Denis Villeneuve has been consistently knocking it out of the park with his whole career. He made his big budget debut with the tense crime drama Prisoners and moved on to release Enemy in the same year. These were closely followed by Sicario and Arrival (his first big science fiction success). Blade Runner 2049 was a big test because the preexisting fanbase for Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is big and seemed skeptical that 2049 was just going to be another in a long line of cash-grab sequels and reboots that were speeding through cinemas in 2017. He, at least in my opinion, absolutely nailed it and brought that same game to this adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. That being said, this situation is a little more complicated because the film acts as more of an introduction to the Dune universe than a complete story as with Blade Runner. Villeneuve is already working on the yet-to-be-greenlit Dune: Part 2 and a TV series called Dune: The Sisterhood which bases itself around the Bene Gesserit, a secretive organisation of women that orchestrate large parts of the political and social functions of the Dune universe.
If You Haven’t Read The Book…
I would struggle to say that you are guaranteed enjoyment. The film is pretty slow and you might leave the cinema feeling a little dissatisfied. That being said, I would still recommend a cinema visit. The aesthetics of the universe that Denis Villeneuve has curated are stunning and the sound design and score are absolutely incredible. Also, provided my pessimism is misguided and Dune pulls in enough box office success that the upcoming projects are greenlit and brought to fruition, Dune is going to be the start of a franchise designed to (and hopefully successfully) rival Game of Thrones.
Due to COVID-19, there were some concerns around the release of this film but the basic result was that the studio wanted to release Dune straight to streaming and Denis Villeneuve refused, insisting that it had a cinematic release. If this is any indication of Villeneuve’s vision, the Dune saga should size up to being a cinematic experience that will have significant cultural impact, at least in the world of science fiction.
As for other aspects of the movie, the script and directing are great and the already-incredible cast delivers as brilliantly as expected. The costume design is beautiful and, though there are a couple moments that feel a little plastic, the set design is dynamic and interesting. All in all, the worldbuilding of Dune (which is honestly what I enjoyed the most about the novel) is excellent and left be unbelievably excited for the upcoming projects that are further exploring Frank Herbert’s universe.
If You Have Read The Book…
Briefly, go to see it but go for the world and the experience, the adaptation is very true to the source material but the movie on its own takes a little bit of a complicated approach. In terms of adaptation, the only minor complaint that I have is that the Lady Jessica is portrayed to be emotionally distressed and, bluntly, weak in comparison to her character in the novel. Another (and honestly worthless) complaint is that the pronunciation of some words and names were very different to what I was expecting but that’s likely to be more on me than the movie.
The Fremen tribal culture isn’t entirely communicated in the same way as the novel but honestly I think that simplifying it might have been a good decision and still leaves open opportunity for the concepts to be further explored in the subsequent shows and movies. The way the Bene Gesserit were portrayed was much clearer than the book and very visually interesting compared to what I had imagined in my mind (and much easier to take serious than the 1984 portrayal in David Lynch’s film).
All the character portrayals are pretty spot-on and even the communication of the more abstract ideas from the book (the Bene Gesserit training such as the voice or secret body language, Paul’s visions, or the spice’s semi-psychedelic effect on the mind) is worked into the film very well. It’s a little difficult to say if someone who hasn’t read the book would be entirely on-board with Paul’s visions and understanding how it works but as far as I could tell, it was all explained fairly well and at no point during the film did it feel like there was too much clumsy exposition that pandered to the audience that isn’t already familiar with the Dune universe.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK
As for events, the failed poisoning of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is a great example of this film being such a level up from the 1984 movie. The introduction of the Fremen is well built up to and the whole Harkonnen attack on Dune is well executed. All in all, Denis Villeneuve nailed it and all the things that I was a little concerned about beforehand turned out to deliver well above my expectations.
I hope you enjoyed this review and please check out more of our content at ScreenHub Entertainment such as my review of Marvel’s Shang-Chi or our look at the Norse mythology behind the new God of War.