TV & Movies

Dune review: Bless the maker for Denis Villeneuve

Dune: Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya star in dramatic trailer

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Dune has had a laboured journey to the big screen. The infamously hard-to-adapt story has been taken on by Hollywood a few times in recent decades with dreadful results. David Lynch’s 1985 travesty has gone down in history as one of the most reviled films of all time (despite having now reached cult status as a film considered so-bad-it’s-good). On top of that, in 1975 Alejandro Jodorowsky optioned to film Dune as a ten-hour feature; a quest that was never finished. Although adapting Dune has long been considered box-office suicide, Villeneuve has created a coherent, intelligent, and – dare I say – exhilarating film.

From the instant Dune begins it is obvious Villeneuve has taken his time with Herbert’s 1965 novel. Straight away, viewers are given the film’s title card: Dune – Part One, forewarning cinemagoers that, even when the credits roll, the story is far from over. 

Timothée Chalamet plays the hero of the journey, Paul, the only son of Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), the Duke of the planet Caladan.

Chalamet has proven time and again how adept he is on screen, but his performance as Paul is supremely impressive. He deftly plays a frustrated teenager while also displaying the knowledge of a thousand lifetimes, creating a fantastic kaleidoscope of range.

Between bubbling anger and growing abject terror for his own fate, Chalamet is stunning to watch throughout the entire film. It’s often difficult to take your eyes off him.

Duke Leto has been gifted the fiefdom of Arrakis (colloquially known as Dune) by the galaxy’s emperor. When the Atreides arrive on Arrakis it is the Duke’s job to rule fiercely while continuing the harvest of the spice, Melange – a substance that can only be found on Dune. On top of allowing for interstellar travel, spice also prolongs human life, making it the most valuable asset in the universe.

Isaac carries the weight of this dangerous task on his shoulders with a tender yet substantial performance. From commanding a legion of warriors to giving his son gentle reassurance; the former Star Wars actor is one of the main draws of this space opera epic. 

Isaac is only bested onscreen by Rebecca Ferguson who plays his on-screen wife, and Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica.

As a member of the cunning Bene Gesserit clan, Lady Jessica’s character introduces a collection of concepts into the film, including The Voice, the Gom Jabbar and the Lisan al Gaib. The resurgence of these timeless narrative hooks will ensure science fiction cinema will never be the same again.

Villeneuve’s script and pacing have somehow made even the most opaque pieces of the Bene Gesserit culture approachable in Dune – but it is helped immensely by Ferguson’s stellar performance.

The Mission Impossible star is easily the standout actor in the movie. She delivers some truly heartbreaking moments that are borderline haunting. It will be a joy to see her continue in the upcoming trilogy (please, Warner Bros, give us the entire trilogy). 

Ferguson isn’t the only excellent piece of the Dune puzzle: Villeneuve has built (another!) beautiful world. The sheer scale of everything he has created – from spaceships to buildings to landscapes, etc – evoke a daunting feeling of a real, endless, unknown universe looming over you.

With the same flair and delicacy exercised in his previous movies (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, et al) Villeneuve is the absolute master of world-building while making it look as beautiful as possible.

The dangerous baking desert vistas are expertly contrasted with cold, stoic interiors where betrayal seeps from the very walls. Every single frame in Dune could be its own portrait, with a few standout moments that will be dissected for years to come.

Perhaps the most impressive parts of Dune come from Herbert, rather than Villeneuve. The director has not only used the most important parts of the original author’s novel but has – in some cases – expanded and improved upon them. 

Villeneuve takes his time in exploring the story’s more heady sci-fi themes originally penned by Herbert in the 60s. This allows him to give each of the concepts an almost tangle weight and purpose, so that when the likes of the Shai Huluds, the Fremen and the Sardaukar are introduced they are far more formidable forces of nature on screen. 

That isn’t to say Dune is lost in time – quite the opposite; the casual film lover will also find much to love in this thrilling adventure. On top of indulging in fight scenes that rival moments in the John Wick series, there are also short spells of dog-fighting with the ornithopters that are truly pulse-racing. 

If you are a Star Wars fan, a sci-fi fan, a film fan, or just a fan of objectively great movies, you must see Dune on the biggest screen available to you. Then watch it again. And again. This is a film to be savoured for as long as possible.

Dune hits cinemas on October 21.

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