Denis Villeneuve delivers with a rich, dense, and layered adaption—executed with incredible performances throughout.
With mythology and world-building on par with The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, Dune is cinematic and momentous. Considered among many circles as one of the hardest stories to adapt, Frank Herbert’s science fiction epic has been attempted in the past. None, however, come close to Villeneuve’s attention to detail. From languages, planets, religions, cultures, and races, Dune takes time to introduce viewers to a new world. With the original Dune story is not as universally known as The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, many viewers will come into the film fresh, giving Villeneuve a world-building goal, not unlike James Cameron’s Avatar. With an opening title sequence that lets the audience know this film is part 1 of a larger saga, the promise of the future weighs heavy on the film, giving it an added sense of mystery.
Dune accomplishes something many blockbusters today fail to do, being true to itself. In a landscape where films rely on modern pop-culture tropes, an overreliance on comedy, and an almost desperate need to not take itself so serious, Dunegoes the opposite direction. Closer in tone to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dune is not afraid to be self-serious in its density and scope. Villeneuve takes time with each layer of mythology, with incredible wide-shots detailing the sheer scale of the world being created to close-ups into the eyes of specific characters, blending a personal touch in a massive universe.
Dune features a star-studded cast, led by Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides. By definition, Paul is not too different from Frodo, Anakin Skywalker, Neo, or Harry Potter. Each has a responsibility, burden, faith, and prophecy thrust upon them, a destiny that they must fulfill, or die trying. Chalamet continues to prove himself as one of the best young stars in the industry and he plays the Chosen One trope well in Dune. Atreides feels believable, pure, and different from other characters in the film, an important distinction for the protagonist and Chalamet fulfills the role well.
Joining him is Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica and Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides, parents of Paul and key characters in the world of Dune. Rounding out the cast is Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho and Zendaya as Chani, a mysterious girl representing a future to come and a premonition for Paul to follow. With well-known names taking on major and minor roles, Dune feels very Hollywood, yet rooted in fantasy and old-world storytelling, another comparison to The Lord of the Rings.
A certain element of Dune that did feel lacking was the lack of Middle Eastern representation. In a story that is heavily inspired by Arab and Islamic traditions, stories, and concepts, Dune can sometimes come off delving too close to the white savior trope. While there are MENA actors in the film, most are relegated to side characters or part of the planet Arrakis’ culture. There are certain themes of Arrakis representing how western countries pillaged Middle Eastern countries for oil, represented as a spice in the Dune mythology, and much of it works. Still, having more primary characters be of MENA descent would have further elevated the mythology that Dune is creating on film.
Composed, conducted, and produced by Hans Zimmer, Dune‘s score is just as impressive as the visuals. Kinetic, full of life, somber, and with a mix of new and old-world sounds, Zimmer is simply at the top of his game here. The score can be considered a character of its own. Sometimes, the score is simply backgrounded support to the protagonists on screen, other times it becomes the main character, serving as the primary language for the visuals on screen. Villeneuve’s directing style is present throughout, yet he manages to transcend genres with how he interprets the world he is adapting. In the long run time, Dune only manages to adapt a small part of the overall story, and it promises much more to come. The film flashes forward to movies to come many times, and audiences who are eager for more can only hope that Warner Bros. pictures announced a sequel soon after release. Though with the much-debated and lambasted HBO Max day-and-date strategy, it remains to be seen how well the film does in traditional markets.
Overall, Dune is a masterclass in filmmaking. Denis Villeneuve is at the top of his game, Hans Zimmer delivers with a beautiful score, and the entire cast led by Timothée Chalamet delivers. Stunning visuals, perfect world-building, and layered storytelling make Dune one of the best films of the year.