'Dune': A Stunning Epic That Could Be The Beginning of Something Big
Updated: Jan 23
For decades, many have considered Frank Herbert's 1965 sci-fi novel Dune to be absolutely unfilmable. Herbert's novel is a rather dense and weighty tome detailing the power struggle between House Atriedes and House Harkonnen for control of the planet Arrakis and it's greatest resource: a substance known as spice that extends a person's lifespan and increases vitality, among other things. It might be a daunting text for some (my brief description alone might even be too much for certain people), but it has grown to be one of the best-selling sci-fi novels of all time, and has a rather dedicated fanbase. As a result, there have been many attempts to adapt Dune to the big screen over the years. The first being the infamous version that Alejandro Jodorowsky was set to make, but then got cancelled due to its ever-growing budget. Then, of course, there is the 1984 film directed by David Lynch, which was considered a disaster by many. A 2000 TV miniseries titled Frank Herbert's Dune fared much better, and even spawned a sequel series based on some of Herbert's other novels in the Dune series. Now, we have this version of Dune from Denis Villeneuve. It has been highly anticipated by many, and many have hoped it might be the adaptation that fans have been waiting for all these years. I can't speak for everyone, but if you ask me, it is at least leaps and bounds better than the 1984 version, and ends up being a rather truthful adaptation that is likely to make a large and lasting impact on audiences.
Having read the book, I was unsure as to what Denis Villeneuve and crew were going to give us. This is an almost Herculean task to try and adapt the novel for the big screen, and between the large scope of the narrative and the deep lore that Herbert created for it. I was initially expecting this version to do what the 1984 version does, and try to cram the entire novel into one film. Thankfully, this only covers the first part of the novel, a choice that mostly works, as it allows the story to unfold more fully, and gives the audience time to soak in the intricacies of the world of the film. It does come at a slight cost, which is that the film does feel slightly incomplete. I personally wasn't bothered by this too much, but I can see it being an issue for some. However, I do think that this is something that will be less of a sticking point if and when we get a sequel.
The film itself captures the massive scope of the novel spectacularly, and the sheer spectacle of the film is easily the most impressive thing about it. The production design is unmatched, and paints a vivid and unique picture of the worlds that Herbert created. From the vast deserts of Arrakis, to the various other locales we see there, as well as on other planets, it is so visually stunning and excellently crafted. One of my biggest worries was that the film was going to be bland in terms of its color palette, and while I wouldn't say that this film is colorful, it ended up being better in this department than I was expecting. It does have moments where it is predominately black or gray, but it is done purposefully, and works well for these scenes. What it lacks in colorful visuals, it makes up for in grand scale and detail. Cinematographer Greig Fraser is at least partially to thank for this, as he captures everything so well, and gives it a distinct and breathtaking look.
A common criticism I have seen about this film is that it lacks emotional depth. I don't necessarily disagree with this, and I would argue it's one of the things that does hold the film back. I will argue that this is something that could be explored in Part Two, as this film is more concerned with setting up the overarching plot (as well as introducing us to the numerous characters of the film) than exploring the emotional implications of it. This film feels like Villeneuve is laying down the groundwork, and that he will build off it in a big way if he is able to make a sequel. I do wish that certain emotional beats would have hit a little harder, but I feel like there was a purpose to this choice that might be clearer in the future.
While I wouldn't say that the script is anything groundbreaking, I do have to give the writers some credit for translating the source material to the screen in a way that doesn't feel like the film is doing an exposition dump, nor does it feel too lofty. There is still a lot of information being dropped on us throughout the film, but it is done in a way that doesn't feel too heavy handed. It does dilute some of the lore from the book, and it is a bit broader by comparison, but it still honors the detailed mythos and worlds that Herbert created rather well. It is clear that this was a passion project for Denis Villeneuve, as you can truly feel his appreciation for Herbert's novel all throughout. It is clear that he wanted to pull of a faithful adaptation, and I would say he does a rather good job. I wouldn't say that this is his best work as a director, but it does continue his impressive track record.
The film's cast is also one of its best assets, as everyone is doing pretty solid work. Rebecca Ferguson is the clear standout, as she captures the complexity of her character excellently, and creates an air of mystery around her. I also was surprised by how great Jason Momoa is here, as he nails every single scene he is in. Timothée Chalamet isn't bad, and he does have some good moments, but I did feel that his co-stars tended to outshine him for the most part. I also thought Stephen McKinley Henderson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem were pretty good, even if they didn't have as much screen time.
This is one of those films that left me buzzing for hours after I left the theater. It floored me with its grand scale alone, but something about it really connected with me. Maybe it's just the thrill of seeing an epic blockbuster on the big screen, maybe it's the incredible filmmaking on display, or maybe there's something deeper that I'm not entirely sure of yet. Perhaps it's a combination of all three. Either way, I was enchanted by this film, and it was truly one of the most thrilling experiences I've had in a movie theater in a long time. It's quite clear that Warner Bros. is hoping for this to be a massive franchise on the level of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. This is a rather ambitious goal to achieve, and it was a pretty big gamble to try and do so with Dune. While it's too soon to tell at the time of this writing whether or not they succeeded, I can definitely see the potential for this be the next big thing. It is rather accessible without betraying its source material, and between the spectacle and some engaging plot elements, might be enough to hook viewers. Time will tell if this ends up being a new classic, but in this moment, I am simply blown away by this film, and I desperately hope that we end up getting a Part Two.