“Feature adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel, about the son of a noble family entrusted with the protection of the most valuable asset and most vital element in the galaxy.”

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth, Frank Herbert
Staring: Timothée Chalamet, Rebeccau Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, David Dastmalchian
Where To Watch: Theaters & HBO Max
Release Date: October 21, 2021

It is hard to know where to start with Dune, but to anyone who had apprehensions or doubts about Denis Villeneuve’s interpretation of Frank Herbert’s novel, just remember…

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.”

Dune is vast in scope and reckless with ambition. Villeneuve, with his undeniable ability to measure out scope and match it with intimacy, finds a way to make the vast world of Dune consumable and understandable. This part one, which is clearly a part one, manages to take nearly all of the source material and condense it in a shrink-wrapped story of necessity. No scene is missing from the award-winning novel. Dune takes what Herbert created and puts it into a taught science-fiction, political, epic adventure. Dune lives up to the hype and quells all fears that the world and story of Arrakis can’t be translated to the big screen.

For the uninitiated, Dune a sprawling story that draws comparisons to Game Of Thrones, Star Wars, and Lord Of The Rings. There are families who have historic rivalries. There are frayed relationships within individual houses. There are tense desires for power, both in vein of tangible coin and, the intangible strength of felty and fear. Dune has the political calculations mixed in with the fantasy aspects of a classic heroes journey. It is not easy to put all of these qualities into a single bucket, but Villeneuve, his crew, and the cast, manage to make Dune an outstanding science-fiction achievement.

While Dune is not entitled “Part One” on any posters or promotional materials, the opening credits make it know that this two and a half hour epic is indeed just the beginning. For those who have read the book, this movie takes part one and part two of Herbert’s book and brings it to life.

The majority of the story centers around Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), a child of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and his concubine and member of the Bene Gesserit, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). While the parents of Paul are not married, their affection for one another is one of love. Together they have raised the boy, bestowing both leadership wisdom, deep awareness of setting and context, and also physical capabilities.

Paul, Duke Leto and Paul are all having to adjust their lives after Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, Emperor of the known galaxy, commands House Atreides to take over planet Arrakis from House Harkonnen. Arrakis, known in common conversation as Dune, is a planet rich with a natural source of melange, more properly known as “spice.” This commodity is immensely valuable throughout the galaxy and its worth is priceless to whomever manages to the production.

Duke Leto, along with his family and friends, know that Dune is not a place they are welcome. In an attempt to try and secure a foothold on the planet, Duke Leto sent out Duncan Idaho (Jason Mamoa) early to Arrakis to try secure a relationship with the local desert habitants, the Fremen. Contact is made but trust still has to be earned, and trust is something not easy to come by on the sandy terrain.

The final act of this cinematic telling of Dune flips on its head when the political strive erupts into violence. Paul, while in the midst of running for his life in a foreign land, is dealing with his own personal demons of increased responsibility and power. Paul finds out that he is part of a century long Bene Gesserits genetic plan to breed a superhuman with physical and mental abilities. The people of Arrakis have been trained by the Bene Gesserit to expect a messiah to arrive on their planet and they immediately pin Paul as this prophet. Paul must battle his inner doubts and his own increasing supernatural talents all while trying to assimilate too Arrakis and his new potential allies, the Fremen.

Stilgar (Javier Bardem), a Fremen native

The story of Dune is complicated and demands patience from the audience. Much like how the first four episodes of Game Of Thrones threw names and alliances at viewers, Villeneuve pushes the audience into the deep end with the unique language and vocabulary associated to the different motifs and characters. This is where the screenplay shines. There is no expository dump. There isn’t a voiceover narrator combing over the pitfalls of visual storytelling. The credited writing trio of Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth take Frank Herbert’s story and make it digestible for the viewers.

As in all Villeneuve movies, the visuals of Dune are remarkable. The man makes sand look interesting and normalizes seeing giant sand worms transversing over the terrain. The contrast of the Caladan and Arrakis is noticeable in the framed landscapes and in the colored tones of each planet. One remarkable piece of visual storytelling comes right before Paul travels to Arrakis for the first time. On the wet, damp home planet of house Atreides, Paul dips down into a shallow puddle and starts to fiddle with the sand that’s settled underneath the water. It is a way of telling the audience that Paul can touch both environments and handle both surfaces. He is one to bring and touch both together.

There are other fantastically staged shots throughout Dune. The Bene Gesserit arriving in the pouring rain in dark of night being framed only by a spotlight of their ship is just remarkable stuff. The looming shots of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) all make him appear like the large looming shadow that he casts over the entire story. There is a certain shot over the shoulder of Duke Leto at a pivotal point in the story that perfectly encapsulates the evil he oozes.

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård)

There is one scene out of many that illustrates how the visual, directing and acting of Dune standout.

The Gom Jabbar test is riveting in every way. The frantic acting of Ferguson conveys her nerves as Paul’s mother and her knowledge of how important this test is. Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam is portrayed chillingly, even behind a veil, by Charlotte Rampling. Her sharpness has Paul as the character off guard, but Chalamet is up to the task acting across from her. In the midst of the test, through purely facial expression, Chalamet shows pain, anger, determination and defiance. The test is meant to test whether an individual’s awareness was stronger than their instincts and Chalamet’s expressions make it known that Gom Jabbar is a physical and mental test.

Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) taking the Gom Jabbar with Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling)

In terms of mass appeal, it’s understandable how Dune may struggle to attain a massive, worldwide audience. The story is complicated and it asks the audience to faith in the storyteller. You need to have faith that the answers to the story’s questions will come to fruition. You need to have faith that the unexplained actions and traits of the story’s main characters are there for a reason.

For example, premonitions are a major part of Dune. It was a topic of discussion among fans of the book to see how crazy Villeneuve would go into terms of the original story’s metaphysical nature. Luckily for the fans, Villeneuve and Chalamet do dive in pretty deep. The cutting between the Paul’s reality and possible future visions are craftily edited together. The slow-motion and extreme close-up moments of Chani (Zendaya) put an extreme importance on her character and makes Paul and her’s eventual meeting more profound.

Digging deep into something that is probably not connected, here is a theory as to why all Paul’s dreams are in slow motion. Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) explains to Paul early on how the shield they are protected by can be penetrated by slow moves. For Paul, there is a shield on his understanding of his powers an how his dreams connect to his destiny. Every vision he has of Chani are in this slow, moving swaying tenor. When Paul finally meets Chani, it may work on a symbolic level how Chani is meant to breach the shield on Paul’s understanding regarding his destiny as the the Kwisatz Haderach and Paul Maud-Dib.

One can go really deep into the lore of Dune and how this movie takes a cumbersome introduction to a confusing world and makes it both beautiful and entertaining. There are only a few scenes that I personally would nit-pick on, but they are not to be discussed here for I am doing the best I can to avoid spoilers. All-in-all, Dune’s storytelling is concise, its direction is incredible and the acting is on point. Dune is a true science fiction epic. Its the first step into a deeper lore that people will be thirsting to learn more on.

STANKO RATING: A- (4.5/5 Stars)

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