Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's the Big Deal?
Dune (also known as Dune: Part One) is an epic sci-fi action film released in 2021, and it is based on the 1965 novel of the same name by Frank Herbert. Directed and co-written by Denis Villeneuve, the film follows a troubled young man's journey to a desert world at the heart of a forthcoming intergalactic conflict with his entire family's future at stake. The film's ensemble cast features Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling and Javier Bardem. The film is the third adaptation of Dune after David Lynch's 1984 version, which was a critical and commercial disaster, and a TV mini-series in 2000. It will be followed by a sequel due for release in October 2023. The film received a largely positive reception from critics who praised the film's visuals and ambition. At the time of this writing, the film has earned more than $331 million worldwide.
What's It About?
In the distant future, the noble house of Atreides rules the ocean planet Caladan and are led by Duke Leto Atreides. Having been tasked by the Emperor Of The Known Universe Shaddam to govern the desert world Arrakis, Duke Leto accepts the responsibility and travels with his partner Lady Jennifer and their son Paul as well as their entire military operation. Arrakis is home to a unique substance called spice, a powerful compound that is vital for the use of interstellar travel which makes it extremely valuable. Having been mined extensively by the rival family, the warlike House Harkonnen, Leto is concerned about the impact this will have on his family but is determined to forge an alliance with the native population of Arrakis, the desert people known as Freman.
However, Paul has been experiencing strange dreams involving a girl on Arrakis. Having inherited some of his mother's mysterious abilities due to Jessica being a member of the powerful Bene Gesserit sisterhood, Paul is reliant on his lifelong training to develop his powers and his fighting skills in order to survive. But it soon appears to be a trap - the Emperor, fearful of the growing influence of House Atreides, helps House Harkonnen launch a violent coup on Arrakis in order to wipe out the Atreides bloodline. With troubling visions of the future, Paul begins to wonder where his true destiny lies - with Atreides or on Arrakis...
Duke Leto Atreides
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
Stephen McKinley Henderson
Piter De Vries
Dr Wellington Yueh
Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam
Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve & Eric Roth*
Release Date (UK)
21st October, 2021
Action, Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi
What's to Like?
If ever there was a film to tempt filmgoers back out to their local cinema after the global pandemic then surely Dune is it. It may feel like blasphemy to some but like Star Wars or The Lord Of The Rings before it, this is a film that simply has to be seen on as big a screen as possible in order to fully appreciate the effort that clearly meant into every shot. Villeneuve has had some experience with sci-fi before now with the highly regarded Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 and you can see that influence on screen here. I genuinely can't recall a film being as well made as this with sets, costumes and visual design all looking authentic and stunning. Alongside sweeping desert landscapes and the terrifying majesty of the iconic sand worms, this is a very pretty film indeed. Not since Avatar has a setting been portrayed quite so convincingly.
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Perhaps learning lessons from Lynch's Dune, the film wisely doesn't try to cram in all the book into one film so the movie takes its time setting out its stall of characters, locations and back story. As someone who has never read the book but is now thinking about it (which is always a good sign for any film, personally), I appreciated this go-slowly approach although the film doesn't reveal too many secrets. As the young star of the show, Chalamet delivers on his promise of being one of the most talented new actors working at the moment with a performance that balances Paul's youth and inexperience with his athletic ability and hints of something more interesting beneath the surface. Momoa is good fun as the jocular Idaho, Skarsgard is deeply unsettling beneath heavy prosthetics as Baron Harkonnen and Isaac is unrecognisable from the bland X-wing pilot Poe Dameron from the most recent Star Wars trilogy. Perhaps the most impressive member of the cast is Ferguson who I confess I'm not too familiar with but she enjoys a decent amount of screen time and makes her character feel vulnerable and dangerous at the same time.
- Villeneuve has always wanted to direct a version of Dune for the big screen after reading about Lynch's version and then reading the book when he was twelve. Knowing that fans demanded a better adaptation, he deliberately directed Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 to get experience of shooting a sci-fi film before he took on the task. He has even said that some scenes from those earlier films were influenced by his reading of Dune. As for Lynch, he has no interest in watching this version - purely because making his version proving so disappointing for him.
- The first trailer for this film included a version by composer Hans Zimmer of a track called 'Eclipse' by Pink Floyd. The band were originally supposed to score an earlier version of Dune in the Seventies by director Alejandro Jodorowsky but this project was ultimately scrapped.
- The character of Dr Liet-Kynes has been gender swapped for this version as the character was played by Max Von Sydow in 1984 but played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster here. Villeneuve was keen to increase female representation in the film stating that while the book had femininity in it, he wanted it to be front-and-centre of his film so re-wrote character arcs for some female characters.
What's Not to Like?
There is one big problem with Dune or at least, seeing it on a big screen. Cinemas tend to turn the volume up as far as it can go so while the explosions may rattle your ribcage, dialogue can often get missed amid the noise. And unfortunately, with a narrative as complex and so full of lore as this, missing a piece of dialogue could be crucial and there were times when I wasn't fully sure of what was being said. Characters also have differing loyalties so if you aren't familiar with the book then you might struggle to follow exactly what it happening. It's not a huge problem but for me, I did feel a little lost at times.
The pace of the film might also be a touch ponderous for some as action scenes are quite spaced out with long sequences featuring exposition-heavy dialogue and long shots of sandy scenery in between. The same argument could be made for the film's overall length - yes, it's needed in order to get as much of the book into the film as possible but I'm not ashamed to say that my bladder was severely tested. I also got the feeling that this film borrowed a little too much from Villeneuve's earlier sci-fi efforts - some of the spaceship designs were reminiscent of the smooth alien ships seen in Arrival while the flight over the city of Arrakeen felt recycled from Blade Runner 2049, as did some other shots. As beautiful as the film is to look at, I couldn't escape the feeling that I had already seen part a bit of it somewhere else before.
Should I Watch It?
Dune is an impressive and visually spectacular sci-fi epic that not only redeems the books from cinematic infamy but also puts the effort and attention to detail in that the franchise deserves. While it doesn't quite hit the same peaks as other legendary sci-fi and fantasy film series, it deserves to be seen on a big screen and I am eagerly anticipating the sequel. Talk about fun in the sun!
Great For: fans of 'proper' science fiction, fans of the book, cinemas desperate for audiences to return
Not So Great For: any Star Wars film that isn't in the original trilogy, David Lynch, old people with knackered bladders
What Else Should I Watch?
Dune sits comfortably alongside other classic sci-fi film franchises, notably Star Wars (which was itself influenced by the Dune novel) and The Lord Of The Rings with its equally expansive scope and size of grandeur. It's a shame that George Lucas returned to the well after so long with The Phantom Menace because the original trilogy - A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and my favourite Return of the Jedi - are all fabulously entertaining and endlessly watchable which is much more than can be said for any of the following episodes. As for Peter Jackson's much loved journey to Middle Earth, the trilogy remain the standard bearers for all fantasy films even after all this time. In fact, Jackson himself couldn't replicate the magic when he too returned for The Hobbit trilogy which, as a fan of the first trilogy, just left me feeling sad.
Villeneuve has become one of the most bankable directors working in Hollywood after developing an impressive resume of indie hits, engaging thrillers and sci-fi dramas. Following his breakout film Incendies in 2010, he went from strength to strength with Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario. But personally, it was the long-awaited Blade Runner 2049 that turned me on to his talents - it's a well-crafted and visually brilliant follow-on from Ridley Scott's original that teased a third film to follow but sadly, nothing so far. Fingers are still crossed though...
© 2021 Benjamin Cox