Dune (2021) Review
FRANK Herbert's monumentally-influential novel Dune inspired generations of authors and filmmakers, with George Lucas himself crediting Herbert's 1965 novel as being a major inspiration behind the direction Star Wars (1977) would take 12 years later. Attempts have been made at adapting the novel onto the big screen, with all of them considered to be failures. But now visionary writer and director Denis Villeneuve has released his interpretation of the historic narrative, and it's safe to say we have finally received a cinematic version which faithfully translates Herbert's long-established space opera.
Born into a destiny he's yet to understand, Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) is the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Issac) and Lady Jessica Atreides (Rebecca Ferguson); a noble family who travel to the ravaged world of Arrakis where he and his people look to protect the most valuable element in the known galaxy before his father's sworn enemy, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellen Skasgard), can acquire it. But while on Arrakis, Paul learns more about the many dangers and mysteries that lie underneath the planet's desert sands.
As someone who hasn't read the novel or seen previous adaptations, I was hesitant that I wouldn't understand the expansive narrative being told. However, Villeneuve understood the magnitude of Dune before taking on this project, leading to much of the film's first act being dedicated to exposition. While this form of storytelling is often lazily presented and implemented to achieve the minimum runtime, Villeneuve's trademark use of captivating cinematography and visual effects made sitting through the exposition entrancing as we're treated to awe-inspiring shots courtesy of Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, Vice). Aided by exquisite costume and set design, the deserted world of Arrakis, ironically, never feels more alive as even the smallest detail of sand particles individually moving was a stroke of genius that made experiencing Dune for the first time that more enjoyable.
Casting for an adaption of written-word can be difficult depending on the literature. Aside from minimal information given from the book, it's up to the director and fellow casting assistants to agree on who should portray such iconic characters. And by all accounts, Dune has faithfully done so.
Despite being my first time delving into this space-opera, Chalamet was an excellent choice to play Paul, and while his acting isn't the best in the film, it suits the stoic and quiet demeanour needed for the son of a Duke. Alongside her on-screen son, Ferguson also does a tremendous job at portraying Lady Atreides; an apathetic yet caring mother wanting the best for her prodigal son, showing signs of continual inner conflict suiting her character as the gravity of her family and people's situation increases. Other standouts include Zendaya as Chani; a performance even more impressive considering her lack of dialogue for overt reasons, Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck, Javier Bardem as Stilgar, and Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho who acts as the film's central heart, guiding Paul through much of his journey.
Dune proves that not every sci-fi blockbuster needs monotonous action as majority of Villeneuve's adaptation is presented as a political war thriller, focusing on purposeful character and world building to convey its grand narrative. As a result, the film's pacing may be too lackadaisical for some, but by virtue of this gradual pace, the minimal action we're treated to feels more impactful and creates substantial tension as we embrace the swift transition from hostile politics to vulgar warfare, giving weight to the copious and purposeful words spoken from all parties.
The word "masterpiece" shouldn't get thrown around often, but I can safely say that Denis Villeneuve's Dune is a masterpiece. Astute character development and enticing performances given by all involved makes the film the definitive on-screen adaption of Frank Herbert's novel of the same name. Some may be turned off by Dune's lethargic pace and an ending that exists to set up Part Two, but if you persist with this slow burn, you'll uncover the magnum opus of 2021 and one of the best sci-fi films of the decade.