By Reed Ripley
Sci-Fi/Adventure | PG-13 | 2 hr 35 min
In Theaters; Streaming: HBO Max
With Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adaption, Warner Bros. launches its next moonshot at a tentpole genre franchise, and it hits in spectacular fashion.
Dune is a classic Chosen One narrative centered on young Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), next in line after his father, the Duke Leto Atreides, to lead the respected House Atreides, one of several houses that make up a tenuous galactic empire. After the emperor mandates the Atreides House leave their paradisiacal home world of Caladan to take stewardship of Arrakis, the barren desert planet that produces spice, the most coveted natural resource in the empire, Paul, his family, and their loyal army leave for their new home. However, there’s more to the arrangement than a simple transfer of power; danger awaits the Atreides on Arrakis, but so too does Paul’s destiny.
Literally from the first moment, this film is as enveloping a potential franchise-starter as we’ve seen in theaters possibly since Lord of the Rings. To the uninitiated, Dune readily demonstrates why the novel’s fans frothingly waited decades for a redo to David Lynch’s much-maligned 1984 adaptation attempt.
The material is dense, and trying to fit it all into one film while keeping the story legible was a fool’s errand for Lynch. That, and practical effects only went so far. Villenueve’s attempt remedies both issues; this is the first of an intended two-part adaptation and today’s technology breathes life into the setting that just wasn’t possible 40 years ago. As to the first issue, the first few scnes of 2021’s Dune exemplifies its willingness to invest time in explanation and development. In quick succession, Paul interacts with his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), his father, charismatic warrior Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), and stoic commander Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin); each scene not only profiles each character and their unique relationship with Paul, but it also drops crucial exposition in admirable display of efficient filmmaking.
As to the improvements in technology, the visuals are absolutely stunning, and yes, the giant sand worms look awesome. This is the best array of original sci-fi vehicles since Star Wars; the ships vary from the nimble grasshopper-esque ornithopters to the mammoth planetary hoppers of the spacing guild, and all are a marvel to look at. The is by far the deepest well of detail Villeneuve’s had to pull from, and he takes advantage in a massive way.
That’s not to say the film is without its flaws. There’s absolutely no nuance to the villainous House Harkonnen, led by Stellan Skarsgård’s Baron Vladimir Harkonnen; members of the house appear bald and reptilic, and their home world, Giedi Prime, is stark, cold, and metallic. Skarsgård plays into the monstrous role well, but at times it’s too much (at one point, “My Arrakis, My Desert, My Dune” is rasped into the camera as he floats upward menacingly). The Harkonnens are exemplary of the film’s tone; there’s almost zero fun, at least in the traditional sense. It’s extremely serious and capital ‘I’ Important; that’s not a bad thing), but for those expecting a romp, they’ll leave wanting. Additionally, it’s hard not to be frustrated by the “ending,” in which Zendaya’s Chani (barely in the film, despite the marketing) looks directly into the camera and states “This is only the beginning” as her, Paul, and their group of native Arrakis folk march forward through the sand, presumably directly toward Dune: Part Two. It’s not really an ending, and it comes across as abrupt and unsatisfying. Given the film’s reception and performance, though, it likely won’t be long before we see where Paul’s path through the winding sands takes him.
You can find Reed Ripley’s movie reviews on Instagram @mct.film.