Dune Movie Review: Denis Villeneuve Achieves The Impossible
When it came time to decide who would review Dune here, the answer was obvious. Sure, Emily has written a guide to books to read if you’re finished with Dune. And if we’re talking about the movie, then Meghan, among other things, wrote about the final Dune trailer. I, on the other hand, watched the David Lynch film adaptation once. So of course, the first choice to review this new Dune movie is me.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting Literally Nothing, Because You Know Even Less Than Me
Dune. The final frontier. These are the voyages of House Atreides, led by paterfamilias Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac). The Emperor of…all this tasks the duke and his house with taking over governance of the planet Arrakis. Arrakis is a desert planet, and as such, is way harsh, bro. Still, though, it’s extremely valuable, because it’s the one source for “spice.” Spice is a drug that not only makes people super-cool, but also makes it possible to travel safely through space. The spice, my guy, must flow.
image via Warner Bros Pictures
Duke Atreides arrives on Arrakis with his family, his concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and their son Paul (Timothée Chalamet). The family and their house, which includes soldiers like Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), as well as “mentat” Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson), begin the difficult process of making the planet their new fiefdom. As part of that, they’re expected to produce spice in great quantities. However, that’s going to be challenging because the outgoing ruling family has basically set them up to fail. To a man, that family, the Harkonnens, look like Darth Vader when he takes the mask off.
But while the Harkonnens are a big threat, they’re not the only one that House Atreides faces. There’s also the desert itself. It’s the home of the native Fremen population. They’re blue-eyed, Indigenous, and they don’t suffer fools. I love them immediately, obviously. Oh, and the desert is also home to giant sandworms. Yes, it is sometimes hard to take this serious space drama seriously when it’s Tremors up in this shit.
FEAR IS THE MIND KILLER
One of the things–the big thing–I left out of the plot summary just now was the whole messiah prophecy. The Bene Gesserit, a kind of sororal religious organization but with super-powers, have long been expecting the arrival of the Kwisatz Haderach. You know, like, the chosen one. And I realize that boiling it down to a messiah is simplistic, book reader, but that’s the easiest way to explain it to my fellow Hot Dummies.
image via Warner Bros Pictures
Anyway, Lady Jessica grew up in the Bene Gesserit tradition. She bucked the tradition by having a son–I guess in the future you can choose–and now he might be that Kwisatz Haderach. Wait, turn off the spooky mystery music–it’s definitely him. Like, this really isn’t a spoiler when they basically announce it in neon while Paul enters these scenes to the strains of “Baby It’s You.”
Dune Movie Review
When I decided to take on the task of writing a review for a movie like Dune, I knew right away how I would tackle it. Again, I’ve never read a single one of Frank Herbert’s books. I saw the 1984 David Lynch version once and I’m going to be honest with y’all, I was probably zooted. And as much as I love Last Podcast on the Left, I haven’t listened to their show Deep Dives: Dune, which is exactly what it says on the tin.
But none of that matters. I’ve always subscribed to the Roger Ebert school of film criticism, where the purpose of a movie review is to figure out if the film succeeded in its intentions. And I would say that this sprawling space epic does for the most part. For one thing, director Denis Villeneuve and cowriters Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth succeed in paring down the original story into something more coherent for film. They do that in part by making this into parts. This is merely the first half of the story.
So while the movie does move rather briskly (even with a 2 hour plus runtime), it’s never as intimidatingly dense as you might expect. Villeneuve has found the middle ground between big-budget (space) war movie and something more intimate. Those latter moments are where the movie works best.
Paul’s visions of the future seem a little silly at first, but it’s clear they’re moving toward something dire. It isn’t hard to sympathize with him, even if he is essentially a poor little rich boy. We know he’s not just that–see the previous section–and that something dangerous is coming for him. At the same time, though, his repeated visions of badass Fremen babe Chani (Zendaya) run the risk of becoming parody. There is something to say about the way colonizers treat Indigenous landscapes and populations, but so far (in part one of this story), the movie’s message is facile. (And the fact that Chani is in this movie for less than ten minutes total doesn’t help.)
However, beyond that and the emotional beats, I cannot deny that this is a striking film. It is currently streaming, but if you feel safe, then I would encourage you to see it on as big a screen as possible. This is a movie made for it, its design lovingly crafted.
It is a no-foolin’ loud and proud space epic. It may be a bit obvious in its aspirations sometimes, but that’s okay. The world-building here is exquisite. And it’s the humans, especially in the quieter moments, who make this truly a triumph.
Dune is now in theaters and streaming for about a month on HBO Max.
What are your thoughts on Dune? Let us know in these comments or on our social media.
featured image via Warner Bros Pictures
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at [email protected]