Dune

Dune

★★★★

Denis Villeneuve adds to his exciting filmography with an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. A great challenge for Villeneuve seeing that the Dune franchise carries a cult fanbase and arguably has never been justifiably adapted for the big screen.

Timothee Chalamet takes on the role of Paul Atreides who is the heir to the admired leader Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac). As a result of a political ploy cloaked as a diplomatic gesture by House Harkonnen, the Atreides family is provided with the opportunity to harvest an important commodity called spice on the planet of Arrakis. Due to the value and the Imperium’s dependence on spice, it is an opportunity to increase the standing and prestige of the Atreides name and they subsequently relocate to the vast desert planet of Arrakis.

As well as combat training and learning the ropes of the political landscape of the Imperium, Paul inherits a persuasive power from his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) which complicates the destiny of Paul. Subsequently, he is being pulled in many directions by various strong forces. There is no doubt Timothee Chalamet is a generational talent and proves this yet again by perfecting a role that will have been overwhelming for many.

By most accounts, Star Wars Episode 4-6 were heavily influenced by Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. There are obvious similarities, most notably between Paul Atreides and Luke Skywalker both being unique and having to master their innate powers. The politics of House Atreides and Harkonnen also resembles the Alliance vs the Empire in Star Wars. The key difference is the blurred morality lines, especially with the Fremen becoming more involved in the narrative. Paul’s challenge will not be deciding whether to be good or evil, it’ll be assessing what is good or evil and this will be a far more intriguing path.

Chalamet’s performance is complemented by a stellar supporting cast – notably Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson who portrays Paul’s parents. Each of Paul’s parents has their idea of their son’s future and this is heavily motivated by their individual roots, despite that, the Atreides household is a close-knit unit and this is reinforced by the compassion and connection portrayed in Isaac and Ferguson’s brief time shared on the screen.

Josh Brolin plays Gurney Halleck who is a senior member of the Atreides military and serves as a reminder that the diplomatic conflict throughout the Imperium is a tangible threat. The paranoia and tenseness of Halleck emphasise the danger that Duke Leto’s standing brings, and ultimately, this intensifies the plot.

Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho is a versatile and loyal soldier to House Atreides who initially has a mission to scout and infiltrate the Fremen who are natives of the planet of Arrakis – the intention being to add the Fremen people as another card to Atreides’ deck of diplomacy. Duncan and Paul share a strong relationship, and this is to the credit of Chalamet and Momoa who do a fantastic job at accentuating their affiliation through their performances. Duncan Idaho is also involved in the best action sequences which add another layer to Dune. For a peripheral character in terms of screen time, Idaho had a big impact on this movie.

Villeneuve’s greatest strength has always been creating a setting that the audience feel truly immersed in. I have always felt it’s a shame he’s never stayed with a franchise/story for more than one release – you do want to spend more time in Villeneuve’s 2049 Los Angeles or get deeper into the drug war within Sicario. The prospect of getting more absorbed into Arrakis and the whole Dune universe with Villeneuve at the helm is very exciting – it does feel as though this may be his Dark Knight trilogy. Comparisons between Villeneuve and Christopher Nolan are long-running, predominantly this is due to the fact that both directors are demonstrating that successful blockbusters don’t need to be dumbed down. It is fascinating to see Villeneuve, with his stunning cinematography and immersive storytelling, cut his teeth into a blockbuster reboot such as Dune.

One of Villeneuve most notable triumphs is establishing the world of Dune whilst producing a captivating arc. During this film, we learn of the existing political tensions, the origins and cultures of characters, the various technologies used and even the technique used within the expansive desert to avoid attracting the sandworms. Dune achieved all of that whilst creating an emotional investment towards the characters you’ve met briefly only minutes before.

The great Hans Zimmer is also worthy of mention and has produced yet another masterpiece. The score has a middle-eastern influence to add to the setting created. There is an Islamic influence on Dune which stems from Frank Herbert’s novels and that is captured incredibly in the score. There are very few superlatives left to describe Zimmer’s work.

It is a daring choice for Villeneuve to take on Dune, perhaps it was the success of Blade Runner 2049 which facilitated that audacity. The success of this epic rests on creating an incredibly engaging setting, the stunning cinematography which captures the vastness of Arrakis and the emotional impact bred through the script and performances of the cast. Many a director simply earn acclaim through their signature style; Villeneuve holds his own amongst the style ranks and backs it up with real substance.  

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