Frank Herbert’s science fiction opus gets a stellar adaptation worthy of the big screen. Dune is not a pop cinema spectacle that sacrifices storytelling for bloated CGI effects. French Canadian auteur Denis Villeneuve takes the time to weave a complex mythological narrative of classic archetypes. Where houses of royalty in a distant future battle for control of the universe’s most valuable commodity on a seemingly barren planet. Striking cinematography, an excellent supporting cast, and rich dialogue envelopes you utterly. Dune‘s only significant drawback is the feeble screen presence of the protagonist. Timothée Chalamet is a capable actor, but lacks the charisma and gravitas to truly carry a film of this epic magnitude.
In the year ten thousand, the Emperor issues a declaration that roils the balance of power between the Great Houses. The brutal House Harkonnen must relinquish control of the desert planet Arrakis to House Atreides. Whoever rules Arrakis controls the production of spice, a vital element to space travel, and source of unlimited wealth. But Arrakis is a beast not easily tamed. Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) and his vicious nephew (Dave Bautista) cruelly oppress the Fremen, an indigenous nomadic people with mysterious blue-eyes. Monstrous sandworms also devour anything emitting a rhythmical sound pattern.
On the water planet Caladan, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) prepares his house for the move to Arrakis. His beloved concubine, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), a Bene Gesserit witch with supernatural abilities, broke the rules of her order and gave birth to a male heir. Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) has been rigorously trained by his mother and father’s loyal protectors (Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa). Who fears that doom awaits them on Arrakis. As Paul struggles with the burden of his birthright, he’s haunted by visions of a beautiful Fremen girl (Zendaya) and a devastating war to come.
Dune is a hard sci-fi film that doesn’t cut any corners. The two and a half hour runtime is just the first part of the story. This segmented approach gives Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Blade Runner 2049) the latitude for heavy exposition. Every part of the plot is explored with a depth that gradually builds layers. The sociopolitical intrigue of the time, amazing costume design, and the actual mechanics of spice production give the characters believability in a fantastical setting. I loved the fact that we see Leto having to deal with the Harkonnen sabotage of equipment. He has quotas to meet in a dangerous, unknown environment. This level of detail is critical in establishing the life or death stakes on Arrakis.
Timothée Chalamet has made quite a career of brooding. His mopey Gen Z demeanor could have sunk the film. Thankfully the ensemble cast, especially Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, and Rebecca Ferguson, pull up the adult bootstraps to add real dramatic heft. This is the initial stage of Paul Atreides’ emergence into a leader and fierce warrior. I pray that Denis Villeneuve gives Chalamet an adrenaline shot and puts some gumption in his performance for the next installment. The “Kwisatz Haderach”, for all you hardcore Dune fans out there, can’t look like a café beat poet who’s upset there’s too much foam in his latte.
Dune is an engrossing, thoughtful experience. It must be seen in the best theater possible. Dune will be available to stream opening day on HBO Max. But you do yourself a disservice by watching this film on a tiny screen with subpar sound. It resonates days after viewing. IMAX and chill. Dune is a production of Warner Bros., Legendary Entertainment, and Villeneuve Films. It premieres theatrically and online October 22nd from Warner Bros.