Dune (dir. Villeneuve)

Image: Timothee Charlamet & Rebecca Ferguson as Paul and his mother [Source: IMDB]

★★★★☆

Feature adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel, about the son of a noble family entrusted with the protection of the most valuable asset and most vital element in the galaxy.

Director: Denis Villeneuve. Starring: Timothee Charlamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Issac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgard [12A]

Right off the bat I feel it is worth mentioning that I was ignorant and oblivious to anything at all about Dune. I was pretty sure a book existed and David Lynch had made a film called Dune. But whether they were connected or the same Dune was lost on me. I knew nothing of the story, the book, the cultural significance, its impact on the sci-fi genre. I cannot emphasise enough that I went into this utterly blind. I had not even seen the trailer and I only know Charlamet was the lead.

So going in blind, especially to what I now know to be a large scale sci fi story with lots of lore and complexity. The film had a lot to introduce me to as a viewer. But I do believe my experience will also capture that of many movies goers who may consider Dune after catching some of the marketing or word of mouth about this film. So firstly, Denis, the scriptwriters, the cast and crew, did an incredible job bringing a novel I’ve been told has been considered unfilmable, to the big screen. But more importantly, they are near perfect when it comes to getting across large sums of information, history and lore to the new comer who knows nothing of Dune. I was immediately drawn in and while the more futuristic, freaky, slightly camp elements of the sci fi mise en scene can sometimes have a tendency to make you feel overwhelmed and lost. Here the draw in is a story we can attach ourselves to, that we can understand. Charlamet’s performance I felt left a little to be desired, whether he was supposed to be very unenthused or not I couldn’t help but wish for a more charismatic lead performance. None the less, it’s a good one and Charlamet fits the part very well as far as I can tell. He helps attached to Paul as a character and his story, emphasising as he learns of Dune/Arrakis along with us. And his dreams feel like our own as we peer into the landscape we are hearing so much about. Equally as terrific is the films antagonist, Stellan Skarsgard’s Vladimir Harkonen. Who is like a grotesque and off-kiltering Colonel Kurtz. His performance really sells the characters outside of our hero, the world around him and the political landscape of Dune. There is so much character breathed into Skarsgard’s performance as well as most of the other cast of characters, even down to some of the minor roles. It makes for an enthralling narrative.

Part of what really captures you in the desert waste along with Paul on his journey is the soundtrack. Scored by alleged super fan, Hans Zimmer. The score does an awe inspiring job of selling the sci fi landscape of this world and these people. Zimmer manages to communicate tone, feeling, atmosphere and indeed story with his soundtrack. So much so that Villeneuve himself said that he opted to use Zimmer’s score over a narration. Furthermore is Villeneuve’s impressive direction, coming off the back of Blade Runner 2049. It’s clear to see some stylistic through lines and much of this film does have the same feel as 2049. The scenery, the style of shots and certainly the atmosphere take on similar qualities. It’s something I did feel detracted from the picture more than it graced. 2049, a cold world of artificial intelligence and our struggle to distinguish humanity from it in an increasingly less human landscape met Villeneuve’s style perfectly but here in Dune the coldness of the world while believable I felt did not match the tone of the narrative. None the less, the cinematography and direction create a jaw dropping sense of scale and scope that to my memory has little competition. When Villeneuve said this was supposed to be viewed at the cinema, he meant it. The shots and scale presented on screen sell the landscape and story that we find ourselves journeying into, whether you are a new comer or an avid fan of the novels. It’s hard to match the visualisation and atmosphere of the political and literal landscape of Dune, that Villeneuve has flawlessly put on display.

It’s difficult not to find yourself absolutely absorbed into Dune. There are some moments where the pacing slows down and I found myself wondering how long this movie was as an end did not feel like it was in sight at all. However, it is worth noting that I had no idea that this was a part one or was even going to be more films. So I’d wager a second viewing might find those trivial few moments I found myself wondering how long the film was, all but gone as the pacing is great. For such a dense world and narrative, for myself, new to all of this trying to wrap my head around everything that was happening and being introduced to all this new world, flew by. At the best of times, Dune felt like I was experiencing something truly special and one of a kind, something that is going to span and scale the same degree we see in the film itself. Something akin to watching Star Wars for the first time. By it’s close I was chomping at the bit for more story and more film. Villeneuve has created something staggering that can and will evolve into something even greater, of that I am sure of.

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