Dune Movie Review
Dune is a beautiful, incredibly crafted, and oft-entrancing first half of an epic sci-fi tale. Whether it works on its own, especially with the second half not guaranteed, is up for debate.
As a big fan of the Frank Herbert novel--it’s one of a very small selection of books I’ve read more than once--this Denis Villeneuve adaptation is incredibly faithful, bringing to life the world(s) that Herbert envisioned in a way that feels both true and modern. Villeneuve, of course, is a director who arguably doesn’t have a bad movie to his name and has proven to be one of the most prestige sci-fi filmmakers after delivering the sensational Arrival and sadly overlooked Blade Runner 2049 in back-to-back years. He’s the perfect choice to bring the complexities and visual scale of the novel to life, and it should be no surprise that he pulls it off.
The cast is all terrific, with Timothée Chalamet headlining as Paul Atreides and Rebecca Ferguson once again turning heads as his mother, Lady Jessica Atreides. The two are a force, even though the movie doesn’t even get to the point where they actually get to do much other than run, hide, and run some more. Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem are all stellar in major supporting roles.
The movie looks and feels like a sci-fi epic that deserves to be seen on the big screen, and the bigger the big screen the better. Paired with a sensational score and sound design--the two bleed and blend into each other incredibly well--you can feel Dune in your bones.
And yet, despite all this praise, this is part one of a two-part story, and whether part two happens depends on the financial success of part one. It would be an incredible shame if Villeneuve wasn’t able to complete the story, as combined there is almost no doubt that the holistic Dune would be regarded as a modern tour de force.
Until that happens, however, this is a beautiful, incredibly crafted, and oft-entrancing first half of an epic sci-fi tale that limps to a finish, ending in a low-stakes knife fight in the desert. I walked out of the theater breathlessly awaiting chapter two, but disappointed that this was all we got.
At two and a half hours in length, Dune isn’t short, and while I personally didn’t feel it was slow (a criticism some have levied), Villeneuve takes his time, almost to a fault. He dabbles a bit too much in the futuristic premonitions Paul sees--the movie hints at things that we may not see for years, and Zendaya, heavily marketed as a co-star, gets but a few speaking lines as a result. And with the good stuff still to come, the plot, in hindsight, is pretty light for the extended runtime.
Could the entire Dune novel be told in a three-hour movie? Probably. Could Villeneuve have tightened up the first-half of the story he told and pushed a little further into the novel to reach a better pausing point? Almost assuredly.
Dune--and really, it’s Dune: Part One despite what was marketed--is a must-see, but until we’re able to experience the second half (if we’re able), there is something that holds me back from embracing it fully. It doesn’t just feel incomplete--it is incomplete--and I’m not convinced Villeneuve needed to leave us feeling this way.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.