By Ethan Lauren
Spice, crysknives, wormsigns, Mentats, lasguns; I’ve gone cross-eyed.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”, “Blade Runner: 2049”), “Dune” is a mesmerizing science-fiction film despite moments drier than the desert planet Arrakis, where the story takes place.
Set over 8,000 years into the future, the movie follows House Atreides as it settles into overseeing the mining and refinement of a valuable space commodity Melange, commonly known as spice, found only on Arrakis. Another house, the Harkonnens, had previously occupied the land before local forces known as the Fremen forced them off world, thus prompting the Atreides to move in themselves by order of the galaxy’s emperor.
Some sentiment exists that “Dune” can be difficult to understand, but the background above provides most of the context for what transpires. If you didn’t get a headache from all the nouns, you should be able to survive through this film.
It has been confirmed by Legendary and Warner Bros. that the second part will begin production, coming after a box-office weekend of over $40 million, with almost 2 million viewers on HBO Max. When the complete story is released, I have no doubt that this first part will be retroactively strengthened, but currently some might find themselves frustrated after leaving the theater.
The viewing experience of “Dune” is akin to watching a cut of “Star Wars” ending after the charming cast of heroes escape the Death Star. With credits rolling you stand up, wiping that popcorn off your clothes and think, “well, guess it’s over.”
This is how I felt with “Dune”. This is a dense film that strangely feels as if it is both too long and covers too little.
Given the natural changes of medium from novel to film, certain elements are glossed over such as Herbert’s reverence for ecology. Additionally, I don’t mind not being given intricate explanations on some of the nuanced sci-fi aspects like Mentats. The book is always going to be there. But seeing the film as it is, I just don’t see myself connecting to it on any emotional level, which is surprising because even the most minor of characters in the novel are given nuance.
The film’s main character, Paul, played by Timothée Chalamet, is a teenager being raised to take the dukedom should the need arise. Additionally, he is being trained with the teachings of a long line of spies where his own voice can command others to do his will. There is a lot going on with Paul, some of which struggles to be expressed. A lot of people tell Paul what he is, or what he should do, but he feels quite passive for the majority of the movie.
One of the problems while watching a movie running a little under three hours is that in trying to juggle over a dozen characters, it happens that little is given to the characters to do. Standouts like Jason Momoa portraying Duncan Idaho—one of the best names in sci-fi—or Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto shine respectively in every scene. Rebecca Ferguson is great, as usual, in the role of Jessica, not only Paul’s mother, but a spy existing to serve. Other actors that might attract somebody such as Josh Brolin or Zendaya are given seldom material, the latter for reasons pertinent to the sequel.
One of the highlights, and to what I think most will take away from “Dune”, is the fact that it is truly gorgeous—a recurrent positive from Villeneuve’s filmography. The sense of scale consistently amazes the viewer; spaceships taking the entirety of a frame, large explosions, and legions of soldiers standing ready, all but take the breath away. Adding to everything is a masterful soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, giving a richness to the film that cements it as a modern epic.
Whereas characters might not always have been able to develop, one item given ample screen time was the Ornithopter, a dragonfly-like vehicle. Perfect in every way, I’d recommend watching the film if for nothing else than to see this ship in action.