Friday, October 22

Dune Review


Dir: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Mamoa, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgård, and Zendeya

2 h 35 m


Author Frank Herbert wrote the seminal science fiction classic "Dune" in 1965, and it has influenced fantastic tales throughout cinema ever since. The introduction of Robert Zemeckis' 1997 film "Contact" is directly reconstructed from Herbert's novel. The concept work for the infamous Alejandro Jodoworsky cinematic version of "Dune" influenced "Alien" and "Blade Runner." And, perhaps, the most recognizable imitator of the Herbert novel is George Lucas' "Star Wars" saga. It's undeniable that the meticulous and intricate world Herbert weaved with themes of colonialism, ecology, religion, rebellions, all tied together in a fight over the fate of humanity between warriors, witches, and nobles, is an enormous undertaking. 


Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve and Frank Herbert's "Dune" is a beautiful, perfect arrangement of artist and artwork. Villeneuve does not disappoint in this epic and elegant demonstration of pure cinematic vision. The depth of detail in the richly composed scenes of "Dune" is beautiful to watch. Though, amidst the stunning scenery of Villeneuve's science fiction drama is a story that struggles to find the emotion between the characters and the circumstances they face, most glaringly with the composition of the teenage hero messiah Paul Atreides. Denis Villeneuve's "Dune" is epic, elegant, and at times emotionless. 


The year is 10191. Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), a brilliant and gifted young man, has visions of a destiny he doesn't completely understand. Born into the noble House Atreides, Paul's parents, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) are reassigned to Planet Arrakis to take over operations. Arrakis is a harsh desert environment mined for a valuable resource called "spice" and patrolled by giant sandworms. It is inhabited by a group of native people known as the Fremen. They have fought colonizers their entire life. They believe that Paul is the prophesized "Muad' Dib," the messiah that will lead the Fremen to freedom. 


The adaptation from the literary descriptions to the cinematic vision of the world of "Dune" is a revelation. Denis Villeneuve, along with cinematographer Greig Fraser and production designer Patrice Vermette, has meticulously crafted an introduction to a science fiction epic that is beautifully composed and elegantly detailed. The costumes are visually dynamic, the environments are richly textured, and the special effects are equally subtle and bold in their crafting of floating grains of sand and massive sand creatures that cannot be contained even by an IMAX screen. It's a confident and clear vision of filmmaking from a true cinema auteur. 


The story is dense and convoluted with familial, political, and spiritual themes. It's not your average hero's journey, even if it might look like it from afar. Herbert's mistrust of authoritarian rule from the novels is present in Villeneuve's story but more contemplative for the central character Paul Atreides. Paul struggles with the ideas and insights about his destiny. Will he take over as ruling Duke of Atreides? Will he do the bidding of his mother's lineage of spiritual influencers known as the Bene Gesserit? Or, will he embrace the speculation that he is the "Chosen One?" These questions run deep within the narrative introduction of "Dune." 


However, the slight problem with Villeneuve's version of "Dune" exists in the composition of the character core to the questions needing answers. Timothée Chalamet, who has been consistently good at playing all types of characters, struggles to convey the traits of a teenage boy tasked with carrying more than a few heavy burdens. In moments, Chalamet displays the confidence necessary to show a young man transitioning quickly into adulthood. In other, more emotionally sensitive moments, the performance feels restrained to surface-level stares and glares. There is room for this character to grow; this is only part one of Villeneuve's "Dune" after all. 


"Dune" captures the visual grandeur and wonderment that Frank Herbert described in his science fiction myth. While the film struggles to balance its stunning visual charms and complex narrative deliberations, it is still an awe-inducing cinematic experience. Here's hoping that Denis Villeneuve has the opportunity to complete this fascinating, fantastical space saga. 


Monte's Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

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