Dune has for years been called an “unfilmable” story due to its complexity and the depth required. The restrictions of only a few hours of screen time has taken its toll on many directors who have tried in the past. At first there was David Lynch’s 1984 attempt to put the whole book in one film. That fell flat with its bloat and incoherent plot. Then there was a multi part TV special in the 2000’s, which gave it depth but lacked the budget to truly make the world alive.
That leads us to today.
Denis Villeneuve (of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 fame) has stepped into the ring. His approach split the book in two parts to make it one hell of a cinema epic that stays faithful to the source material. It’s in that second part, the faithfulness to the story, I am most glad to report Villeneuve has gone above and beyond.
Dune, to the uninitiated, was the story that has defined modern Science fiction. You don’t have to look far in the world of our most popular sci-fi films to see its impact. Alien and its title monster share a striking resemblance in form and habit to a creature in Dune. Blade Runner, with its detailed depth of a cyberpunk dystopian future, is lifted almost verbatim from the imperial ruling houses in Dune’s universe.
Even the most famous movie spoiler of all time, “Luke I am your father,” was a story beat taken directly from Dune. With the gravity of what Dune’s legacy has inspired, the story of bringing this to the silver screen properly has been a fraught with challenges and adversity.
With so much pressure on Denis Villeneuve I can say that he has, in his efforts, put his heart in the right place. The film is a cinematic masterpiece with sweeping landscapes and epic wide shots that demand every inch of screen real estate in your cinema. Its striking in its beauty and the world it builds is a character unto itself. This character is by far the biggest star in the movie. For better or for worse.
The actors in this movie were cast brilliantly. Timothée Chalamet is captivating as Paul, a young man thrown into a house of cards with powers he didn’t ask for and visions that slowly chill his soul through the progression of the film. Oscar Isaac as the Lord Duke Leto plays the compassionate but firm ruler, to a fault. And Stellan Skarsgård plays the unsettlingly disturbing Baron Harkonnen with his brief but memorable appearances. All of these actors played the part perfectly.
This is where I have my biggest critique of the film. Even with the captivating slow burn moments given to each character, I am left wanting more. More development and more time with them before your camera view gets pulled back out and the world takes over again. The world is greedy with its time in the spotlight.
It’s in this sense I feel Denis Villeneuve has put too much weight on making the audience fall in love with the unique universe as much as he has. But then again, I feel it was intentional. This movie is the first half of a two-part epic, and it doesn’t wrap up as neatly in the end as I would have hoped. With our scene set and our protagonist ready to come into his own, it stops, clearly leaving that extra development and a climatic finale for the second half, which I am left in great anticipation for. I think back to movies like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 which on its own is an ok movie, however, when watched back to back with Part 2 it becomes a far more fleshed out and enjoyable experience.
For those of us who have read and know what is to come, we could not be more excited. For those just being introduced to this world with this movie, I pray the world is captivating enough to bring them back around for another go.
This movie is by far the best version of the legendarily difficult-to-adapt book. Great things are here in this film, and if this makes enough money even greater things lie ahead. I just hope its magic can get enough folks to come see it and have producers greenlight it’s finale it has rightfully earned.