“Dune” left me breathless at times. It’s one of those rare (too rare) experiences that can lead to storytelling trance. It’s so intense, meticulous, deep that at times I felt the need to pause it, and reflect for a few moments. Take it all in.
It’ a monumental expression of what it is possible to do through cinematography, and narration in general, and I think it pushes the boundary of what to do storytelling can achieve, regardless of the medium. Cinema, and in particular sci-fi cinema, will be measured against this standard from now on, and it’s a high standard.
If you don’t know what’s with all the hype, “Dune” is the long-waited adaptation for cinema of 1965’s novel by Frank Herbert. I wrote a very detailed feature piece here that includes a lot of essential facts and trivia about how it can be considered the most influential piece of science fiction ever written. To many, “Dune” is at least equal to “The Lord of The Rings” when it comes to world building, depth of lore, characters. I personally love it even more (it’s never too descriptive, it has more layers and a contemporary audience will find it more immediate). It’s Star Wars for adults – there, I said it.
After a first adaptation by David Lynch in the 1980s – which had, to put it mildly, mixed results – Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) took upon himself the task to create a modern version of it, which would do more justice to the original text.
Did he succeed? Well, I was glued to the screen. I admit I was a bit tired towards the end (the runtime is 2h 35 and this is only the first of a two-parts treatment, so don’t expect a climactic conclusion). But tired in a good way: I was full, exhilarated, I felt satiated. The story delivers deep emotions in droves, touches on all the aspects that made the original story so profound (it dives into history, psychology, religion, politics, environmentalism), offers so many iconic characters that are right away archetype material.
And maybe most importantly: it looks and feels so good. Every single shot screams how much incredible care has been put into the realization of this labor of love. Everything, everything: from production design to costumes, the sets, the sounds, the visual and special effects – even more than usual, you can almost touch Villeneuve’s cinema, and I think Greig Fraser’s (The Mandalorian, Rogue One) cinematography has some big awards coming his way – the locations, the world building (accurate and rich with countless unspoken details, and just a few minor changes or omissions that don’t alter significantly the story), the characters. Many of the most defining actors of this generation have been cast on this project and it shows, every scene drips talent and intensity and it’s just never, never enough.
I like Chalamet’s Paul. I love Oscar Isaac’s Duke. Jason Momoa as Duncan is, well, Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin brings a Thanos element to Gurney Halleck which, to be honest, at times felt too granitic. I will stick to Patrick Stewart’s version, more versatile and able to better catch the complexity of the space troubadour-master of arms. Lady Jessica (played by Rebecca Ferguson) is very convincing even though she gets to do a lot of exposition, some of which felt redundant; while Chani (Zendaya) comes out as a strong-willed and untamed desert daughter. Javier Bardem surprised me as a perfect Stilgar, intense and conscious of his role. This is no planet for old men. Last mention of honor for Stellan Skarsgård, who completely steals the scene as the Baron Harkonnen every single time and creates a villain memorable as few others. Scheming, ruthless, greedy. Less than human or maybe, beyond human. Quintessential evil.
If anything, I am sorry some characters are not given enough space on screen (Thufir Hawat and Peter De Vries for example, and I am sorry the fantastic lore of the Mentats has not been expanded more. But oh well).
But what IS on screen, and it’s a lot, does its job fantastically. Oh my god it does. I want to watch it again right away just to take in more details. The vehicles, the weapons, clothes, building, accessories are created to exist in a living and breathing world, even if admittedly, it’s a world full of sand. It’s a brutal society where survival is hard, complicated by the endless scheming of one human faction against all the others, and the struggle of nature that pushes back with equal (if not greater) violence when necessity arises, which is all the time.
The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer completes the picture by offering a constant musical commentary underlining each moment of the story without being overwhelming or off-key. It captures and defines the essence of each culture and moment described on screen. Some tracks dig deep (I am listening to it right now). And of course it’s a lot of ta-daaaa braaaam, because it’s Hans Zimmer. This is Gladiator meet Blade Runner 2049. So as always, it’s love it or hate it. I love it.
I want to spend more time in that world. I want to go back to Arrakis, also known as Dune, right now. Because the spice must flow. And I will not be afraid. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
In conclusion, my friends. I am so glad movie making can still be this visionary and ambitious. This is world building at its best. I will surely watch it again. And this is my advice, go watch it, and treat yourself with a big screen (IMAX if you can). This is not a small, portable screen experience. Let the sands of Arrakis, also known as Dune, envelop you. You must not fight against the flow. You must embrace it. The sleeper must awaken.