After being delayed by nearly a year thanks to the pandemic, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, the long-awaited adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel, has finally hit the big screen. While it might come across a little confusing to those that haven’t read the original story, fans of the book will rejoice at finally having an adaptation that lives up to Herbert’s epic novel.
Dune follows the story of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the son and heir of House Atreides, currently headed by his father Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) and his concubine mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). House Atreides are one of a number of ruling dynasties in an empire known as Imperium and are tasked by the Emperor to take over the rule of desert planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. Prior to the Atreides, House Harkonnen successfully ruled Arrakis for over 80 years and the Baron (Stellan Skarsgård) is not happy that his rule has been terminated.
Despite sensing a trap, Duke Leto packs up his family and his army, along with warmaster Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and swordmaster Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), and travels to Arrakis. Meanwhile, son Paul is having dreams of Arrakis and a Fremen girl Chani (Zendaya), a member of a tribe opposed to the Harkonnens living in the desert. There are also signs supported by his mother Jessica that Paul is the Chosen One, prophesised and foretold by the Bene Gesserit, an order of women who possess mystical and superhuman powers to which his mother belongs.
Soon after their arrival on Arrakis, disaster befalls House Atreides as they are betrayed by one of their own, and they all must fight for their lives in the desert environment. Oh and not only do they have to avoid enemy soldiers, but also gigantic sandworms that make crossing the desert incredibly difficult and dangerous.
For a newcomer, the story of Dune could be a little overwhelming as it’s a bit of an epic – think Game of Thrones meets Star Wars and you’d be on the right track. The story of the warring houses and the empire is rather complicated, even more so than it appears on screen, but this film has managed to pull off a cohesive and immersive introduction into Herbert’s world. I will admit that it is very slow-paced, a little too much especially in the first hour, but at the same time, there’s no scene that doesn’t belong. Compared to the in-depth narrative of Frank Herbert’s novel, this 2.5 hour epic breezes over the details of the story.
Denis Villeneuve has a great track record when it comes to sci-fi and you can see that here. The cinematography and world that has been created here is truly stunning, even down to the costume and set designs of each individual planet and House. It’s matched by Hans Zimmer’s powerful and often tribal-like score, and together they make for a beautifully shot film. My only criticism would be about the darker scenes set at night, which unfortunately to me felt too dark to be able to fully appreciate the action. The most notable is a scene set in the early hours of the morning involving one of the sandworms, which was a bit of a let-down because the dark setting obscured the detail and visuals.
As a fan of the book, I was impressed at how well the cast fit their roles and characters perfectly. I couldn’t imagine anyone other than Josh Brolin playing the grizzled Gurney Halleck or Jason Momoa as the fearless warrior Duncan Idaho, and Timothée Chalamet excels as Paul in a blockbuster film where he could quite easily have become lost amid the spectacle.
The biggest issue with this film, however, is what is stated on the title card – this is Dune: Part One. The story has been left hanging on a Part Two that may never happen, as it’s not yet been filmed and its existence seems to be dependent on the success of this first part. I’m not sure there could be anything worse than giving us a great Dune film but revealing we may never see the concluding part.
As a fan of the book, Villeneuve’s adaptation of Dune stays as true as possible to the epic story and is quite a spectacle. It may be a tad slow and confusing for newcomers, but overall it was a joy to watch and it’d be a crime if Part Two never happens.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!