Let’s talk about Dune.
In the grand history of book to film adaptations, there is a type of book that film makers can’t help but resist. They are the books seen as unfilmable. The idea is that the book is so complex with things that can only be explained through the written word and that the depth and power cannot be translated into a visual medium. Of course, we have seen critics be proven wrong with this idea. For many years, Lord of the Rings was considered an unfilmable book. Yet Peter Jackson proved that wrong, while also proving The Hobbit might be unfilmable a bit later on. Dune is considered one of those books and many felt they were proven right when David Lynch’s attempt to bring it to the big screen was ridiculed. But we are here again with Denis Villeneuve giving it his best shot.
Paul is the heir to the Atreidas empire. Also as the son of Jessica, he is potentially a messiah, though that has been debated. The Atreidas is asked to take over the ownership of Arakis, a planet where the valuable mineral Spice is harvested and used for interstellar travel. However this angers other imperial families which could trigger a war.
So here is my disclaimer to start off this review. I have not read Dune. I’ve also not seen David Lynch’s Dune either. So I’m not sure why the book is seen as one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time or why it didn’t work out the first time. So I can’t really talk about that with any actual knowledge, but more whatever rubbish I can theorise with. Watching this as a complete idiot to Dune, this film feels like it is taking some inspiration from Game of Thrones. The idea of these many imperial families working under an emperor, fighting among themselves with some casual manipulation from the very top feels like it’s been pulled from a Medieval epic and put into this sci-fi world. I’ve always enjoyed this sort of story because there’s lots of political intrigue and it usually ends up in a big battle, which satisfies the part of my brain which needs intelligent films combined with my blockbuster hungry side that wants to see things go boom.
With this, it feels like the way Villeneuve has made this a palatable movie is by boiling the movie down to two essential parts. Well, he’s also split the book into several films as well which means he can go with a slower pace. But in terms of the essential parts, he has got this political battle over spice between the imperial families happening in the background and interfering with the main story, which is a chosen one story. Sorry, it is. I think when Dune did it back when the book was written, it was more original than it was now. Paul is a chosen one and is seen as a messiah by many people because of, and yes it is about to get worse, a prophecy. He even gets visions of the future. I don’t think it’s done badly in this movie though. The movie definitely makes Paul out to be special, but not that special. There’s doubt he’s a chosen one and there’s definitely a lot of growth he has to go under. What that does is make it exciting when he does undergo some growth. When a film makes you excited about character development, it is doing things right.
But never mind the character development, look at all the pretty lights! But in seriousness, this a spectacular looking movie that definitely makes it feel like you are in a completely different world. The problem I have with a lot of foreign planets in films is that directors often struggle to make it really feel like an alien planet. Like with desert planets, sometimes it just feels like it’s in the Sahara. Not here though. Arakis is definitely an alien planet and I am convinced Denis Villeneuve opened up a wormhole and filmed there. From the excellent soundtrack which sets the mood to the architecture of the city, it all feels like a new world we are peering into, with Villeneuve telling us this epic story that really does feel like the beginning.
The movie though truly reveals itself to be special when the sand worms start to emerge. In an epic story like this, sand worms should feel so low. It’s like we have this epic sci-fi story of truly stunning standing in one hand, then in the other we’ve got some leftovers from Tremors of all movies. But yet, it works. The sand worms are a terrifying presence which seem to be there to remind us for all the fighting the imperial families do in this movie, it all means naught when a few wrong footsteps mean a 400 metre sand worm comes to eat you. The first time we see them is when the Atreidas visit a spice harvesting site and they notice one on the horizon. This means an evacuation of the site but an equipment failure means the Atreidas have to do their thing to save the day. It’s an incredible scene of tension and when the worm finally emerges, it’s awe inspiring. It’s one of those moments which reminds you why the cinema is so good.
Dune is a stunning movie. It has some minor problems with the pacing being a little too slow at times and the chosen one story has kind of been made trite with time, despite the film’s best attempts. But this is shaping up to be something special. It is a stunning sci-fi epic that will astound you. It’s a great reminder of how great cinema can be and proof of why if you feel comfortable with it, you should really go to the cinema to watch these films than watch them at home if there is an option of the two. Of course, the perception of this movie may change in future. If the follow up Dune movies are poor, then this will be seen as a great lead-up to great disappointment. But for now, this is an excellent start and I cannot wait for Part 2.