“Dreams make good stories. But everything important happens when we’re awake.“
*To preface this review, it needs to be noted that I have neither read the books or seen the original 1984 movie.*
For a movie that is considered largely “unfilmable”, Denis Villeneuve did it, and he did it epically well.
Dune is vast, dense, and at times a confusing Sci-Fi universe that newcomers (like myself) needed to get a grasp on prior to seeing it on the big screen. And, yes. You need to see it on the big screen.
At nearly 200,000 words long, Dune was published back in 1965 by author Frank Herbert, which became followed by a series of books that were technically never completed by the author before his death in 1986. Herbert’s son Brian formed a partnership with Sci-Fi author Kevin J. Anderson decades later, and finished what Frank started. There’s a lot more to it, but that’s the gist of how the written Dune goes.
From what I’ve gathered online and through mega-fans, David Lynch’s 1984 screen version famously struggled to adapt Dune onto the big screen. Like…it’s bad. Real bad. Even David Lynch stated that he has “zero interest in Dune (2021)”. He cited that his issues with the new movie have nothing to do with director Denis Villeneuve but with his own painful memories of making the 1984 version: “Because it was a heartache for me. It was a failure and I didn’t have final cut. I’ve told this story a billion times. It’s not the film I wanted to make. I like certain parts of it very much – but it was a total failure for me.”
It’s important to realize that this is a reimagined version of Dune and adapting it had been a lifelong dream of Villeneuve since he learned about David Lynch’s Dune from the magazines Fantastic Films and Starlog. Villeneuve also read Frank Herbert’s novel when he was around 12-years-old, which, as I’ve learned on TikTok, is not an easy read. With Sci-Fi films already on his resume (Arrival in 2016 and Blade Runner 2049 in 2017), Villeneuve had a good grasp of the genre even before starting Dune.
Villeneuve and co-writers Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth would change some aspects of the story, and mega-fans need to grasp that this had to happen. Dune only covers a portion of Herbert’s novel. About two thirds of it. Villeneuve decided early on that he wanted to split Dune into two movies, and it’s a solid choice that will help him avoid one of Lynch’s biggest challenges: the unfathomable task of fitting 200,000 words of plot and worldbuilding into 2 hours.
So what exactly is Dune about? To put it as simply as possible, Dune is about the son of a noble family entrusted with the protection of the most valuable asset and most vital element in the galaxy. It’s a lot more complex than that, but that’s the shortest summary I could draft.
Even Oscar-nominated director Christopher Nolan (Tenet and Dunkirk) had nothing but praise to share over Dune for a recent episode of “The Director’s Cut” podcast.
“It’s one of the most seamless marriages of live action photography and computer generated visual effects that I’ve seen,” Nolan said. “It’s very, very compelling at every turn. I think this film is going to introduce a whole new generation of fans to ‘Dune’ who have never read the book or encourage fans to go read the book […] I’ve had the luxury of seeing it a couple times now and each time I watch it I discover new things, new details to the world.”
IndieWire’s Bill Desowitz writes: “Villeneuve’s sweeping ‘Dune’ leads the way in the VFX race as a cross between ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘Star Wars.’ DNEG created spectacular VFX for the otherworldly film, overseen by two-time Oscar-winning production VFX supervisor Paul Lambert and Oscar-winning SFX supervisor Gerd Nefzer.”
Let’s not forget to talk about the entire cast from leading to supporting to extras who just really brought exceptional levels of A-game to such a complex movie. Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgard, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, and Zendaya (who only has 7 minutes of screen time lol so don’t get attached…yet). Are you kidding me? With a cast like that, how can you go wrong?
The breakout star of Dune though is Chalamet, who now is part of a blockbuster league (as if he didn’t already have an impressive indie background).
“The Dark Knight was the movie that made me want to act. That movie had a score by Hans Zimmer, and he has done the score for Dune. And it’s almost not what you’d think. It’s totally appropriate and excellent for the movie, but he has somehow managed to do something subversive, in my opinion. It’s a pinch-me moment all over.” Chalamet via Deadline.
And this is only the beginning, because Dune recently got the green light for a sequel after surprising (but also not surprising) box office numbers.
This is a blockbuster that has redefined (resurrected?) the Sci-Fi genre, and has really set the bar increasingly higher for filmmakers. Expect to see this movie come up during Oscar season, and expect this to be a huge stepping stone for our beloved Timothée Chalamet who has all the making to be the next Dicaprio.