Dune (2021): Denis Villeneuve Brings on the Dandy Sandy in This Epic, Beautifully Boisterous Adaptation
“Dune” is directed by Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049, Arrival) and stars Timothee Chalamet (Interstellar, Call Me by Your Name), Rebecca Ferguson (Reminiscence, Mission: Impossible – Fallout), Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ex Machina), Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Space Jam: A New Legacy), Josh Brolin (The Goonies, Avengers: Infinity War), Stellan Skarsgård (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Thor), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy, My Spy), Stephen McKinley Henderson (Lady Bird, Devs), Chang Chen (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Assassin), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (FIFA 17, Doctor Who), Charlotte Rampling (Stardust Memories, Dexter), Jason Momoa (Aquaman, Game of Thrones), and Javier Bardem (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales). This film is an adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel and follows Paul Atreides, a young boy born into a royal, planet-ruling family. Paul is destined to one day take on the role of Kwistaz Haderach, much to the dismay of some, considering how his mother was instructed to bear a daughter. When House Atreides arrives on Arrakis, a sandy planet with worms that pop up out of the ground like geysers, it is up to them and Paul to protect the planet and its valuable resource, spice.
Where do I even start with “Dune?” Unlike “Blade Runner,” when it comes to Denis Villeneuve’s work, I was much less familiar with “Dune’s” source material, especially when compared to Villeneuve himself, because the more I heard about this movie, the more I recognized Herbert’s love for the source material. When I first heard Denis Villeneuve was working on this project, and I think cinematographer Roger Deakins was rumored to be involved as well, I was obviously excited because Villeneuve is one of the best directors working in Hollywood today. I’ve only seen a couple of his films, but I’ve always been curious to go back to “Sicario” and “Enemy” because of how much I have adored his recent work. Both “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049” made it to my Top Movies of the 2010s countdown event as the #10 and #2 spots respectively. I love both films to the moon and beyond, and I cannot tell you how many times I popped in the 4K Blu-ray for “Blade Runner 2049” since I bought it. I have not even read the novel or its follow-ups, and even with that, “Dune” was easily my most anticipated film of 2021. It may have even been my most anticipated for 2020, but COVID-19 ended up killing the hopes of it coming out that year.
Just for the record, I have not seen any of the previous on-screen adaptations of “Dune.” I’ve read a number of pages of “Dune” during a car ride, but I never picked it back up. It’s not that I did not like the book, I just didn’t have time for it. But regardless of what I have not seen, the trailers for this film encapsulated a supposed epic vibe that Villeneuve and crew may have been shooting for. Big scale, massive locations, and we even got a bit of taste of Hans Zimmer’s score long before the film officially released, and when I heard it, it made me more excited for the film because it sounds like what would happen if a madman trapped an orchestra in a chamber and wouldn’t release them until they were dead tired. From the little that I heard, it sounded majestic as hell.
Now that “Dune” is done, what did I think?
In a number of ways, “Dune” met my expectations, but it is not the best movie of the year. I can think of a few movies I liked more. BUT, if you want a great time at the movies that can make you put your thinking cap on, “Dune” may be for you. “Dune” reminded me of a number of films, one of the first being “Blade Runner 2049,” mainly because both have some distinctions that Denis Villeneuve can call his own. Plus, I knew a tad about “Dune” going into it, and one of the things I knew is that it was pretty dense, so it was no surprise to me that the film itself would turn out to be a bit of a slow burn. Slow does not mean bad in this case. You can make a film slow as long as it seems that the pace fits for the subject matter or the film itself. Same goes with quick pace. You can have explosions and bangs and crazy lasers flying in your face every other second as long as the script and direction makes those things add up. This is not to say there are no explosions in “Dune.” There are, just watch the trailers. But don’t go in expecting every other scene to be like a dogfight in “Star Wars.” But on that note, this film also feels rather “Star Wars”-esque. Granted, the book came out before “Star Wars” hit theaters, but my point is, both stories have similar vibes and themes. Both involve young boys who associate with desert planets and must strive to become men greater than themselves. Both in a way have to follow the hero’s journey, a typical story structure that is often followed or slightly altered depending on the story at hand. I will not give any details as to what ways “Dune” follows or does not follow that structure, but the point stands.
I want to talk about some of the characters in this film, and believe me when I say that this film is not short on bringing together a great cast. Between Timothee Chalamet, who I loved since “Interstellar,” to Zendaya who is practically starting to appear in everything now, to Oscar Isaac who has been great in Alex Garland’s work along with the “Star Wars” franchise, even though he was the one who had to say “Somehow Palpatine returned.” The film is not short on A-listers and stars. Overall, the chemistry and acting between everyone was top notch.
Timothee Chalamet appears as if he is going to be the next Oscar great. Maybe not this year, he is still quite young. But throughout his lifetime, I think he’ll be the male equivalent to Meryl Streep. I think one day, we’ll see an Academy Awards ceremony with an opening monologue from whoever is currently hosting a hit talk show on ABC and one of the jokes will poke fun at Chalamet for stealing all the Oscars from all the up and coming talent. I almost think there is no one better to play Paul Atreides because Chalamet not only looks young, but he has this bridge between him that I can sense that he is young enough to be a kid, but mature enough to be liked by the parents of whomever he’s dating. Chalamet has range, and it is shown in this film through his expressiveness and occasional stoic nature. That’s not implying that Paul Atreides, the character himself, is up for question on what kind of character he actually is, but it sort of shows that the character knows how to put himself in a variety of situations, even though he is still learning how to be an adult.
Along with Chalamet for much of the journey is Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica. I will admit, after watching the movie, someone brought up a creepy but true fact. Take this as you will. One of my favorite elements of the movie is the chemistry between Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson. Naturally, it feels the way a mother and son should be. The mother wants what’s best for her kid, and the kid does his best to impress the mother even though he may occasionally lash out or disagree with her. Chemistry-wise, I would love to see more of these two actors together. The thing however, in real life, Chalamet is 25 years old. Rebecca Ferguson is 38 years old. That’s a difference of 13 years! So either teenage reproduction is much more welcomed, accepted, and/or encouraged in the future, or these actors have such great range that age is meaningless, therefore making both individuals more convincing performers. For the sake of sanity and the fact that child labor laws exist, I would much prefer to go with the latter. If anything, I think Rebecca Ferguson may give a better performance than Timothee Chalamet, because there are several scenes and lines of dialogue that I could feel her pain, reflecting a natural instinct that most, if not all mothers, would have.
The main antagonistic side of the film would be the Harkonnens, who ravage the planet of Arrakis for Spice. It is up to our heroes to defend the planet and its precious resource. So in a way, this movie is literally the War on Drugs. This side allows for some more great performances to shine through, including one from Dave Bautista as Beast Rabban Harkonnen. I want to highlight him in this review because I think that a performance like this allows him to sharpen his skills as an actor. I like Dave Bautista as a personality, but I think even he knows that his acting skills are limited. Unlike his role as Drax the Destroyer, where he would either scream, laugh in someone’s face, or give a brooding quote every once in a while, his role in “Dune” is more menacing and takes the brooding nature of his Drax character and intensifies it a bit. I like Drax the Destroyer, but if you watch him in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” the way he’s both written and performed feel slightly one-dimensional, but Bautista did an okay job with the character nevertheless. I think if you put Bautista in front of the right director like James Gunn, again, I like Drax. Or in this case Denis Villeneuve, his talents could be unleashed. I hope that these two continue to collaborate in the future.
As menacing as Bautista may be, he’s got nothing on Baron Harkonnen himself, played by Stellan Skarsgård. HOLY CRAP. Now that’s casting. I also have to give props to the makeup department, because of the work they did on the Harkonnens, making them all look pasty white. As for Stellan Skarsgård, this is no offence to him, because in real life, he may be a nice guy, I would not want to shake Baron Harkonnen’s hand. He looks like what would happen if Wilford Brimley ate a ton of ice cream and endlessly made fun of the children of generations below his, and maybe once in a while, enjoyed those kids’ heads with his ice cream. The dude flat out looks creepy by sci-fi standards. You want my money Warner Bros.? You own both these characters to a degree so make this happen! Get Bill and Stellan Skarsgård together, have them portray their characters of Pennywise and Baron Harkonnen respectively, just have them go around scaring children and other crap like that. I’d watch that.
One character that must also be acknowledged is Duncan Idaho. Aside from the fact that the name is freaking lit, Jason Momoa is perfectly cast as this character, because similar to how he made Aquaman a superhero I would want to have a drink with, Momoa shines because of his enthusiastic, almost reckless nature in this film. He’s in a somewhat serious, deep, intense sci-fi picture that the rest of these characters happen to be in, and he’s the only performer who happens to be taking things not so seriously. His character just screams ridiculous fun at times. He’s expressive, he’s witty, he’s charismatic, and much like Aquaman, I would go to a bar with Idaho if I had the chance.
For those of you who were looking forward to seeing Zendaya in the film for whatever reason, I would not prepare for disappointment, but I would also not prepare for excitement at this point, because her character is written in such a way that she has such a minimal impact and appearance throughout the film. If anything, we’ll probably get more of her in part two. I do think her character was well cast, I just hope the next movie gives us a clear answer as to whether Zendaya was truly a good choice for the role of Chani. But from what I’ve seen so far, she seems promising.
I really want to talk about the ending of this film, without spoilers of course. But most stories you read or watch have a proper ending where something dramatic happens, matters are resolved, maybe there’s a happily ever after, then we cut to “the end,” maybe black or white, or just straight to the credits. “Dune” does not have that kind of ending. I will not say where it ends, but it ends in a particularly interesting place. Let’s just say the ending is not the same as the first book… If you want to put it that way. The film ends on at a place where we see our characters in a particular situation only to have the screen cut to black. I have seen the film twice, and both times, I did not mind the ending. Mainly because I have enjoyed what I have seen so far, and the movie set itself up in a way to make me want more. I left thinking, what’s next? When are we getting the next movie? I want it now! Some would claim that in a way, this story is unfinished. I disagree. While the film is structured in a such a way that could garner such a thought when the ending comes up, I disagree because from start to finish, this movie is about the journey, struggle, and change of Paul Atreides as a character. We see him start at one point. We know his ambition, his flaws, and what others think of him. By the end of the film, he is different from how he is when it starts. I won’t give much detail, but if you pay close attention to the movie, you’ll notice. One journey is over, and another one begins. It is a… Strange ending. But it is also one that happens to be effective. I do not blame the movie for ending where it did.
With that being said, “Dune: Part Two” cannot come fast enough. When it arrives, I will buy my tickets in a heartbeat.
I thought to myself upon leaving the theater that while “Dune” was not my favorite film of this year, there is a lot that will it do to aspire future filmmakers and storytellers. I have a feeling that this “Dune” movie is going to have a similar impact on part of the current generation that “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” did on their generations. If anything, even though there were some imperfections when it comes “Dune,” I think it has a shot at being the next “Lord of the Rings.” Between the modern visuals, the epic scope, the dense storytelling with enormous potential, this is absolute franchise material. In fact, as of writing this, not only is “Dune: Part Two” greenlit, but there’s also going to be a TV show set in the “Dune” universe coming to HBO Max at some point. This could be big.
As for Hans Zimmer’s score, OH MY GOD. If you go see this in theaters, and I highly recommend you do so, prepare to have the room shake like a fish out of water. It is some of his best work to date and I would put it up there with, interestingly enough, another score he did for a Denis Villeneuve film, “Blade Runner 2049,” which he did with Benjamin Wallfisch.
In the end, “Dune,” or “Dune: Part One,” depending on your preference, is a great adaptation of the iconic sci-fi novel. It’s dense and occasionally hard to get through if you are in a certain mindset, but this film successfully created an epic atmosphere and introduced a whole new world of lore and possibilities. Well, kinda. This is another retelling of a classic story. Denis Villeneuve is up there with some of my favorite directors and this movie ended in such a way where I enjoyed the journey so far, but I also left with curiosity as to where they’d take the story. As of now, “Dune: Part Two” is my most anticipated film of 2023. The film can occasionally feel dense and strenuous. The ending, even though it did fulfill the arch of Paul Atreides, comes at a satisfying point, but also feels particularly emptier compared to other portions of the film. So for what I said, I massively enjoyed “Dune,” and I have a feeling that it could be something that will increase in enjoyment through repeat viewings. I’m going to give “Dune” an 8/10.
“Dune” is now playing in theaters everywhere and is streaming for a limited time on the ad-free tier of HBO Max.
Thanks for reading this review! If you are worried that I am going to be short on upcoming content. Trust me, I’m not. I want you all to know that I have reviews coming for “The French Dispatch,” “Last Night in Soho,” “Eternals,” and “Ron’s Gone Wrong.” There’s plenty of content to come but so little time! If you want to read this and more on Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Dune?” What did you think about it? Or, did you ever read any of the “Dune” books? Which is your favorite? And did you see any of the other “Dune” adaptations? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!