Dune - the unfilmable finally worms its way into cinemas
4 out of 5
Frank Herbert's book, Dune is as old as I am. Written in 1965, it is set in the distant future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which various noble houses control planetary fiefs. It tells the story of young Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), a member of an aristocratic family on the planet Caladan. One day, his father Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) accepts the role of supervising the desert planet Arrakis, otherwise known as Dune. While the planet is an inhospitable and sparsely populated desert wasteland, it is the only source of "spice", a drug that extends life and enhances mental abilities. The spice is also necessary for space navigation, which requires a kind of multidimensional awareness and foresight that only the drug provides. As spice can only be produced on Arrakis, control of the planet is thus a coveted and dangerous undertaking. The story explores the multilayered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, as the factions of the empire confront each other in a struggle for the control of Arrakis and its spice.
Although, not clear from either the poster or the marketing, this is clearly Part One of Herbert's book. The scope is vast, the story complex and multi-layered and the politics would make Niccolo Machiavelli proud. The first I knew that this was Part One was at the opening title. There is a lot happening in Part One. At times I felt that it should be a 10-part mini-series, akin to Game of Thrones. I felt the layers of storytelling, the backstories of the characters needed to be told. I'm glad I read the book as a teenager, even if I have forgotten a lot of it.
Released in the US on HBO, Dune really does need to be seen on the largest screen possible, with the best sound system you can find. The visuals are amazing, stunning, out-of-this-world (literally) and many other world-building adjectives. The sound editing will feature in the Oscars in 2022, I have no doubt.
The story is complex and the pace of exposition, swift. Sci-fi fans will have no problem keeping up however I think others may struggle with the detail. the concept, of course, is nothing new: a Messianic figure on a journey of discovery enduring hardships and trials a-plenty along the way.
Part One ends rather abruptly and reminded me of The Fellowship of The Ring, another set of epic books.
Chalamet is a talented actor who can do drama or comedy — but there isn’t much of either in this movie, and he’s left projecting both a moody blankness and the sense that he may not be a leading man for the ages, at least not in genre material. Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin have fun playing two battle-hardened mentor figures to Paul — the one who smiles and the one who grimaces, respectively — but they don’t actually share much screen time with him. Oscar Isaac is at home in this genre, even joking that he wants to be a pilot of a fighter spacecraft, a knowing wink ot his role in the last three Star Wars films. Even he gets to do quite little other than bring gravitas and exposition as he explains to his son his role in life.
It falls to Chalamet’s frequent scene partner Rebecca Ferguson to anchor the more emotional side of the movie, and she does what she can. She’s the character who most feels like a fully realised person with motivation and desires.
It was never in any doubt that Denis Villeneuve would create an amazing tapestry. Arrival and Bladerunner 2049 are testament to that. The landscapes are vivid, the world-building first class and you really believe in the enormity of the vessels, the cities and the sand worms. This is epic cinema as David Lean envisaged. It is worthy of the praise being heaped upon it. However it's not the classic it is being hailed as, and so, loses a star. Why? I felt it too rushed, too condensed; I wanted a larger palette.
Having said that, there is nothing like it in cinemas right now and there won't be for a long time. Here's hoping Part Two gets the green light.