Dune is the grandfather of sci-fi. Its influence is undeniable and seen throughout cinema, itself giving birth to Star Wars where evil emperors and sand planets run aplenty, and everyone’s great hope is a guy with “the force”. So, what is Dune about? Evil emperors, a sand planet and everyone’s great hope resting on a guy with “the voice”.
Frank Herbert’s 900-page epic is immense; the world building is immaculate in its depth and creativity. There’s a reason there aren’t any robots in this future (although you won’t see this on screen) and every location is unique with its own customs, creatures and climates. The wet and windy Caladan and the bleak and oppressive Giedi Prime feel real, a credit to Denis Villeneuve, the director for Dune, succeeding at creating high stakes by creating huge planet-scapes to gawk at in awe.
We begin this story about the reshaping of a galactic empire from the House of Atreides. Timothée Chalamet, previously seen touring Bath and disrupting the U1, is our protagonist Paul Atreides. He is the son of Duke Leto Atreides, portrayed by Oscar Isaac, and is the leader of this great and just house. Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is Leto’s wife, Paul’s mother and (this is where we get interested) a high priestess of an illuminati-esque group of nuns called the Bene Gesserit. This house is given the planet of Arrakis, a sand planet that is the source of the most important material in the galaxy: spice. Although the specifics of spice aren’t talked through completely, we’re given an impression of how important it is when we see House Atreides come under siege by the brutal House Harkonnen. House Harkonnen is full of pale bald people- so you know they’re the bad guys- featuring Dave Bautista, painted a slightly lighter shade of grey than his Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, as the angry nephew of Stellan Skarsgård’s Baron. Chalamet shoulders this opening chapter with a lot of help from his surrounding cast. There is a real feeling of love from Isaac’s Duke Leto regarding his son and Ferguson is fantastic at showing the conflict between being a mother and her duties as ‘reverend mother’. However, Skarsgård is a standout; he is commanding in his appearance. He floats, commands, and simply oozes feelings of dread of what is to come, and his snake-like silhouette disturbs and amazes.
We are further introduced to many more characters during the movie. Jason Mamoa assumes his role as a skilled killer with the aura of a golden retriever in Duncan Idaho. Josh Brolin is another revered warrior in Gurney Halleck. Members of the Fremen are equal parts interesting yet awkward. Not much time is given to the indigenous people of Arakkis other than being told how different they are through a tense scene where Chalamet almost dies to a robot wasp. It’s a small weakness in a cast full of characters that is sure to be resolved in future instalments, but there is an uncomfortable quality to the use of Fremen customs as comic relief in an earlier scene.
Despite this, Dune is good. Many have tried to adapt Frank Herbert’s 900-page epic as it appears to the reader. Where previous adaptations have failed by straying from this vision, like David Lynch’s 1984 film that featured Patrick Stewart charging into battle with a pug (Yes, it’s on YouTube), Villeneuve has captured the essence of new worlds in new galaxy through stellar visuals and Hans Zimmer’s otherworldly score that elevates the otherworldly feel with his celestial sounds. Everything appears alien yet believable from the vehicles to the costumes, keeping the mysticism of the world constant, asking you to explore, huge sand worms and included.
So, should you see Dune? Only if you don’t mind seeing the beginning of a film that won’t finish until 2023. The behind the scenes reality of Dune being a major risk for the studio means we won’t see more than seven minutes of Zendaya for another two years. With that said, Dune feels like the real cinematic experience that has been missing since Covid started. Villeneuve is masterful at creating an immersive world that guarantees to take you away for a couple of hours now and then a couple of hours in a few years. After all, in the words of Zendaya, this is only just the beginning.