So….what to say about Dune? It amazed me. Denis Villeneuve has managed to create a spectacle worthy of recognition by the Academy (yes, I think it deserves Oscars, but we’ll talk more about that later). Villeneuve’s creation has heart, dedication, and most importantly, uniqueness.
In this day and age, it’s easy to see the same story over and over again, just told in different formats. With Dune, it’s a brand-new story, something that we really haven’t had the chance to see on the big screen (I’m not counting the 1980s edition of the film). We see characters that we come to love and adore, and the cinematography of the film…it’s just beautiful. The film has some sort of this raw personality to it. Once you’re watching it, it’s nearly impossible to stop. The film is mesmerizing in its scale and its depth.
Dune tells the story of Paul Atreides (Timothee Chamalet), the son of the Duke of Caladan, Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac). They take their army to the planet of Arrakis to take control of the planet, when a stunning betrayal is found and all chaos breaks loose.
The film itself is a masterpiece. That word is overused, but for this film, it’s earned it. The layers of characters are so complex, it seems simple. Duke Leto is probably the most complex of all that appear in this first installment, he loves his family, and Caladan, but also feels a duty to his Emperor to claim Arrakis, and kill the Harkonnens.
The highlight of the film is likely Zendaya’s Chani. She doesn’t have much screen time, but for the limited time she does, Chani makes her mark on viewers. She is both a viewer and narrator, as she appears in Paul’s dreams, and somewhat guides him. Rebecca Ferguson and Josh Brolin are also standouts.
For Dune, some castings were on point, such as Timothee Chamalet and Jason Momoa, but this film could have been greatly improved if not for some other choices. Mainly Dave Bautista, while a great actor, does not fit with his character of Rabban. He is more a comedic actor, and tries to completely erase that for this film. While a noble endeavor, Bautista is a comedic figure at heart, and trying to remove that only serves for the worse.
Plot And Pacing
Another issue that isn’t mainly the focus of most critiques, the plot and pacing. This is likely due to the fact that Dune is not an original film, it’s based off the 1960s novel by Frank Herbert.
Upon entering this film, Director Denis Villeneuve strongly made his point clear, he would not make Dune as one film. It would be part 1 of 2, as the film had too much plot to make into one film. Believe it or not, this was the right choice.
However, the way Villeneuve chose to spread out the book is questionable. Some parts are extremely rushed, such as the betrayal sequence, the destruction of House Atreides, and the attempted assassination of the Baron. These sequences could have been stretched just a bit more, if other sequences had been shortened. The ending sequence, where Jessica and Paul tried to find the Fremen, was stretched, to the point where it was the only time in the film that I felt bored.
The final issue I have with this film is the marketing. While not a direct part of the film, it was shown in trailers and promotional TV spots that there would be a huge battle between House Atreides and the Fremen versus House Harkonnen and the Sardaukar. It was actually just a battle in one of Paul’s dreams. Supposedly, that battle will take place in Dune: Part Two, but I came into the film with high expectations for the battle, and had them deflated when I realized it was all a dream.
I’ve talked a lot about the bad, but I want to talk a bit about some more good elements of the film. Specifically, the cinematography. The way that the film makes good use of the sun, and the natural elements around the cast, is extremely pretty. From a sci-fi director, it’s surprising, but this could be the new Villeneuve. It’s similar to Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland, and her more recent feature film, Marvel Studios’ Eternals.
Since the film’s global premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, the world has been buzzing about the lengths this film is going to. The film has taken the festival circuit, and one of the biggest circuits there is. From the world premiere in Venice, the film went to the Toronto International Film Festival. From there, New York. Then to Mill Valley (Marin County in the SF Bay Area). The festival circuit is used for films that are going for awards contention, so there is obvious hype about awards the film is going for.
The biggest question, is Dune a Best Picture contender when the Oscars come around this spring? Probably. It’s hard to imagine a sci-fi film competing with the likes of King Richard, House of Gucci, Coda, and Belfast. However, it’s important to remember that Marvel Studios’ Eternals is also in the Best Picture race, and is quite similar in the cinematography aspect. This film will almost certainly win Best Adapted Screenplay, and it will be a major contender in almost every other category, but it’s too early to tell if Dune will take home many Oscars.
With some issues, Dune can be an easily overlooked film, dismissed as another sci-fi failure. While the film has its fair share of issues, it is a film worthy of recognition, and definitely worth a watch. Dune is a big film, that’s generated a lot of buzz. The only question, is the movie worth it?
What did you think of Dune? Let us know by mentioning @ReviewedCinema on Twitter. Dune is now available to stream on HBO Max, and is playing in theaters.