Famously attempted in 1984 by David Lynch in a flawed version without extensive CGI capability. This version represents a bold retelling from a visionary director, armed with the technical tools to realise the worlds imagined by the author.
Villeneuve has wisely and bravely chosen to split the first book, believing that a single film would fail to do justice to the eight hundred page story.
“Paul Atreides” (Timothée Chalamet) is a young prince, the son of the “Duke” (Oscar Isaac) and “Lady Atreides” (Rebecca Ferguson). They benignly rule the the oceanic planet of Caladan with Paul tutored in the ways of hand to hand combat by his mentor “Gurney” (Josh Brolin). He is also mentally tested as part of the mysterious “Bene Gesserit” order, of which his mother is a member, choosing to bear a son, rather than a daughter as instructed.
On the desert world of Arrakis (aka Dune), the prized mineral “Melange” aka “Spice” is mined, a pre-requisite for interplanetary travel. The “House of Harkkenen”, the current brutal oppressors of the indigenous people “Fremen”, are ordered to leave by “Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV”, a command that cannot be ignored.
The emperor awards Dune’s spice mining rights to the House of Atreides, a political trap reducing any prospective challenge to his rule. Suspecting this will not end well, the Duke has no choice but to accept.
Meanwhile, denied an early trip to Arrakis, Paul confesses to his elite soldier friend “Duncan Idaho” (Jason Momoa) he has experienced visions, hinting at a deeper meaning to the story.
Remaining spoiler free, while summarising a sweeping and complex story in a short review, is a fools errand. Suffice to say, similar in grandeur to Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and Star Wars, Herbert’s ability to create complex believable fantastic worlds pays dividends to a patient audience.
Chalamet retains the intensity shown in earlier roles, albeit on a larger canvass, without getting lost in the immensity of the production. All of the supporting cast are excellent, with Ferguson a stand-out as Paul’s mother and concubine to the Duke.
On bad guy duties are Dave Bautista as the “Beast” and “Baron Vladimir Harkonnen” (Stellan Skarsgård), in an impressively heavy prosthetic body suit. Despite an “Apocalypse Now” reminiscent scene, he manages to stay just this side of “Mr Creosote” Monty Python parody. We also get brief glimpses of a Fremen young woman “Chani” (Zendaya) both in person and Paul’s visions, who will undoubtedly feature later in the story.
A well as solid acting, the real treat lies in the world building the film manages to cram into a long but seemingly short running time. Colossal space craft, gigantic armies, sweeping Jordan based desert locations, with CGI sand worms the size of buildings, all hugely impressive.
The film manages a successful marriage of CGI and practical effects, lending the film significant heft. Similar in style to Star Wars, the grimy and lived in military hardware dominates throughout. The ornithopters are well realised and provide a dramatic scene in a sandstorm later in the film.
Those not deeply immersed in this complex world from the book, may find earlier scenes confusing but with each world clearly delineated, a grasp of the complex story is possible.
Sound effects and score by Hans Zimmerman are suitably bombastic, sonically the film is a stand out, with good use of sound steering to immerse the audience in the action.
Remembering LOTR was written first, Dune in the mid 60’s with Star Wars released in 1977, this good vs evil struggle, mystical theology overtones and industrial style militia, raises the question of who influenced who. Whilst tempting to speculate, this movie creates a distinctive palette of it’s own, completing a complex circle of possible influence.
With beautiful cinematography demanding to be seen on the big screen, this is movie making on a grand scale.
Fine acting from all concerned, coupled with astounding visuals, a thumping score and complex story, this comes highly recommended and reminds us what event cinema is all about.
Part 2 has been green-lit and should be on our screens in late 2023