“Dune” proves a promising start to a developing series

Dune proves a promising start to a developing series

Noah Grabianski, A&E Editor

Frank Herbert’s “Dune” has always been considered one of the hardest science fiction novels to adapt onto the big screen. Its complex and intricate world-building and philosophical messages has made it a challenge for filmmakers to recreate, despite its vivid imagery and intriguing storylines. After David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation proved unsuccessful with both general audiences and longtime fans of the book series, it remained untouched by filmmakers and regarded as “unadaptable” for decades. In 2017, however, French-Canadian director Denis Villenueve was confirmed to be directing another adaptation, “Dune,” which was released on Friday, Oct. 22. 

“Dune” (originally titled “Dune: Part One”) tells the story of Paul Atreides, heir apparent to the fortune of House Atreides, including the newly acquired planet of Arrakis. This desert planet is abundant in “spice”- a valuable substance used in space travel. As Paul is prepared by his family to inherit the planet, they find themselves in the middle of a conflict between Arrakis’s natives (the Fremen), and Arrakis’s previous owners, the brutal House Harkonnen. Much like the novel, “Dune” is focused on its worldbuilding, but still provides exciting action. This film only covers the first half of the first book in the series, but a sequel has been announced for 2023.

The biggest weakness of this adaptation is its rushed exposition. The first half hour or so feels wildly rushed as Villenueve attempts to set the groundwork for multiple different characters and groups of people. Some of these opening scenes are filled with quick dialogue, starting and ending so abruptly that one has to pay especially close attention in order to understand everything that’s going on. However, this slowly subsides as the film begins its second act. Even still, a lot is left out from the original novel. Most of these are small details, but details important enough to leave the more thoughtful viewer with some questions. In the end, however, most of these don’t lead to plot holes or will most likely be resolved in the coming sequel. Another criticism of many general viewers is the film’s slower pace and anticlimactic ending. However, according to director Denis Villenueve, “For me, ‘Dune: Part One’ is like an appetizer and ‘Dune: Part Two’ is the main meal.” He describes the second installment as “an insane playground” promising more action now that he’s laid the groundwork. 

“Dune” was largely advertised boasting its impressive ensemble cast, including (but not limited to) Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista, and Josh Brolin. However, “ensemble” isn’t the right term to describe this cast. Chalamet and Ferguson have the most screen time in the film, with most others being absent for at least half of it. All of the actors put forth solid performances, albeit not very notable ones. Arguably the best performance out of “Dune” came from Javier Bardem as Stilgar, one of the Fremen’s leaders. Although his role is small, he is able to communicate a lot about his character through his mannerisms and diction. However, his thick accent makes some of his dialogue hard to understand. 

Although the film’s writing can feel rushed and sporadic, the real highlight of the film is its camerawork and cinematography. It feels reminiscent of Villenueve’s previous two films “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049,” which makes sense, as he teamed up with “Arrival” cinematographer and editor Greig Fraser and Joe Walker, respectively. In fact, the spacecraft we see in “Dune” is incredibly similar to that seen in “Arrival.” The vast desert expanses of Arrakis are emphasized by a booming score. Much like the book, Hans Zimmer’s score is heavily influenced by middle-eastern music and culture.

When Warner Bros. revealed that they would be releasing “Dune” on HBO Max as well as in theaters, Villenueve spoke out against the decision, saying, “Our movie’s image and sound were meticulously designed to be seen in theaters.” Whatever opinion you hold on the matter, it’s undeniable that seeing “Dune” in a theater is a wildly different experience than seeing it at home. From the cinematography to the score to the acting, “Dune” is a wholly immersive experience that defies most expectations, appealing to both longtime fans of the “Dune” series, as well as those just being introduced. Despite its early troubles, it culminates into an ending that is both satisfying and leaves you craving for more.