By: Haydn Elmore | November 10, 2021
Based on the novel of the same name by Frank Herbert, “Dune” follows a brilliant and gifted young man named Paul Atreides (played by Timothee Chalamet). He was born into a great destiny beyond his understanding and must travel through the world’s depths to protect the future of his family and his people. All the while, a malevolent force comes in and builds conflict with the planet’s overwhelming supply of resources that could change the fate of humanity forever.
The original book is one of the most influential works of literature in the 20th century. It is filled with rich detail in terms of world-building and the exploration of heavy themes such as imperialism, tradition, power, and our choices based on free will. Making a film adaptation of it seemed to be a challenge. The first attempt, released in 1984 and directed by David Lynch, did not get the best results in critical reception (with a 44% on Rotten Tomatoes) and wound up a box office bomb (only making $30 million against a $40 million budget). However, in 2021 Denis Villeneuve, one of the best directors working today, decided to take on the challenge and give the beloved source material the on-screen adaptation respect it deserves. The end result is nothing short of spectacular.
The book is filled with great detail in plot and lore that it would be nearly impossible to cram it all into a singular film. Villeneuve’s version splits the story into two films (with Part 2 just recently announced) to give it the proper time and care it deserves. While it does make the first film feel incomplete, it was a smart choice by the creative team. As usual with book-to-film adaptations, there have to be changes and removals of certain things to work with the format. Even the best adaptations like “The Lord of the Rings” have changed or removed elements from the original material. But because the series is deeply beloved, it can stand on its own and be understood without needing to read the book. The same can be said for “Dune.”
The film does a great job of condensing the key ideas of the source material and presenting them in an easy way for the audience to understand and grasp. It is, however, complex enough for viewers to dig deeper and invest more into the character’s journey and the world they inhabit. When Lady Jessica (played by Rebecca Ferguson) talks to Paul about the concept of the Voice in which you can manipulate people’s actions, it is explained through simple dialogue and visual cues. For example, the camera holds on to a character or object for longer than a split second, which signals something important is about to happen. It pairs with the dialogue to communicate the concept to the audience.
The film is rich with ideas about the state of a person’s free will, the war within different factions, and the idea of a “chosen one” that are presented abstractedly and left for interpretation (like the visions Paul has about him being the chosen one and him wrestling with the idea).
On a technical level, the film is absolutely stunning. Denis Villeneuve has a way of grabbing the audience’s attention and never letting go. He shows this by directing every scene with a singular purpose behind it. When he wants to show off a huge set piece or world, he frames the scene, so it has depth and scale by using wide long takes, several birds-eye views, and high angles to get the scope that you are in a world unlike anything you have seen before.
When it comes to intimate scenes focusing on the characters, the moments are directed with close-ups and medium shots to capture the emotion, inner turmoil, and personal thoughts. It makes the film feel both grand in scale and personal in character. Villeneuve’s excellent direction, along with Greg Fraser’s stunning cinematography, provides a beautiful mixture of naturalistic greys and blues to add to the futuristic world this film is shown (along with bright oranges and yellows to play within Paul’s vision of the future).
Stunning visual effects aided within something real and tangible (like a human or a location) make them blend seamlessly. Sound design that is blaringly loud brings you into the world at large and intense moments of action. Hans Zimmer’s score makes every scene feel intense and emotionally gripping. In the scene where Paul is having visions that haunt him, the music gets louder and louder until he cannot take it anymore, and the music abruptly, yet effectively, stops.
Since this is only Part 1, certain things in the film might feel incomplete in the story and its characters. But that doesn’t mean the story and characters are not compelling and interesting. Despite the two and half hour runtime, it covered the first half of the story at a perfectly reasonable pace. No scene is cut down too short, nor runs too long. However, the long run time is noticeable by the end due to the overwhelming scope of many plot details.
Whether big or small, the characters' choices have consequences, leaving a big impact on the story and making them more human than one might expect in a Sci-Fi epic. The characters do their best to keep order in the duties they are set upon while facing challenges that will change their perspective. It is handled beautifully through the detailed writing of the writers and grateful performances from the cast, with the highlights being Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Osscar Issac, Jason Momoa, and Sharon Duncan-Brewster.
In short, “Dune” may seem to be a tough film to describe in simple words, but it is a one-of-a-kind experience and will inspire a generation of filmmakers and storytellers in the same vein as the likes of “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings.”
Denis Villeneuve and his team did the impossible task of taking a well-detailed and thematically rich source material and crafting a film adaptation that shows honor and respect to the original story while also making fresh soil out of it. It provides amazing attention to detail describing the direction, visual department, and sound design to make a grand-scale epic. Even with its incomplete story, it still finds a way to be a satisfying film to experience on its own and ends with a way to get you excited for a sequel.
Stop whatever you’re doing and go and see this film.
“Dune” is now playing in theaters and is available for streaming on HBO Max.