Hitting theaters this weekend is the film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s famous 1965 science fiction novel, “Dune.” This is not the first time the novel has been adapted for the silver screen as an adaptation was produced back in 1984, directed by acclaimed filmmaker David Lynch.
This film put together quite the strong cast with Timothée Chalamet playing the lead character Paul Atreides, with Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Jason Momoa and Javier Bardem all in supporting roles.
What most likely attracted all these actors to this film, other than the source material of course, is the director of the project: Denis Villeneuve. Though he may not be a household name like Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino or Christopher Nolan just yet, one could definitely argue that Villeneuve was the best director of the 2010s. He produced seven films during the decade, starting with the Oscar-nominated drama “Incendies” in 2010, following with both the masterful thriller film “Prisoners” and the mind-bending drama “Enemy” in 2013, then the tense action-thriller “Sicario” in 2015, the sci-fi drama “Arrival” in 2016 and the noir science fiction film “Blade Runner 2049” in 2017.
Ultimately, “Dune” is a fine addition to the Villeneuve filmography, though it certainly is not my most esteemed film of his.
To start with the positives, they hit it out of the park with this movie visually. Villeneuve is a brilliant director and his partnership with cinematographer Greig Fraser really shines in this film. The scale of the world of “Dune” is the star of the film, showcased through wide-shot after wide-shot of large scale vessels, alien planets and sandworms. The visual effects are incredibly well executed in this film. They are virtually flawless in their texturing and cohesion with the rest of the environment. The environments and vessels look so flawless, it is impossible to tell if which elements are practical or completely digital. I expect this film to be nominated for several awards for its visual composition, as it deserves to be.
Another positive with this film is the sound. This movie was made for the IMAX experience, not just for its visuals but also for its extensive use of IMAX theaters’ enhanced sound architecture. Hans Zimmer delivers yet another incredible score, creating a soundscape that fits perfectly with the desolate desert landscape. Sound design also stands out in this film. There are countless effects and modulations to the diegetic sound of the picture that enhance the viewership experience. This film thoroughly deserves to be nominated in these sound categories at the Academy Awards.
In terms of negatives, my biggest issue with “Dune” is its pacing and plot. The film is over two and a half hours long, but its plot does not fill the runtime. While the film is an adaptation of approximately half of a fairly dense book, making it difficult to cut certain sequences due to dedication to original book, that is not the root cause of the film’s problem. A slow pace is fine if the film eventually builds to something, but unfortunately this film largely does not. During the second act, the film’s rhythm really slows down, becoming significantly more atmospheric and meandering and containing much less dialogue and high-paced sequences than the first hour and a half or so. While some may enjoy a film more in that style, I personally found the movie to get less interesting and less tense as it progressed due to that slower pacing.
That being said, this movie is explicitly the part one of a larger story, and the film does a great job of setting up that overarching plot. However, a movie must have an internal story structure, and must not rely on its prospective sequels to make up for its shortcomings in plot. “Dune” has clear character arcs and thematic elements, but certainly doesn’t tell a complete story from beginning to end. The ending feels very open-ended, not ending in a denouement fashion, but rather on almost a new beginning entirely, like the movie was just about to start again. That being said, it does look like the film will be receiving a sequel, which won’t solve the pacing problems but may patch the issue of the incomplete story.
Ultimately, the visuals still make this film worth the watch, even with some negative aspects in plot and pacing. This is one of the best films you can see on the big screen this year and I recommend you see it on as large a screen if possible.