Here’s our review of “Dune” — a science fiction epic more than 50 years in the making and while the story isn’t complete, this might just be the best film of the year…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
There are going to be a lot of varied opinions on Denis Villeneueve’s adaptation of the classic Frank Herbert novel “Dune,” especially given the scope and the detail required to tell such a massive story.
Over the years, there have been dozens of attempts at trying to find the best way possible to translate Herbert’s words from the page to the screen including the once maligned but eventually beloved film from director David Lynch that was released back in 1984.
Much like “Watchmen” from the comic book world, no one could quite figure out the best way to transform such an iconic literary masterpiece into a different medium but when an Academy Award nominated director wants to take a stab at it, you have to at least give him the chance to see what he can do.
Now after more than a year long delay due to the global pandemic, “Dune” is finally arriving in theaters and this will probably end up being the most divisive film of the year.
One half of the audience, especially those who have read “Dune” or perhaps seen Lynch’s film from the 1980s and thus understand the story as well as the unique terminology used throughout will likely love it. The other half will probably walk away somewhat confused, still trying to figure out what in the hell Bene Gesserit even means while also wondering why “Dune” seemingly stole so much of its story from “Star Wars.”
Of course, the reality is “Star Wars” and just about every other science-fiction epic created over the past 50 plus years likely gained some sort of inspiration from “Dune,” which was first released back in 1965.
As a longtime fan of “Dune” in all formats, the film adaptation created by Villeneueve is nothing short of a masterpiece and arguably one of the best adaptations of a classic book in recent memory. Villeneueve combines stunning visuals with an incredible story that can best be described to newcomers as one part “Star Wars” and another part “Game of Thrones.”
It’s a truly awe-inspiring film that runs well over two-hours and yet the story is far from complete because without spoiling anything from the actual movie — the actual title that shows up on screen reads “Dune: Part One.”
Not knowing that before sitting down to see the film will probably irritate a lot of movie goers and rightfully so. Perhaps the biggest mistake that’s been made regarding “Dune” is that Warner Bros. failed to inform the audience that this is actually just the first part of a much bigger story and without that knowledge it does feel like you’re being misled when walking into this movie.
Hopefully being armed with that knowledge will help those going to see “Dune” or just watching at home on HBO Max will witness this massive achievement in filmmaking with joy and excitement with anticipation that “Dune: Part Two” goes into production sooner rather than later.
With that said, let’s get to our full review for “Dune,” which is in theaters now…
The primary story revolves around House Atreides — one of many noble houses throughout the galaxy that ultimately answers to an all-powerful Emperor (who remains unseen in this film). The start of the movie coincides with the Emperor ordering House Atreides to take over a planet called Arrakis — also known as Dune — which is a harsh and inhospitable desert planet but it’s also the only place that produces something called mélange or better known as “spice.”
This spice is the only substance that powers ships needed for interstellar travel so it’s understandably important to the Emperor and all of the other noble houses.
For the past 80 years, House Harkonnen — a cruel and evil group — have ruled over Arrakis and the spice mining operation, which has made them extremely powerful and wealthy. So when the Emperor suddenly decides to take Arrakis away from them and award it to House Atreides, just about everybody involved is suspicious of what’s really happening.
But Duke Leto Atreides — the leader of House Atreides — knows he cannot disobey an order from the Emperor so he packs up his entire house from Caladan — an ocean planet they rule — and relocates to Arrakis where they will begin overseeing the spice mining operation.
Duke Leto brings along his concubine named Jessica, who is part of a powerful order known as the Bene Gesserit, who possess great power and influence throughout the galaxy. Duke Leto and Jessica also have a son named Paul, who is not only expected to lead House Atreides one day but he’s also being taught in the ways of the Bene Gesserit, which is typically not allowed because it’s an all female order.
Of course, Arrakis also comes with its own trouble including giant sand snakes that live beneath the planet’s surface as well as an indigenous people known as the Fremen, who are native to the planet yet they’ve been crushed under the rule of House Harkonnen.
Once House Atreides arrives on Arrakis, they soon found out that this planet will be much harder to govern than they first expected not to mention the nefarious reason they were sent there in the first place.
ACTING, DIRECTING AND SCRIPT
First off let’s talk about the script by Jon Spaihts, Eric Roth and Denis Villeneueve, which is incredibly faithful to the source material, especially in all the major story points throughout the film. While any film adaptation will require some changes, it was clear that Villeneueve wanted to make his movie as faithful to the original book as possible, which is also part of the reason why this story had to be split into two parts.
Anyone who has seen Lynch’s 1984 version of “Dune,” which is also fantastic in its own right, he had to make numerous edits in order to fit the entire book into one movie. That’s not a sacrifice that Villeneueve was willing to make when agreeing to direct “Dune” and the result really helps to tell a much more compelling story overall.
Villeneueve also does a masterful job with his directing, especially for such a huge film that requires a lot of scope and imagination. Bringing Herbert’s original vision for “Dune” to live on the big screen is no easy task and Villeneueve manages to bring it all together in spectacular fashion.
When it comes to the acting, “Dune” features an all-star cast including Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides and Rebecca Ferguson as his concubine Jessica, who is also mother to Paul Atreides, played by Timothee Chalamet.
Ferguson really steals the show in every scene and she deserves to be nominated for just about any award that gets handed out in 2022. Chalamet does a solid job in the lead role as Paul, although his small stature does slightly take away from the incredible endeavor that befalls this particular character — and it doesn’t make it any easier when he’s sharing so many scenes with Jason Momoa, who is just a towering presence any time he’s on screen.
Still, Chalamet does what’s needed of him in the role.
The entire cast really does fit their roles to perfection including Stellan Skarsgard as the despicable Baron Harkonnen as well as Dave Bautista as his cruel nephew, Glossu Rabban. Adding in Javier Bardem as one of the leaders of the Fremen as well as Zendaya as another member of that same tribe and the woman who Paul dreams about almost every night is great as well, although admittedly she doesn’t get a ton of screen time in the first part of this story (assuming there’s a “Dune Part Two,” you’ll get to see a lot more of Zendaya).
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE MOVIE?
Truth be told, this feels like the perfect science-fiction epic with one major glaring weakness and that comes down to the ending.
As previously discussed, “Dune” doesn’t really give you a satisfying conclusion to this story and it’s only that much tougher that the film wasn’t advertised as “Part One” of a two-part epic. Take for instance the recent Stephen King adaptation for “It,” which featured Chapter One and Chapter Two.
Despite knowing a second film was already ordered and on the way, “It: Chapter One” still came to an end in such a satisfying way that even without a sequel, audiences still left with a complete story being told.
That’s not even close to the case with “Dune,” which really just comes to an abrupt end without any great explanation about what’s going to happen next.
The film truly depends on the average audience member to know that this 50-plus-year-old story is far from finished. It’s just not a great way to end the film, especially when you’re still waiting on word about a second movie getting into production with hope that everybody who saw the first movie will return to see the sequel.
As previously stated, “Dune” is going to be a highly divisive film with audiences but as a longtime fan of the story both as a book and film, this new version is perhaps one of the best adaptations in history. It’s a visually spectacular film that’s also rich in a compelling plot not to mention the depth of the characters taking center stage throughout this movie.
With only two months left in the year, “Dune” has officially set the bar and it’s tough to imagine any other film topping this one as the best of 2021.
“Dune” receives five out of five on the Skolnick Scale.