Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem
Screened at: Steven J. Ross Theater, LA, 11/20/21
Opens: October 22nd, 2021
Science fiction is a genre that contains many stories of many worlds. Among the most influential of them is Frank Herbert’s Dune, first published as a novel in 1965 and the beginning of an incredibly lengthy series with numerous iterations continuing long beyond Herbert’s death in 1986. Multiple film and television adaptations have been attempted beginning in the 1970s to questionable results, and a new version of the epic tale now arrives from director Denis Villeneuve, one that should enthrall devoted fans and invite fresh viewers previously unexposed to this vast and mesmerizing universe.
House Atreides is given sovereignty by the Emperor over the planet Arrakis, where the precious resource spice is harvested, transplanting Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), his wife Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and their son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) from the water world of Caladan. The arrival of Atreides on Arrakis is a rocky one, and after uncertain beginnings, the new custodians of the planet find themselves attacked by the forces of House Harkonnen, Arrakis’ previous stewards. Lady Jessica and Paul make an escape into the desert, where they must work to learn the ways of the native Fremen, including Chani (Zendaya), as their only hope for survival in exile.
There exists a certain density to the plot of this film, which only covers half of Herbert’s original book. A runtime of more than two and a half hours may seem excessive, but there is a great deal of content featured here. Where backstory descriptors and details that are more often found in the pages of a book are omitted, stunning visuals supplement the narrative here. These planets feel immeasurably real and incredibly vast thanks to extraordinary production design by Patrice Vermette, gorgeous cinematography by Greig Fraser, and phenomenal visual effects by an exceptional team.
The simultaneous release of this film in theaters and on HBO Max has prompted doubt from those who believe it should be seen only on the largest screen possible. While that argument certainly does have merit given the impact of its technical elements in a theater, this film makes excellent use of all of its components to deliver a thoroughly immersive and satisfying cinematic experience on any platform. Its quality need not be measured by the dimensions of any particular viewing experience but rather on the successful combination of all aspects of its production.
For all the world knowledge required to unpack the story of the film that may be lost on some audience members, the tone and energy of the film is entirely immersive. An understanding of who a particular enemy may be is not crucial to the concept that they are all-powerful and winning a war whose effects will reverberate for generations. The focus on Lady Jessica and Paul and an introduction to the Bene Gesserit folklore that includes prophecies of saviors makes clear that theirs is a story worth paying close attention to, and this film invites viewers along for the ride, crammed into the close, uncertain quarters in which they find themselves as they fight to stay alive.
This cast is superbly-assembled, with Chalamet as an effective overconfident protagonist, one who has big dreams but no real idea of what the universe holds for him. From among a truly competent ensemble, standouts include Ferguson, who dominates every moment of her screen time, and Jason Mamoa as a loyal and skilled Atreides protector. This film makes no apologies about being only the first part of a two-part saga that will continue in a subsequent installment, but after this astounding, captivating movie experience, it’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t want to sign up right away for a return trip.
Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A
Overall – A-