Reviewed By Stacey Yvonne: Directly after seeing Dune I was asked by a friend how it was and I replied, “Stupid, beautiful and long and fantastic!”. The next day I was asked by another and I replied, “It was… a lot.”
Both sentiments are categorically true. Dune is big and all-encompassing and also full of filler, but beautiful filler. It is the stunning, epic, well-directed, gorgeously acted, emotionally scored better version of Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1.
Ultimately a movie like this is a risk. Sure, you have a stunning cast, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Timothee Chalomet, Rebecca Ferguson, Thanos, Aquaman, Anton Chigurh, it’s veritable who’s who of A-List celebrities who truly are bringing their top skills to every scene. But you also have a beloved property the likes that several have tried and failed to do correctly on such a grand scale. Director Denis Villeneuve appeared to take full advantage of every resource he was given and the quality of those choices is shown on screen. It’s so well done but because it’s in two parts, it feels slightly gimmicky.
I’ve never been a fan of multiple-part movies. At two hours and 35 minutes, there’s no reason Dune couldn’t have been one movie, even if they extended it to 3 hours. The result is that while there is fantastic world-building, there are also long, slow meandering scenes where we’re treated to beautiful scenery, or contemplative close-ups of Timothee Chalamet. Neither are bad things, but they also don’t serve to give forward momentum to the narrative. They’re stalling. And yes, it makes sense since the story Villeneuve wants to tell is so epic, but if you have to build filler into your multiple-part film series, then what are you really accomplishing?
Now, I’m well aware that for some this is their jam, there’s no issue with five-minute stares and watching the same dreamlike flashback approximately 16 times, and again, I sat through it, and didn’t mind it. But it’s a very specific thing to know that you’re going to be forced to watch another two and half hours in like two years. That said, if you can get past the petty sense of betrayal, this really is a fantastic film.
Dune is an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel of the same name. Another adaptation was previously made in 1984 by David Lynch. Originally derided, it’s now become a cult classic. It’s heavy with necessary exposition, but the way it executes it is pretty direct, mostly through the narration of the Emporer’s daughter, Princess Irulan. In the 2021 version, the exposition is subtly layered in like spice on the sands of Arrakis. Having not been familiar with the original text or the original adaptation to this point, I expected to have a lot of questions. While some of the names were unfamiliar and the different ideologies could be confusing, at its heart Dune is a relatable story, just given to extreme hyperbole. It’s Star Wars, it’s The Matrix, it’s a variation of every story in which a goodhearted unsuspecting young man discovers his true purpose which usually has to do with saving the world in some way. And it’s extremely entertaining.
The beauty of these stories is not in the story itself since it’s so prolific, but rather in the telling, in the way the hero’s journey is laid out. Lynch’s version excelled in inventiveness and Sean Young; where Villeneuve excels in updating a narrative from the far future to the ideals and sensibilities of today. The cast is effortlessly diverse with women characters who transcend their literary counterparts.
They’re given agency and their stories are well thought out and much more pronounced than the book gives license. It’s one of the many reasons that I trust the next installment to be just as sweeping and epic and inclusive as the first.
Dune tells the story of young Paul of Altreides (Timothee Chalomet) who, along with his family, is sent to the desert planet of Arrakis to mine melange aka “spice”. It’s a substance that extends life force and provides for effortless, light-speed travel. For years the planet was under the rule of the Harkonnen until the Emporer removes them and put Leto of Altreides in charge. Of course, the Emporer’s motives are nefarious and so the Harkonnen infiltrate and assassinate Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), and send his son, Paul, and concubine, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) to the desert to die. While in the desert they encounter the natives of Arrakin, the Fremennikn. They have glowing blue eyes as a result of the spice in the air. The first movie covers roughly half of the first book and when we leave, we enter a new chapter in Paul’s life.
Overall, despite some pacing issues and despite the general annoyingness of something being stretched to accommodate two parts, this really is a splendid movie. Every detail was taken into account and every beat is played with the utmost sincerity and authenticity. You’ll believe as an audience member that you are taking a peek into the lives of other world inhabitants and it’s fascinating. Be sure to check it out for yourselves!
Dune will be available in theaters and on HBO Max starting Friday, October 22nd
Pull Quote: It is the stunning, epic, well-directed, gorgeously acted, emotionally scored better version of Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1.