In 1965, author Frank Herbert released his magnum opus novel named Dune. The book was widely praised and won the Hugo Award and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. It chronicles the royal family of House Atreides as they survive in a dangerous intergalactic empire as other houses vie for control of different planets. Since its release, there have been many sequels to the book and two, one attempted and one successful, movie adaptations. On Oct. 22 of this year, filmmaker Denis Villeneuve brought American audiences a third film adaptation that lived up to the glorious heights that were set by its source material.
Denis Villeneuve is no stranger to being responsible for delivering science fiction stories with established fan bases. He directed Arrival in 2016 and Blade Runner 2049 in 2017 which were both based on existing properties, a short story and another film respectively, and they were both met with universal acclaim. Villeneuve was then hired by Warner Brothers to direct an adaptation of Dune. After three years of waiting, it was finally released in cinemas and on HBO Max this past month. It has been praised for many aspects by fans and critics alike. The chief topics of these praises are the visuals, musical score, worldbuilding and performances.
One thing is a constant across all of Denis Villeneuve’s films: the cinematography is to die for, and Dune might be his best shot film to date. The gorgeous landscapes in the film are utilized in every frame. Sweeping cities, barren deserts and limitless space are all center stage, giving them their own characteristics that grow with the characters that inhabit them. The galaxy feels larger than life – even for a sprawling space epic – but the cinematography captures every moment in its beauty, grandeur and chaos, making it feel even larger and also more intimate. The creators can then explore this universe that has been presented to the viewer. Dune’s vast number of people groups, societies, militaries and customs are what make the story engaging for the viewer. From the nomadic tribes of the desert dwelling Fremen to the royal, military family of House Atreides, the world is inhabited by cultures and societies that feel as real as our own. The religious Bene Gesserit, antagonistic House Harkonnen, the matchless Sardaukar and the other people groups give the story world a freshness that viewers will not find anywhere else. The musical score by Hans Zimmer is masterful in capturing the intricacies around each facet of the vast story. His use of vocalists, bagpipes and instruments that were created from scratch specifically for the film’s score are all perfect ways to dissect a galaxy that is truly like no other.
The actors who play the characters inhabiting these places and groups do a phenomenal job. Timothée Chalamet is captivating as the protagonist, Paul Atreides. He navigates the emotions of his character with ease, showing us the strong-willed leader that Paul could become while also revealing his human moments of doubt and fear. Other notables are Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho, Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides and Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica. Momoa provides an emotional performance as one of the pillars that Paul Atreides has in his life. Momoa’s charismatic take on the character makes him likeable from his first frame, and that does not change throughout the course of the entire film. Oscar Isaac from Star Wars fame has left the galaxy far, far away and has made a large impact in a new one. His performance as Paul Atreides’s father is compassionate, resonant and courageous, and unlike so many other performances in blockbusters, it doesn’t feel cheap. He is a big talent in the industry, and only time will tell where performances like this will take him. Rebecca Ferguson plays the mother of Timothée Chalamet’s character. Her take on a witch who is a part of the religious Bene Gesserit was incredibly interesting and provided Paul with an emotional support that he could fall back on. Her character could have easily become an exposition-heavy character, but Ferguson’s immense talent brings emotion to her words that would otherwise fall flat. The other actors in the film do a splendid job in their roles, and they all have their own moments to shine throughout the story.
While the film is not flawless, this visual masterpiece delivers a brilliant adaptation of its source material and has lived up to the building anticipation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The film itself is labelled as a Part One, and Part Two will be released in October of 2023. Anticipation is already building for the sequel in hopes that it will live up to its predecessor.