Tormented by dreams of a far off world called Dune, Paul Atreides, heir to the House Atreides, is unaware of his future importance. Schooled in a secret martial art where he can control other peoples’ minds, his mother, Lady Jessica, leaves nothing to chance in his development – and with good reason. For when the galactic emperor commands the House Atreides to take stewardship of Dune, the scent of war swiftly fills up the air. Previously controlled by the cruel House of Harkonnen, Dune is the centre of spice production, a vital substance that both extends life and permits space travel. However, it quickly becomes clear that the Harkonnens won’t let Dune go without a fight but can Paul convince the woman in his dreams of his family’s peaceful intentions?
... is a curious case of mixed fortune and grasping ambition.
Now, this year’s Dune, for those of you, who may not be aware of it, is not the first time that author Frank Herbert‘s sci-fi epic has made its way onto the screen. Having previously passed through the hands of David Lean, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Ridley Scott no less, Dune was made by David Lynch in 1984. With a cast to-die-for and sets that would bankrupt a lesser production, Lynch’s vision ultimately stalled at the box office, drowning in counterclaims that he had both strayed too far from the novel and also stuck too rigidly to it. So, with Herbert’s intergalactic game of thrones seemingly having lived up to its un-filmable reputation, it would take be a brave director to try and adapt Dune again – and then came 2017’s Bladerunner 2049.
Pitched as a sequel to Ridley’s Scott’s peerless Bladerunner, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up not only delivered upon expectations but also exceeded them. All of which brings us to 2021 and a wholly different set of concerns. Having successfully realised Bladerunner‘s follow-up, the question seems to be now less than whether Denis Villeneuve can harness Dune‘s labyrinthine narratives but more about whether he can make it profitable. Sadly, Bladerunner 2049 didn’t do well at the box office and so now the pressure is very much on for Dune (or Dune: Part One) to be a major success…
…and yet from its very first seconds, you know the omens are good.
As it belches colossal sub-bass frequencies at you with a choral section that’s not dissimilar to that of 2001: A Space Odyssey, this is a movie that screams an interstellar scale at you. The planets are massive, the ships are industrial-sized cities, and the people who’ll be scratching across Villeneuve’s canvas are inkily-soaked in scandal and harbour ne’er-do-well intentions. In short, 2021’s Dune is epic.
With a cast that clearly understands the sense of occasion required, it has to be said that Dune‘s first act is a surprisingly breezy affair. Having foregone any opening narration or on-screen titles, it is actually Dune‘s characters who pencil in the political landscape. Chief amongst those making all of this feel effortless is Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica. In a weird parallel where it was Francesca Anis’s portrayal of the same character in David Lynch’s 1984 version that also stole your attention, Rebecca Ferguson portrayal here pushes her character’s envelope even wider. By instantly inhabiting the film’s funereal atmosphere, she knows that her actions have put the universe at risk and Ferguson perfectly carries that pain with each concerned crease of her brow.
Next to her is Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides. In a performance that screams for any onlooking studio to immediately green-light him in a big screen Hamlet adaptation, he is the perfectly cast Paul Atreides. Dave Bautista similarly delves once more into his less-is-more skillset from Bladerunner 2049 and Oscar Issacs and Josh Brolin stand perfectly to attention when the moment calls for it. However, bringing some much-needed levity as a Shakesperean knight-on-loan is Jason Mamoa’s Duncan. Couple that with the teasing glimpses of Zendaya as Fremen Chani, who visits Paul in his dreams, and Vilenueve has a perfectly gathered repertory around him, with which to tell his tale.
Add to this, the Oscar-in-waiting for Jenny Bevan’s costumes and the overall production design, together with Hans Zimmer‘s sense of orchestral occasion and you truly have a modern production of a 1960s space saga that has defeated two generations of filmmaking legends. So, whilst the film’s messianic subplot feels a little too speedily skipped over, there is too much here to deny 2021’s Dune as being the best adaptation so far.
In the end, there are two undeniable conclusions that will hit you as step away from your cinema seat. One, Denis Villeneuve is the heir apparent to Ridley Scott’s world-building aesthetic. Two, Dune is Lawrence of Arabia dangling over an ecological precipe that the world has long been leaning into. -And three, this is the film that will legitimately pull you back to the altar of the cinema screen.
Denis Villeneuve has waiting been since he was 12 to make this film. You don’t have to wait that long. Buy two tickets now. One to see it and then another to see it again when you’re finished.