Review: Dune (2021)





Denis Villeneuve


Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth (Novel: Frank Herbert)


2h 35m


Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Chang Chen, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Zendaya, Charlotte Rampling, Babs Olusanmokun

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A film is, at its core, a piece of entertainment. While cinema is also a fascinating and diverse macrocosm of art, films like Dune make the case that intermingling approaches to the medium aren’t always possible.

The novel and the film are about a noble house that is given control over the desert planet of Arrakis. There, a mysterious substance, explained more adequately in the novel, is mixed in with the sand. The spice has a psychoactive property that enables the consumer to become hyper-aware, which helps to navigate ships through the vast and dangerousness of outer space.

The cast is superb. Oscar Isaac is the patriarch, Rebecca Ferguson his wife, and Timothée Chalamet is his son; Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Change Chen, and Stephen McKinley Henderson play military and civic advisors to the house. Stellan Skarsgård leads a rival house with his own raft of servants including Dave Bautista and David Dastmalchian. Zendaya, Javier Bardem, Babs Olusanmokun, and Golda Rosheuvel play Fremen, the planet’s native inhabitants, the former three of which have little narrative relevance and don’t make their first appearances until late in the film. And rounding out the cast are Sharon Duncan-Brewster as an imperial ecologist and Charlotte Rampling as the head of Ferguson’s Bene Gesserit religious order.

Science fiction is a way to look at the current political landscape far removed from the actual events and shine a bright spotlight on problematic behaviors. Frank Herbert’s Dune is a perfect example of this and in many ways so much more than this. The novel looks at falling republics, ecological malfeasance in the pursuit of oil (in the case of the novel, spice), and religion and how seamlessly it can be integrated into a society. The difference between a novel and a movie is built on how you can actually review the material and reflect on it. With literature, you can stop and look up relevant terms, learn peripheral information, and absorb what you’ve read. With a film, all of that introspection must be done after the fact and you are required to be entirely present in the movie and be able to make notes of any unusual situations or ideas that you need to look into later.

For a casual moviegoer, a lot of that information is missed and left merely as confusion. Director Denis Villeneuve tries to convey that as simply as possible and he does an admirable job with it, but without the core foundation of the written work, some of the minutia and subtlety is sometimes missed. Dune is a film that is largely faithful to the source material and like The Lord of the Rings, which defined how a fantasy novel could be adapted, it leaves out some of those details to streamline the film.

Being a film based only on the first half of the Dune novel, there’s perhaps more to be learned from the eventual sequel than could be assessed ahead of time and the movie provides plenty to chew on in the interim. The break feels natural and the events to come will be rather interesting to see, but it also feels incomplete, mostly because a lot of the religious commentary and mysticism isn’t given its proper due. In addition, some of the political machinations of collapsing empires is present and some is absent. That too needs fleshing out in the subsequent film.

Solid performances and some gorgeous visuals help absorb the audience into the narrative in ways that would otherwise be challenging. Villeneuve does well at avoiding over-explanation of the plot and conveys much of what makes the source material involving. However, in the end, Dune is a movie that needed more entry-level information than could easily be experienced in the relative brevity of the motion picture form.

Review Written

September 14, 2022

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