Dune (2021) Review
A GRAND VISUAL SPECTACLE AND
A TRUE CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE
A future beyond our amazement and wonder, but is rooted in humanity, the evolution of mankind, the trappings of power, and the dangers of blind fanaticism. Sci-fi author Frank Herbert depicted such science fiction nuances and thematic messages within his 1965 release novel Dune; bringing to light a master class work of subverting expectations and fundamental concepts of literary world-building and sophistication narrative / characters. Herbert continued his onward with Dune; producing several more installments in this sci-fi universe of power and control and expanding upon his ideas in creative and philosophical ways. However, Herbert passed away before completing his completing his magnus opus of Dune, leaving the sixth novel in the series on a cliffhanger; only to be picked up years later by Herbert’s son, Frank, and sci-fi author Brian J. Anderson to finish off the mains storyline of Dune saga in two sequential novels, while also publishing several other Dune novels that expand and filling in the blanks of this sci-fi universe. Nevertheless, Herbert’s Dune series has been hailed as one of the greater sci-fi novels of the genre and is considered to be one of the forefathers of science fictions; something akin to Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Larry Niven. Given the novels success, it’s no wonder that filmmakers and studios chased after Herbert’s original Dune novel to be adapted on both big and small screen. This includes the concept idea of director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune in 1974, which was never made yet discussed in the 2013’s documentary film Jodorowsky’s Dune, two TV mini-series projects, with 2000’s Dune and 2003’s Children of Dune, and director David Lynch’s Dune in 1985, a feature film that is an ambitious and valiant attempt, but is a confusing / perplexing presentation in trying to make sense of Herbert’s work with Lynch’s direction. Now, Warner Bros. Studios and director Denis Villeneuve present the latest attempt in approach Herbert’s original Dune novel for a cinematic representation with the release of Dune. With all the hype and anticipation surrounding this particular film, does the movie still up to its incredibly high expectations or is just a visually stunning disaster of the film that is a far-cry from Frank Herbert’s original literary material?
Arrakis…always known as Dune…is a harsh desert planet in the vastness of the Imperium, with the current stewards being House Harkonnen, who is lead by the ruthless Baron Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgard). While the isolated and harsh environment of the planet is nothing special, Arrakis is considered to be one of the most prominent planets in the entire universe, for it is here and only here that the Spice Melange, a valuable substance that is often just called “Spice” that aids in interstellar travel; creating commerce and navigation across the thousands of worlds within the Imperium. By decree from The Emperor, the control of Arrakis is changed, with House Harkonnen’s sworn enemy, House Atreides, ruled by the popular Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), now claim stewardship of the planet and the massive fortune / responsibilities of spice harvesting, soon venturing to the desert planet to being work. Leto’s son, Paul (Timothee Chalamet), heir to House Atreides, joins him on the new occupation of Arrakis, along with his Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), who’s been raised in the sisterhood of the Bene Gesserit order; tutoring her son in their mysterious ways of mind control and foresight. Arriving on Arrakis, with trusted Atreides honor guard solders, including Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), Duke Leto prepares for leadership test; trying to appease The Emperor’s decision, the balance amongst the other Great House in the Imperium with spice harvesting, and dealing with the Fremen, the native desert tribe people of Dune. Meanwhile, Paul is dealing with strange dreams of life on the planet, drawn to the image of Chani (Zendaya), a member of the men. However, House Atreides’s stewardship over Arrakis is soon put to the test, with evil machinations playing out in the shadows as the Baron, along with his brutish nephew, Glossu Rabban (Dave Bautista), seeks to overthrow their ancient rival family. With danger and conspiracy around every corner, Paul finds himself thrown into fray of blood, power, and control; discovering his hidden abilities and learning that his destiny lies on the coarse sands of Arrakis…..one that will change everything forever.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
While I will always say that I’m more of fan of fantasy stories, I’m always intrigued by what science fiction has to offer, especially within the literary forms. This is more prevalent because I worked for more than decade at bookstore (and still have a love of books because of it) and selling / shelving many sci-fi novels from many popular / classic others such as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Jules Verne, Larry Niven, Orson Scott Card, H.G. Wells, and several others. Frank Herbert also joins those ranks of sci-fi authors, with the Dune series being one of the more prestigious staples in the science fiction realm. While I’ve only owned / read the first novel (1965’s Dune) in the series, I am quite versed in the lore, mythos, and universe that Herbert created from his original six novels and the expanded novels that his son, Brian Herbert, and sci-fi author, Brian J. Anderson. To me, it’s a fascinating tale that spans thousands of years and explore a wide variety of characters through their ambitions and humanity. As I’ve said, I haven’t read them, but I think that the stories (characters and themes) in the novels Children of Dune and God Emperor of Dune (the third and fourth installments of the Dune series) are the best from Herbert’s novels and are my personal favorite. Plus, the overall themes explored throughout the Dune series are truly thought-provoking, with cautionary messages and beliefs that can easily be extrapolated to both the human condition and towards the events of today’s world.
Thus, given the richness of the stories that series has to offer, it’s no surprise that Hollywood would want to adapt such narrative, especially the first Dune novel. However, as I mentioned above, the several attempts made are a bit of mixed bag. While Lynch’s Dune is perhaps the most well-known in the several adaptations attempts made, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune was the first attempt in bringing Herbert’s first novel to the big screen. However, as I mentioned, the project never got off the ground, but there was a documentary (Jodorowsky’s Dune), with the director sharing his vision for what the project would’ve been as well as sharing conceptual artwork. Yes, it would’ve been interesting to see what Jodorowsky had planned for his interpretation of Dune, but (given from what I saw), it was too psychedelic and far-out there for mainstream audience and probably won’t be a big success at the box office with critics and moviegoers. Then came Lynch’s Dune, which definitely felt had the bigness and grandiosity that many fans were expecting from Hollywood, but the project was just marred by its own execution. I did like production, set designs, costume, and some of the cast, but the film itself was too compressed, too rushed, and sort of went for the “cafeteria” section in picking what to add, change, or omitted from the translation of “page to screen”. Now, I understand movies commonly do that, but, at one point, the movie changes from being an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune to a David Lynch’s sci-fi endeavor; creating confusing moments and fragmented plot chunks. Plus, I always thought that usage inner dialogue was so annoying and overused and the interpretation / depiction of the Baron was so silly and over-the-top. My actually first introduction with Dune actually came from the Sci-Fi Channel’s Dune TV mini-series in 2000. While the mini-series had its limitations due to the project’s production budget, I believed that this was probably the most accurate and closes thing to adapting Herbert’s original movie. The cast was great, and I think that they (everyone on the project) did a great job. Even better, was the follow-up min-series of Children of Dune in 2003, with several actors returning to reprise their role and giving a better production quality to the proceedings, even though it was still limited by a TV budget. Of the two, I personally like Children of Dune better. Still, while both TV mini-series did a great job, I, like many fans out there, were always hoping that Hollywood would one day revisit the Dune series for a proper (faithfully) cinematic treatment could do the famous novel justice.
As a side note, if you are unfamiliar with Dune universe or are wanting a refresher on Herbert’s series, be sure to check out Quinn’s Ideas on YouTube. His video on Dune are exceptional and full of in-depth knowledge of Herbert’s Dune and all the entire series universe; exploring the themes and narrations. That’s how I caught up on the series and I do certainly highly recommend it. Click HERE for the link.
All of this brings me back to talking about Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, a 2021 sci-fi action feature film and the latest film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. As mentioned, after watching the Sci-Fi Channel’s two Dune TV mini-series, I was definitely curious to see if and when a major Hollywood studio would take up the mantle of adapting Herbert’s work once again, especially since major studios had revisited popular IP projects like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings into massive blockbuster series. So, it was just a matter of time. Luckily, such announcement soon materialized, with Dune being made under Legendary Entertainment (under Warner Bros. Studios banner) and director Denis Villeneuve helming the project. Like many, I was super excited for this movie and (within time) the casting announcement for the upcoming project were announced and I was even more excited; finding the cast always being a “dream cast” with such talents like Zendaya, Ferguson, Brolin, Bautista, Momoa, and Chalamet. I certainly was “eating up” any type of tidbits of information that was being presented about Villeneuve’s Dune, with the looming date of December 18th, 2020 giving me hope and anticipation. Heck, even the film’s movie trailers / marketing campaign were great; showcasing plenty of visually stunning footage from what we could expect from the epic film. So, as one could tell, I was super excited to see Dune when it was going to be released at the end of 2020. However, due to the on-going events of the COVID-19 pandemic, Warner Bros. decided to delay the film almost an entire year; shifting the release date of Dune until October 1st, 2021 and was going to be a part of WB’s simultaneously release plan for releasing the film in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day. Then, as the date got closer and closer, Warner Bros. again shifted Dune’s theatrical release date; delaying the film for several weeks, with the final US release date being for October 22nd, 2022. So, of course, I went to go to see the movie during its opening night, for I decided to go see the movie in theaters versus seeing on HBO Max as I’ve heard that the movie is a great “cinematic experience” (from advance screening reviews of the feature). So, went go see it. Now….. the big question…. what did I think of the movie itself? Did live up to all the hype and anticipation that has surrounded its release? Well…. (drum roll please) …. I loved it! Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is a masterful theatrical feature film that has a cinematic grandeur in its scale and scope as well as very vibrant and absolutely stunning visual presentation throughout the film. It’s a movie that you experience through the cinematic nuances and visual motifs, which enriches the beautifully fleshed out narrative of Frank Herbert’s novel. Though this only half of the tale to be told, Villeneuve’s “passion project” is immensely satisfying…..
As stated, Dune is directed by Denis Villeneuve, whose previous directorial works includes such films like Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049. Given his background in feature films that deal with more methodically means, slow-burning storytelling, and sophisticated aspects, Villeneuve seems like a very suitable choice in developing and helming such an ambitious project such as adapting Herbert’s original novel to the big screen. Villeneuve has stated that Dune is one of his favorite books and would love the chance to make a feature film. Given that notion, Villeneuve definitely succeed….in spades mind you; approaching the source material with a great sense of appreciation for Herbert’s novel as well as understanding as to what moviegoers (and fans of Dune) want to see in such a sophisticated sci-fi tale on the silver screen. Villeneuve has even stated that this film is a “passion project” and it’s quite obvious from the moment the movie begins as every scene of the feature is made with a great attention to detail and passion for Herbert’s novel; making Dune such a powerful and visually stunning endeavor from start to finish. Perhaps one of the best aspect that Villeneuve does with Dune is the expansiveness that the presents with not just the movie, but in the story, with the narrative of the feature roughly covering the first half of Herbert’s novel. Villeneuve has stated that he wanted to do the source material justice and couldn’t fit the entire book (story, characters, themes, world-building, etc.) into just one movie, so the director presents his interpretation of Dune has only half of the novel, with the film’s title crawl stating Dune: Part One. While some might criticizes the director / studio for doing this method of storytelling, it’s actually does a great idea, especially since Lynch’s Dune was criticized for compressing the novel’s story into a 137-minute motion picture. For those who don’t know, Dune is quite the ambitious tale to be told; presenting a lot of complex themes, a plethora of characters, and interwoven plot lines to make such a realized narrative. It’s no wonder why Herbert’s Dune series has been hailed as one of the main pillars of science fiction. Thus, the idea of presenting a movie that only roughly covers half of the source material gives the movie’s story plenty of time to flesh out many aspects, characters, and world-building nuances, with Villeneuve laying out the ground work for the something incredible. This notion gives Dune plenty of “breathing room” for bringing Herbert’s sci-fi world (and its concepts) to life in a way that’s both cinematic and compelling to experience. This is most apparent in how those ideas and concepts; finding the feature’s narrative and its world-building ideas are presented and are fully understand, with very little boring aspects of exposition dumps. Villeneuve’s sprinkles those moments throughout the feature, so he (as the director) never weights the feature down and keeps us (the viewers) in-tune with Herbert’s world and how everything works and plays out. I think that Villeneuve was great at this as I felt that the movie never faltered / crumpled underneath its own “page to screen” mechanics and demonstrated a gifted hand in give us (the viewers) enough information without being too overbearing in its substance……. something that I felt that Lynch’s Dune did, which turned off some casual moviegoers. So, there’s more time to show certain scenes and nuances throughout the film such as Paul’s various visions, more time spent on the Atreides home world of Caladan, and more time to explore the machinations that befall Paul and his family throughout the movie. Some will argue that the film is incomplete (more on that below), but Villeneuve gives Dune enough time to devote in help bring Herbert’s world to a new medium and for a better representation in conveying the story being told.
Of his past endeavors, Villeneuve makes Dune his most ambitious project to date, presenting the feature with a large-scale scope and grandeur in almost every scene. From onset to conclusion, Villeneuve displays a tremendous amount of blockbuster fanfare to the proceedings, but makes sure that the film never becomes something that feels completely different from the director’s body of work. What do I mean? Well, Villeneuve definitely has a certain style of directing, which can be seeing through his past feature films, with a great sense of gravitas and seriousness that usually permeates throughout the entire presentation. This is pretty much with the case of Dune; finding the movie to be a very serious sci-fi endeavor, which does offer a more “highbrow” sophistication feeling while watching the film. Some might be “turned off” by this, with the movie slightly being criticized for being either “soulless” or “emotionless”, but I personally didn’t see it that way. If one has seeing Villeneuve’s movies such as Arrival or Blade Runner 2049, the director produces more sophisticated narratives and keeps everything at an even keel, with very little time to devote for jokes, gags, and other forms of comedic levity. Plus, I felt like a story like Dune doesn’t need to be humorous as what’s going on as more depth and gravitas. Dune (the story) has also been considered to be the “anti-Star Wars” tale, which is somewhat true as Villeneuve doesn’t try to replicate the narrative (style and tone) from that popular sci-fi franchise and keeps his vision of Dune his style and fashion. The result is something that (to me) works and works well; adhering to Villeneuve’s style and makes the film feels more foreboding. That’s not to say that the movie isn’t enjoyable as a blockbuster endeavor as it does and feels very much like quite a big-budgeted project. There’s plenty to see, plenty to do, and plenty to get caught up in throughout the movie, which keeps the viewers invested in Herbert’s tale of power and discovery.
With the movie only presenting half of the original Dune novel, the film’s script, which was penned by Villeneuve as well as Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts, does quite an impressive job in shaping / translating Herbert’s literary novel for a cinematic narrative. Again, there is a lot to unpack in the movie and density of Herbert’s Dune has always been revered amongst readers out there. So, to present such a tale that’s both a faithful to the source material and to appease the causal moviegoer is the task set before the film’s screenplay, the writers, and the director of Dune. Fortunately, all of this works in their favor; finding Dune to be meticulously designed and sculpted to appease both respectful parties. There is enough time for the narrative to breathe at a normal pace, which allows the story (and the film itself) to fully examine a lot of characters and concepts from the original book. Thus, everything is much more fleshed out and brought to the attention rather than being rushed / compressed in a standard narration. Yes, the screenplay navigates the classic “chosen one” / “Hero’s journey” throughout the feature; making Paul’s adventure seem quite familiar. However, how it is all presented (storytelling and world-building) in the film is quite well-thought out and spelled out. It’s quite clear that Villeneuve knows the source material well, which translates into the feature’s presentation as well in its story, which results in the sci-fi narrative coming to life in amazing ways on the big screen. The script is sharply written and (much like I said earlier) the exposition sequences are handled in both moderation and well-founded; never really feeling boring or overstaying its welcome. I’ve heard from a lot of causal moviegoers who watched the movie found it mostly to follow (beyond a few exceptions), which makes the screenplay that much more enjoyable. However, the fundamental question is…..does the story work within the film? Absolutely! Villeneuve and his team create such an ambitious and rich-filled cinematic world from Herbert’s novel. While not entirely original, the film’s main narrative (as well as the film itself) feels very engaging; slowly revealing more and more about the Dune universe and its characters to us (the viewers) and how Paul’s journey is one that is filled with ambiguity and being pushed to a so-called “destiny”; one that is more frightening than glorifying. Plus, I felt that the machinations of the Harkonnen were more laid out and provided more context to the villainy. All in all, I felt that the screenplay for Dune was presented well and very thought-out; presenting a sophisticated sci-fi tale that translate well onto the silver screen.
In the presentation category, Dune is absolutely, hands down amazing; a visual feast for the eyes that capture Villeneuve’s cinematic style as well the ambitions that one would have to trying to adapt Herbert’s novel. With a budget of $165 million for its production, the movie doesn’t exactly “break the bank” in terms of being a vastly large-scale movie endeavors, with other features hold that particular record. However, Dune does come with a large production budget (no doubt) and what’s presented is beautifully gorgeous in almost every angle and examinations. Villeneuve spares no expense when creating such a visionary world from Herbert’s novel, yet works well within the production budget; smartly utilizing it and delivering such a large-scale world that’s measure exactly the same size and scope that’s befitting both an ambitious film project and its equally ambitious source material. From the concept art direction, production designs, interior layouts, exterior shots, costume attire, and hair / make-up, everything about the film is so well detailed and brought with it a sense of intricate presentation, which results in the film’s background setting highly enjoyable. From the harsh desert environment of Arrakis, to the ocean / forest world of Caladan, to the desolate, grim world of Giedi Prime, almost every scene within the feature’s setting is rich with a jaw-dropping visual look. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including production design (Patrice Vermette), Richard Roberts, Daniel Vilar, and Zsuzanna Sipos (set decorations), Bob Morgan and Jacqueline West (costume designs) and the entire art direction team as well as the entire make-up department should all be praised and commended for their valiant work in helping bring Villeneuve’s ultimate vision of Dune’s movie world to life that encompasses such richness and beauty in a cinematic treatment.
Villeneuve has always been known for his visual style within his presentations, which helps brings his narrative to life by ways and means for grandeur and cinematic appeal. Dune is no different in that regard and is probably his most “visual” movie to date. Every scene is so incredibly visually appealing and have those touches of beautiful imagery that is customary for blockbuster endeavor and arthouse projects. Thus, the blending of those two works extremely well in Dune’s cinematics by creating gorgeous visual representation that cinematically beautiful and captivating to behold; wrapped within a very dramatic effect that speaks to Villeneuve’s work. Thus, the cinematographer work done by Greig Fraser is highly effective throughout the movie; displaying some truly amazing camera shots and angles that speak such dramatic volumes throughout the entire feature. Also, the visual effects for the movie are also top-notch, with some implicating and terrific CGI effects that are amazing to see in the style and fashion of major blockbuster endeavor. Of course, the creation and appearance of the giant Sandworms (i.e., Shai-Hulu) is one best example of this, which are definitely amazing to behold and a stunning visual to see whenever on-screen, but also in several other areas, including the flying thopter ships, which dragon fly-like wings are incredible to see. In additional, while it’s something that I usually don’t mention unless it is vital to the feature’s presentation and / or likeability, but Dune has some stunning sound mixing / sound editing. Every scene where noise can be heard is given such a heightened awareness to the senses and bolstering the film’s music (more on that below) in order to bring Villeneuve’s tale to light. Again, it’s all very cinematic and, while there are too many members to name, the entire sound mixing / editing for Dune should be praised and applauded for their efforts on this ambitious project.
Of course, the last big highlight of the film would undoubtedly be the feature’s score, which was composed by Hans Zimmer, who record of composing some of the most memorable musical compositions in Hollywood over the past 20 years. Much like Villeneuve, Zimmer was very passionate about the Dune novel and working on such a project like this; forgoing his collaboration with Christopher Nolan on Tenet to work on Villeneuve’s Dune. The result is absolutely brilliant and perhaps one his best scores to date. How so? Instead of doing something is more traditional for a large-scale sci-fi blockbuster, Zimmer’s approaches Dune’s music with a sense of otherworldly sounds; offering up a lot of dramatic melodies, vocal chanting, and large usage of drums / percussions. The result is something believed throughout the feature’s score, with Zimmer’s music masterfully blending into Villeneuve’s cinematic presentation and complicates the visual style in almost every scene. All in all, Zimmer’s work on Dune is equally ambitious and amazing to hear that helps evokes a lot of emotions and grandiosity of Dune’s story. Definitely one of the best movie soundtracks of the year and I firmly believe that Zimmer’s score for the film should be nominated at the upcoming award season.
While I wholeheartedly loved this movie, there were a few minor issues that I had (or some out there) might have with Villeneuve’s Dune. To me, they are not “deal breakers” or troublesome, but just a few scant and minor quibbles that I with the adaptation. Perhaps the one that many will have with this feature is the simple that the feature is only half of the story; resulting in the film’s conclusion feels sort of “incomplete”. As stated, there movie is literally Dune: Part One and covers roughly half of Hebert’s novel; implying that at second feature film endeavor is coming on the horizon. As of writing this review, Dune: Part Two is all but confirmed from Warner Bros, but nothing official stated as such. This means that this particular film, while beautifully filmed and gorgeously presented, is left in a precarious state, with its intended sequel in sort of cinematic limbo for a bit. At best, a sequel will be greenlit in the near future and the second half of this endeavor will bear fruit and a conclusion to Villeneuve’s vision. At worst, the Part Two won’t be greenlit and the project will be left unfinished. For right now, however, Dune is, for lack of better, is only half of a story; offering up no real definitive conclusion / resolution to the tale being told. While I do like where the movie ends in the narrative, the script leaves it feeling of “something to come”; something that might not actually happen. Thus, no matter how many ways you slice it, the movie just feels incomplete.
Another point of criticism is the simple fact that the feature is quite long, with a runtime of 155 minutes (two hours and thirty-five minutes). Personally, I did love how long the film was as it did give the narrative room to flesh everything out (as mentioned above), but it does run long, especially has the feature’s story starts to slightly loose its edge during the latter half. Again, I’m not saying that the film is bloated and boring, but the first and second act of Dune is better than the third act. In addition, Dune is, for better or worse, is to be considered a “slow burner”, with a great attention to detail in both characters and its world building. Because of this, some viewers might be “turned off” off slow pace the movie is and how it slowly unfolds the series of events throughout the movie. Then again, much like what I said above, this is particular style that is quite known in Villeneuve’s style, so it didn’t bother me. However, it might turn off some and finding the feature to slow with a few pacing issues. A super minor quibble, there were a couple of ideas and scenes from Herbert’s original novel that the movie omits. Again, nothing concrete or major, but there were a couple of things I was hoping to see play out and / or make an appearance from the source material. All of these points are very minor (in my personal opinion) and don’t shake-up my overall enjoyment of the film’s narrative nor its presentation.
The cast in Dune is another huge positive in the movie, with all of the acting talents involved bringing their “A” game to this feature. Heck, this movie’s cast is almost like a “dream cast” for me (and for a lot out there); finding all the talents being profound actors in their past endeavors and being up to the challenge for bringing Herbert’s many faceted characters to life for this newest film adaptation. Leading the charge on this project is actor Timothee Chalamet, who plays the central protagonist character of Paul Atreides. Known for his roles in Call Me By Your Name, The King, and Little Women, Chalamet has recently become an increasingly popular young actor in Hollywood, with some of his recent acting endeavors proving to be some of his best work in his career. It is perhaps for that reason why Chalamet was selected to play the part in such an ambitious movie role like Paul Atreides in Dune. Personally, I think that Chalamet nailed the part; demonstrating the young actor’s gift for being adept with his acting prowess as well as perfectly embodying the essence of Paul. Despite his youthful appearance, Chalamet has a way of presenting himself as somewhat of a “old soul” (as Villeneuve has stated), which definitely fits the characteristics of Paul, who is struggling with his both of his parental birthright lineage as well as the destined future that awaits. Chalamet also carries both himself and Paul with a sense of gravitas, who hold is own against quite well against his co-stars and the characters he shares with. Plus, physically looking, Chalamet mostly matches the description of Paul Atreides from the novel; being of slightly smaller / thinner body frame. All in all, I think that Chalamet is perhaps the best representation of Paul Atreides and definitely does a tremendous and profound job in the film’s lead role character.
Behind Chalamet’s Paul, actress Rebecca Ferguson almost acts as almost a co-lead star in the movie as Paul’s mother / Leto’s lover companion Lady Jessica. Known for her roles in The Greatest Showman, Doctor Sleep, and Mission Impossible: Fallout, Ferguson has certainly made a name for herself over the years and her involvement on this particular project is perhaps one of her best yet. As Lady Jessica, Ferguson is great; feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders as she deals with the struggles as a sister to the Bene Gesserit, being a companion to Duke Leto, and dealing with training of her son, Paul. There’s no doubt that the character of Jessica is a complexed one and I think that Ferguson is adept in adhering to that complexity; displaying the right amount of calm, cool, and collective demeanor when she’s around people, but is fearful and a bit terrified whenever she’s by herself; struggling with decisions that she made and the ones that are still yet to come. Also, the on-screen chemistry between both Ferguson and Chalamet as mother and son is well-founded when the pair are on-screen together, which definitely helps for us (the viewer) to buy into their relationships of Jessica and Paul. In short, I think that Ferguson was great as Jessica and she definitely captured the hauntingly plight and mystery within such a complexed character.
The antagonist of Dune is found within the character of the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, monstrously obese and ruthless leader of House Harkonnen and the archnemesis rival to House Atreides. Played by actor Stellan Skarsgard, who is known for his roles in Amistad, Angels & Demons, and Mamma Mia!, the character of the Baron has been widely regarded as one of the most ruthless and villainous characters in the entire Dune series. Thus, presenting such a bad guy on the screen demands such a imposing figure, especially since Lynch’s Dune portrayed the character of Baron in such an over-the-top / goofy villain role that didn’t exactly speak to what Herbert’s novel depicted the leader of House Harkonnen. In this regard, Skarsgard delivers such a commanding role that definitely works and how that particular way it works is both a combination of his screen presence and how Villeneuve (and his team) present the Baron as a commanding and ruthless individual. Though I would consider him to be a supporting character in the movie, Villeneuve gives the characteristics of the Baron in a way that speaks sheer volumes; one that speaks to Herbert’s original idea for the character an give a profound statement of evil within the character. Plus, the physical bulk form of the Baron is perfectly imagined in the movie. Overall, I was greatly happy with how the character of how the Baron of House Harkonnen was depicted in the movie and how much Skarsgard gave such a terrific performance.
In the supporting roles, acting talents such as Josh Brolin (Sicario and Avengers: Infinity War), actor Jason Momoa (Aquaman and Game of Thrones), actor Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina and Inside Llewyn Davis), and actor Javier Bardem (Skyfall and No Country for Old Men), actor Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy and Army of the Dead), actress Charlotte Rampling (Broadchurch and 45 Years) give some great character performances in their roles; finding each one perfect representing their Dune characters in way that’s amazing for them (as actors) and in their representation of the character themselves. How so? Well, Brolin is sound as the gruff / loyal Atreides weapon’s master Gurney Halleck, Momoa is perfect as the fiercely dutiful sword master to House Atreides Duncan Idaho, Isaac’s is well-casted as the duty bound / yet regal leader of House of Atreides Duke Leto, Bardem is fantastic as the stern / suspicious leader of the Fremen at Sietch Tabr named Stilgar, Bautista is imposing and intimidating as the Baron’s brutish nephew Glossu Rabban, and Rampling is amazing as the mysterious and revered Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit Gaius Helen Mohiam. These players in the movie are to be considered side / supporting characters in the movie and, while a few have more screentime than others, all acting talents in this grouping are very skilled in their respective roles and bring Herbert’s iconic Dune characters to life. Personally, I loved each and every one of them. Again, all selected cast members are like a “dream cast” for me.
The one slightly disappointing character is found with the character of Chani, a young Fremen girl who is part of Stilgar group and Paul’s soon-to-be companion throughout his journey. Played by actress Zendaya (The Greatest Showman and Spider-Man: Homecoming), the character of Chani is an importance and vital side character in Herbert’s Dune novel and was heavily featured in the film’s marketing campaign. However, the character is barely in the movie; showing up in many of Paul’s ambiguous visions and towards the end of the film. However, I can kind of knew that would be case, since Villeneuve stated that the movie was going to be covering only half of the Dune novel. So, I wasn’t super disappointed by it, just slightly because I wanted to see more of her. That being said, what was shown was great and I think that Zendaya was amazing as Chani, planting the seeds of what is to come for her and her portrayal of Chani…..if Dune: Part Two is commissioned in the future.
The somewhat big controversy in the movie’s casting decision surround the character of Dr. Liet-Kynes, an Imperial ecologist and judge of the change in Arrakis. How so? Well, in Herbert’s original novel, the character is a male, while Villeneuve’s Dune decides to make the character of Liet-Kynes a female, casting actress Sharon Duncan-Brewster in the role. Personally, I don’t mind the change as poetic license and other liberties are sometimes customary taken in translating source material from “page to screen”; sometimes for the better, others for the worst. However, the decision doesn’t affect the “grand scheme” of Villeneuve’s Dune, nor does it change outcome original Dune’s story. It’s a creative decision; one I’m perfectly fine with. Also, with the movie being a so-called “passion project” for Villeneuve, I’m sure he has the best intentions at heart. Plus, I thought that Duncan-Brewster (EastEnders and Sex Education) did a great job in the role, and I liked her performance as Dr. Liet-Kynes. Thus, no harm, no foul….in my opinion.
The rest of the cast, including actor Chen Chang (Happy Together and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) as the Suk doctor employed at House of Atreides Dr. Wellington Yueh, actor David Dastmalchaian (Suicide Squad and Prisoners) as the Mentat of House Harkonnen named Piter De Vries, actor Babs Olusanmokun (Roots and The Widow) as the Sietch Tabr Fremen named Jamis, and actor Benjamin Clementine (making his acting with the film) as The Emperor’s voice / speaker “The Herald of Change”, are in minor supporting players in the movie. While some get more screen-time than others, all acting talents are great in the respective roles.
Beyond fear, destiny awaits as Paul Atreides and his family journey to the planet of Arrakis and there…. discovers an entangled web of conspiracies, betrayal, and power in the movie Dune. Director Denis Villeneuve’s latest film takes the classic and memorable 1963 sci-fi novel from Frank Herbert and translates it from page to screen in a magnificent way; one that allows the dense and complex innerworkings of Herbert’s story to be fully realized and allow the film’s cinematic nuances to form for a grand spectacle of epic storytelling on the silver screen. While there a few minor discrepancies that arise from the feature, including a lengthy runtime, slight pacing issues, and few nuances that were from the book, the movie itself was masterfully done and cinematic triumph, especially thanks to Villeneuve’s direction, an understanding of the source material, a solid screenplay, the scope of the feature, awe-inspiring presentation, an amazing score, solid acting talents across the board, and some great characters. As one can imagine…. after reading such an extensive review of mine…. that I personally loved this movie. It was everything I was hoping and wanted to see from such an ambitious project of Villeneuve and from a film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel. It’s captivating, visually awesome, and just incredible to see come alive with today’s filmmaking movie magic. The cast was my ultimate “dream cast” come to life for the story and the everything within its presentation was breathtaking. As I said, it was everything I was hoping for and then some. Thus, it shall come as no surprise that my recommendation for Villeneuve’s Dune is one of highly favorable “highly recommended” one as it should be seeing by all… regardless if you are longtime fan of Herbert’s novel or just a casual moviegoer. Even though that this movie is being simultaneously in both in theaters and HBO Max, I would personally recommend (if possible) seeing this movie in theater as it does offer up a truly wonderful cinematic experience. So now…. the big question…..will Dune: Part Two ever come to light to finish off Villeneuve’s ultimate vision for Dune? It’s still hard to say, but a lot of evidence strongly suggest that a sequel is almost but guarantee from Warner Bros, especially given the reception that this particular film has had with both critics and moviegoers alike. Much like what Chani says at the end of the movie “This is only the beginning”, let us hope that Villeneuve’s Dune gets a sequel and completes his cinematic journey that began with this feature. In the end, Dune is tremendous and astonishing sci-fi blockbuster drama that is brilliantly unparallel within Villeneuve’s scale, scope, and ambition; producing a theatrical motion picture event that is visually wonderful to behold a sheer masterpiece of cinematic proportions. For half a century, some stated that Frank Herbert’s Dune was unfilmable and that modern cinematics could not achieve in retelling the narrative of the original novel…..Denis Villeneuve proved them wrong!
Update: Hours after I posted my review for Dune, both Warner Bros Studios and Legendary Pictures have announced that Dune: Part Two has been officially greenlit, with a tentative release date of October 20th, 2023. This is incredibly exciting news to hear and I can’t wait to see the inevitable continuation of Denis Villeneuve’s cinematic journey of Paul Atreides…..or rather what he will be known throughout the known universe as…..Maud’dib!
4.9 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: October 22nd, 2021
Reviewed On: October 26th, 2021
Dune is 155 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing images, and suggestive material