting more.
“Dune,” follows suit with many now-established science fiction tropes, although it is to be said that they were inspired/created by the original source material. There is a vast power struggle brewing, a power-hungry villain, and what science fiction/fantasy world would be complete without a Savior. Timothée Chalamet plays Paul Atreides, the son of Duke Atreides, Oscar Issac, and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). On one side, he is being raised as the future of House Atreides; and on the other he is being raised as Lisan al-Gaib, or simply the Messiah. His mother Jessica does this as an acolyte of the “Bene Gesserit,” a female group whose mission is to breed together different bloodlines until they create “The One.”
Now one of the best movies to do this kind of world building and show that there is one person made for this divine purpose and is set to save everybody and defeat evil, and what you think of the entire time, is “Star Wars”. It’s nearly impossibly to see the resemblance and think of while watching this movie. And what Star Wars did well, so does “Dune.” It gives some truly incredible world-building paired with incredible visuals to back it up. Especially when compared to David Lynch’s 1984 attempt, this film does everything better. The story is more compelling the visuals are a tool rather than a distraction.
Now, getting into the movie itself. And be warned, this will get into some spoilers for the movie. So for the faint of heart, beware.
We start with voiceover narration from Chani (Zendaya), who gives us the first backdrop for the movie. For 80 years, Arrakis has been governed and ruled by the Harkonnen. They rule with absolute authority, and work to produce a valuable resource known as spice, an obvious metaphor for oil and drugs. It produces superhuman abilities such as extended life, and achieving higher levels of thought. Spice also gives the ability for faster-than-light travel, making it incredibly valuable. From the occupation of Arrakis, the Harkonnen have grown incredibly rich, even mores than the Emperor that assigned them to the planet.
But after 80 years, the Emperor makes a change. He assigns House Atreides to Arrakis. A move known to Duke Atreides as a setup. He knows that a power change like this will cause chaos and war. So it is his intention to befriend the natural occupants of the planet, the Fremen, to fill the space their dominance has lacked: desert.
There are some remarkable moments in the first 30 minutes of the movie that set up what’s to come. We find the first inklings of Paul’s abilities, he dreams of events that will happen (the Sight) and his mother helps him to hone his ability to command others (the Voice). These again start to show the influence this novel had on science fiction, taken right off the page and dropped into “Star Wars.” And we see some truly haunting scenes with Baron Harkonnen (an incredibly transformed Stellan Skarsgård), who is constantly setting the plot into motion: kill off the Atreides to take back Arrakis.
Where some movies might choose to see a bit more of a struggle, the Baron is pretty successful. Just about everybody the movie throws at you that you care about is killed, but not without a fight. Duke Atreides gets poisoned by the house doctor, but is given a cyanide-pill like tooth that expels poison in the area around him. Duncan Idaho (a great friend to Paul, played by Jason Momoa), dies in an incredible fight scene stalling the attacking army so Paul and Jessica can escape. And this all leads to the third act, Paul and Jessica attempting to go further into the desert to get the help of the Fremen led by Stilgar (Javier Bardem) Paul has an intense ritual duel with Jamis where he is doubted to win, but ends up coming on top and taking his first life to survive.
Now let’s talk about all of this. The film opens up with the title “Dune: Part I” and that really already hooks you in. For the next 2 hours and 35 minutes, you know there’s going to be another one, a promise that something as epic as this movie is something that will be continued, and has too much for just one movie. I think where this fails the movie though, is that you know there’s going to be a next one. While we do lose a bit of the characters, we know the story isn’t over at the end. This is where some franchises greatly fail. Where others like “Star Wars” succeed is that it sort of ends as a closed story. The other movies are just in addition, and to build upon the story in better and more intense ways.
Now the ending does leave you wanting more, we see the Fremen and Paul walking further into the desert, even seeing somebody in the distance riding a sandworm, but that’s about it. Nothing is really resolved, and no real satisfaction aside from Paul’s victory. But the second movie hasn’t been made yet. I’m sure tons of planning and pre-production thought has been put into what we will see and how it will be tackled producing the film in even more of a pandemic. But the possibility of a second film will largely depend on the success of this movie. With it being a highly anticipated film with incredible talent drawing audiences, I’m sure it will not be hard. But with it already leaking online, releasing same-day on HBO Max, and further surges of COVID-19, it definitely has an uphill climb to make.
That may sound really negative, but I don’t see it that way. This movie was incredibly engrossing, and has some of the best cinematography (Greig Fraser) this year has offered thus far. The score by Hans Zimmer is addictive and has been playing the entire time this review has been written. And the performances all around left nothing to be desired. Everybody is incredible, whether how much or little screen time they had (cough cough, David Dastmalchian.) It lived up to the hype for me, and whether or not Part II comes, I’m glad to have been able to experience it.