Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel Dune has long been held as impossible to adapt to the silver screen. Consisting of several complex and intertwining plot threads with complicated and deep character development, many considered the task of condensing the story into an audience friendly 90 minutes an unachievable dream.
Whilst there have been previous attempts to make this dream a reality there is something different about the latest attempt from director Denis Villeneuve, offering a more faithful and comprehensive retelling of the story that loses very little of the original’s magic in translation.
Set on the desert planet of Arrakis, the story follows the nobles of House Atreides as they struggle to tame the planet’s wild landscapes whilst playing interplanetary politics. It boasts a truly all-star cast with almost every actor a household name, be it Timothée Chalamet, Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya or Oscar Isaac to name but a few; all of whom personally embody their characters, bringing both the people and the world to life.
Of all of Dune’s strengths, of which it has many, the most important and impactful is its immersive tone, truly allowing the viewer to become lost in the world in a way few other films can claim to. The word epic is often thrown around glibly when discussing films these days, but Dune truly earns this title with its shots of huge, desolate deserts, graceful cities, dour countrysides and ominous industrial complexes. The expanse of Dune’s environments is truly breath-taking sometimes with every inch of the on-screen worlds feeling both real and lived in, offering an amazing level of immersion that makes the movie’s substantial run time pass in the blink of an eye.
Accompanying every landscape and every action scene is Hans Zimmer’s incredible musical score, a hugely impactful and yet subtle soundtrack that chooses to remain in the background to aid the film rather than stand out on its own. Zimmer has made a space for himself within filmmaking as an alternative to other famous composers such as John Williams who specialise in creating iconic and memorable scores. He chooses to do the opposite, creating music that is difficult for the audience to notice but creates the perfect atmosphere to draw them in and immerse them in the world of Arrakis. Though Dune’s world-building is its most impressive strength, it is not the only one as the conflict within that world seems to almost leap off the screen.
Going into Dune, impressive landscapes, an immersive world and a fantastical sci-fi story was all very much expected, but what wasn’t expected was the quality of the film’s action scenes. Dune’s action scenes are genuinely thrilling, offering well-choreographed fight scenes with sci-fi magic, brilliantly woven in to fully immerse the audience in the experience. Its action is not only limited to small fight scenes; some of the most incredible scenes in the whole film are the huge battle scenes, equal parts exciting and intense, managing to balance the large-scale spectacle that comes with such massive sci-fi battles with the personal focus such scenes demand to keep it grounded and intense. Though Dune has many strengths, it is not perfect and does possess weaknesses, mostly being its length.
Though the intention of splitting the story up into several films is undoubtably the best thing to do to conserve the quality of the original book it does impact negatively on this first film when viewed in isolation. Dune spends its entire run time setting up conflict and struggles that it never resolves, with the satisfaction of its payoff kicked down the road into its next instalment. In this way Dune feels somewhat incomplete, not ending on high enough of a note to generate sufficient excitement in the films to come. This criticism may entirely vanish in the years to come when all films can be viewed as one, unbroken story but is definitely salient for audiences in the present day.
Dune very much feels like a film of contrasts, luscious green environments contrasted with arid desert landscapes, discussions of delicate political issues contrasted with thrilling action scenes, long and detailed story threads and world-building contrasted with an unsatisfying ending when cut too short. Some of these contrasts add to the quality of the film and some detract, but they all lead to the creation of an amazing atmosphere that complements the idea of the film because, at its very heart, Dune is about contrasts.
Paul’s noble birth and upbringing disappearing as he braves life on Arrakis, trying to understand his place in the world (or worlds in this case) between the high office expected by his father and the mystic destiny expected by his mother, the fight between the good and loyal House Atreides and the monstrous and brutal House Harkonnen. In this way, even Dune’s inconsistencies make it even more engrossing and endearing.
In conclusion, Dune offers one of the greatest sci-fi and fantasy films of the last 10 years and will in time, after the release of its full story, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other titan franchises of the cinematic genre and become regarded as the newest Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. Destined to be used by Hollywood screen writers when they need their need their nerdy character to identify themselves. Dune is truly one for the ages and watching it in the cinema in the best possible environment is a must, so if you haven’t seen it yet, what are you Dune-in? (I’m not even sorry…)