If there was ever a director that would be more fitting to tackle Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic in the modern age, it would have to be Denis Villeneuve. The director’s portfolio has only gone from strength to strength, and his ability to create masterful work on such a grand scale makes him the perfect candidate to take on this huge sci-fi epic.
The beautiful yet harsh scenery, intricate world building and alluring visual effects make Dune a wonderful sight to set your eyes upon. But even with a runtime of over 2 and a half hours, Denis’ adaptation of Dune is a narratively heavy piece that would be better appreciated if you have some relative knowledge of the source material. Those who don’t, may have a much harder time digesting its ambitious and incredibly broad vision.
It’s often been stated that Dune is a tough novel to adapt. David Lynch gave it a crack back in 1984, but has been wildly criticized for its poor attempt of accurately reconstructing the source material, and trying to fit it into a runtime that just doesn’t seem feasible. The moment the title card of Dune pops up at the beginning of Denis’ adaptation, perhaps quite surprisingly also does the sub-title ‘Part 1’. Immediately creating the impression that Denis will take his time with Frank Herbert’s novel and include as much as he can over multiple movies. Within taking his time however, Dune (Part 1) feels like an empty and unfinished entry that desperately requires a second instalment to make it feel whole.
The story centres around Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet). Son of Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), ruler of planet Caladan and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), a member of the Bene Gesserit (an all female organisation that grants its population unique powers and attributes). House Atreides are assigned to the desert planet Arrakis by the Emperor and overseer of space democracy, as they take over control of the production of ‘spice’ from House Harkonnen and their ruler Baron (Stellan Skarsgård). Unhappy with being withdrawn from Arrakis, Baron and his army intend to take Arrakis back by force and wipe out the Atreides’ and the true occupants of Arrakis (also known as the Fremen) led by Stilgar (Javier Bardem).
As previously mentioned, if you’ve never read the books or even tried to decipher David Lynch’s wild interpretation, Dune may take a while to fully draw you in. This is the problem I had with it. It certainly tries its best to set everything up, and explain the lure behind its many languages, planets and inhabitants, but some of it still manages to feel alien even with such overbearing exploitation.
Denis’ direction of Dune is no doubt a wonderful demonstration of his widely acclaimed keen eye for being behind camera. Stunning imagery backed with a harsh colour palette, and jaw dropping landscaping. Lovers of filmmaking from a visual based perspective will be left salivating up until its final frame.
Sadly with so much detail going into how the story is being told, Dune goes through long periods of overly drawn out expositional storytelling. This will likely appease those who’ve read the books, but with the exception of those like me that went into this with totally fresh eyes, may find the spectacle of it to feel rather underwhelming.
The big issue with Dune is that it lacked the sense of space adventure I came to expect. There’s a few big sequences scattered throughout its runtime, but the overbearing importance of its script can make it often feel like a slow affair. Being in my most anticipated movies list for releases this year, it’s very possible that I put Villeneuve’s latest directing venture on a pedestal that was always going to be tough to live upto.
Although not as engaging or exciting as I would’ve hoped, Dune (part 1) is a wonderfully vibrant, exceptionally shot sci-fi epic. One that provides enough interest to feel anticipation for what’s to come in part 2. When you have one of this generations greatest directors with one of the biggest cast ensembles of the year, it’s hard to avoid Dune’s gravitational pull, and watching it all unfold in front of a big screen really is the best way to soak it all in.