Thursday 10 February 2022

Movie Review: Dune (2021)

A science fiction epic, Dune is a breathtakingly beautiful and eloquently crafted adaptation of a complex story.

In the year 10191, the desert planet Arrakis is the galaxy's only source of precious Spice, a material with special properties and essential for interstellar travel. The House of Harkonnen has been responsible for mining Spice for many years, but now the Emperor decrees the House of Arteides will have dominion over Arrakis. The Fremen are the local inhabitants of Arrakis, brutally mistreated by Harkonnen and sceptical anything will change under Arteides. The desert planet's other residents are brutal and massive subterranean worms.

The benevolent Duke Leto Arteides (Oscar Isaac) prepares his people for a new position of prominence. His partner Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) belongs to the Bene Gesserit, an exclusive ancient sisterhood possessing special powers. Their son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) is growing into adulthood: both Leto and Jessica have high hopes for him, but Paul is troubled by vivid visions featuring death on Arrakis. The Arteides military commanders include weapons master Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and fierce warrior Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa).

The House of Arteides arrive at Arrakis and take control of mining operations. Leto and Paul offer better cooperation to Fremen leader Stilgar (Javier Mardem), and meet with Dr. Liet-Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster), the Emperor-appointed planet handover judge. But all is not what is seems: the House of Harkonnen under Baron Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgård) has evil designs to reclaim control of Arrakis, and the Emperor is far from neutral.

Immediately eradicating bad memories of David's Lynch's 1984 atrocity, director Denis Villeneuve finally provides Frank Herbert's book with the screen treatment it deserves. Villeneuve co-wrote the script with Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth, and they wisely tackle just the first half the book (the film is subtitled Part One). With a length of 156 minutes, Dune invests the necessary time to parse-out characters, motivations, and events into sequentially comprehensible increments.

Despite covering a partial story, Dune is a spectacular and ambitious achievement, filled with intersecting agendas and compelling arcs. Villeneuve demonstrates equal care for the visuals and the people, merging a deep narrative about destiny with stunning cinematography and special effects, all complemented by a brooding Hans Zimmer score. At the heart of the exhilarating sand-swept experience are eternal themes of human accountability, the ethics of resource exploitation, warmongering, superior powers, and battles for supremacy. Almost miraculously, all the threads remain intact and traceable.

A powerful and mysterious mother-son bond ties key events together, Lady Jessica quietly complicit in shaping her son's destiny, and by extension the galaxy's future. Her continued active participation in Paul's tumultuous mental and physical challenges provides a unique charge. Elsewhere the expansive action and combat scenes are well-staged and well-spaced within the political and personal intrigue. 

The actors take their roles seriously and hold their ground despite all the innovative costumes and imaginative set designs. Crucially, Timothée Chalamet finds the seam of uncertainty as a young man tentatively stepping into an elevated level of responsibility, and he is ably supported by Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson. Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa add macho presence, and only the Harkonnen cast members are allowed to slip into appropriately outlandish representations.

The final act is more ingrained with the Fremen, allowing Paul's visions to start translating into a purpose, and Zendaya finally appears outside the dream realm as Chani. Dune finds a deeply satisfying ending for the beginning, and is also honest in preparing for more to come.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.


  1. I liked this a lot. I am bizarrely connected to Dune as a franchise, so I was predisposed to like this a lot, and it lived up to a lot of what I wanted. I especially liked the scope of it--so much of it is so huge and overwhelming; it's what this story needs. It has to be epic in scope, and this fulfills that perfectly.

    I'm looking forward to the next chapter and to watching this one again.

    1. This was an engrossing experience, with superb story telling and command over the material. More than two and a half hours, but I did not want it to end.


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