October 29, 2021 | LIFE | By Annie Knight | Illustration by Emmaline Hawley
If you thought your block break in the deserts of Moab was exciting, wait till you see the thrills that ensue in the desert of Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune.”
Adapted from the 1964 novel of the same name by Frank Herbert, film versions of this classic sci-fi novel have long been deemed un-filmable by Hollywood due to the novel’s complex world-building. Alejandro Jodorowsky famously abandoned his “Dune” in the 1970s, and David Lynch’s rendition was deemed such a failure that he himself has disowned it.
However, as a proud reader of 158 pages of the novel (I tried, everybody), I can definitively say Villeneuve’s (“Arrival,” “Blade Runner 2049”) adaptation was, for the most part, followable and, as a whole, the most exciting film I’ve seen this year.
Serving as Part I of the novel, “Dune” deals a lot in exposition, but don’t worry, it still manages to include its fair share of desert battles. Set in the future, “Dune” follows Paul Atreides, the heir to the Duke Leto Atreides and possessor of mysterious gifts manifesting themselves primarily in the form of prophetic dreams. The house of Atreides must move to the most dangerous planet in the universe, Arrakis, also known as dune or desert planet, to ensure their house’s legacy.
On Arrakis, conflict ensues in the form of a hallucinogenic spice embedded in the fabric of the desert sand that other houses would kill for, and terrifying creatures known as the sandworms. Complicating matters further, indigenous tribes known as the Freemen have long been on Arrakis and don’t wish for “outworlder” visitors. Think “Star Wars” meets “Game of Thrones.” No really, “Star Wars” was inspired by the novel “Dune.” Fun fact.
As the father of modern sci-fi, Villeneuve’s “Dune” lives up to the sci-fi tropes we know and love. In fact, it invented many of them. The film includes meticulously coordinated fight sequences — both on the massive scale and hand to hand combat. There’s top of the line CGI in the form of sandworms. There are sleek costumes specifically designed for each warring faction in the film’s universe. There are futuristic shields and weapons. There are prophecies. There are love interests. There is a father son inheritance. However, Villeneuve makes the film feel fresh and exciting even with elements of what we’ve seen before.
I was extremely impressed by Villeneuve’s ability to keep the plot moving throughout “Dune,” while simultaneously laying the groundwork for some of the most extensive world-building I’ve seen in a long time. The world feels immersive and expansive, in no small part to its gorgeous wide lens cinematography.
Additionally, the allegorical conflicts over resources and colonialism feel just as relevant if not more so now than they did in 1964. I genuinely hope we see “Dune” part II in the near future.
My complaints about “Dune,” overall, are minimal, but they primarily lie in the acting. It’s no secret that “Dune” has a stacked cast: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, and Oscar Isaac, to name a few. With all these big names on the ticket, I was disappointed by the quality of acting I saw on screen.
Villeneuve didn’t leave a lot of room for nuanced performances from his undeniably talented cast, instead opting for what I’d call the dramatic stare. To me, this style of long held gazes felt like a half-baked attempt at allowing the audience access into the character’s heads instead of writing scenes that actually did so.
By the hundredth time I’d seen Timothée Chalamet stare pensively into the desert, even I was over America’s number one heartthrob. Additionally, the film’s villain was characterized in a grotesque way for reasons I couldn’t quite place.
Meanwhile, as a Zendaya fan, I was disappointed by the level of Zendaya marketing done for this film for her to only appear in about twenty minutes of the finished product. But alas, I digress.
Despite these minor flaws, I was in the grips of “Dune” from start to finish. If you’re looking for a reminiscent reminder of block break during block 3, look no further than “Dune” and go see it in theaters. This one deserves to be seen on the big screen.
“Dune” is playing at theaters in Colorado Springs and streaming on HBO Max.