Movie Reviews

Published on October 19th, 2021 | by Michael Newman

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DUNE Is A Epic Take On The Classic Book

My first encounter with the Dune universe wasn’t reading Frank Herbert’s epic novel. No, unlike many before me my very first experience was with the 1984 film by the same name. Starring Patrick Stewart, Kyle MacLachlan, and Sting (yes, THAT Sting) it was not nearly the best way to be introduced to a classic. Say what you will about that movie, but I still look back at it with rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. Was it the next Star Wars? Oh, not even close, but was still a fantastical journey with what limited technology existed at the time.

The 1984 Dune movie however was not what ultimately sucked me into the lore of the Dune universe. It wasn’t reading the novel (or the several novels that have been released since). It was ironically, a little game known by the name of Dune II: The building of a dynasty released by Westwood Studios in 1992 that began my fascination with Arakkis and the importance of the spice Malange. It expanded my views on the noble house of Atreides and the evil house Harkonnen (even included its own house that was non-existent in the novels and movie). The fear and majesty of the worms of Dune, and the tension that arose every time I heard the phrase “Worm Sign”. A few others were released in the years to come, each bringing more excitement and anticipation, yet for something that spawned a movie, several video games, and books a new film was not on the horizon…that is until now.

Dune: Part One begins in the year 10191, the galaxy is under the imperial rule with a number of powerful families who rule over their various planets. Arrakis (also known as Dune) is the only planet in the known universe that is a source of the Spice Malange. The spice provides numerous benefits, but its critical component is that it allows for interstellar travel. House Harkonnen, a brutal and savage house, has ruled over Arrakis for decades, and yet one day they all pack up and leave Arrakis. An envoy from the emperor arrives on Caladan, the Atreides homeworld, with an offer. Arrakis will be offered up to House Atredies to rule over, and as such, the most precious resource in the entire universe.

Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), his concubine and mother of his son Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and his son Paul (Chalamet) pack up all their treasured belongings and set out for the spice rich, yet hostile planet of Arrakis. Along with weapons master Gurney (Josh Brolin), swordmaster and pilot Duncan (Jason Momoa), they set out on a mission to not only restart the spice production (that the Harkonnen had left behind), but also in an effort to befriend the Freman. The Freman are the local indigenous inhabitants of Arrakis who were brutally subjugated by the Harkonnen and are suspicious of their new “lords”.

The main antagonists to the story are the vile Harkonnen who are secretly working with the emperor to destroy House Atreides. The Baron (Stellan Skarsgard) and his nephew Glossu Rabban (Dave Bautista) forge secret alliances to bring chaos to the known universe. The reasons for these aren’t entirely made clear, but it’s safe to assume that the emperor fears that House Atreides has grown to powerful and risks the very fabric of his rule. This manipulation sets the stage for an epic clash between House Atreides and House Harkonnen.

Let me address the first question on practically everyone’s mind…is reading the novel or having a familiarity with the setting is necessary to enjoy Dune. The answer unfortunately is yes…with some caveats. The very core of Dune is it’s political maneuvering and an understanding of how the houses operate. It doesn’t provide a lot of background and while I think it does a fairly good job at introducing the houses (Atreides good, Harkonnen bad), it’s the sub-factions that are lost in translation. Who are the Bene Gesserit and what role do they play? What about the space guild and how does spice allow for interstellar travel? What motivates the emperor? While each is addressed in both short introductions and some winding dialog, it will undoubtedly confuse those who have no prior experience and are looking to watch an epic space movie. While reading the novel is by far the best way to understand everything going on, I was able to enjoy it having not read it. However, as I stated above, other media (in my case the previous movie and numerous videogames) provided enough backstory and history to follow along. Since I haven’t read the novel, I can’t say how close it comes to the source material, and I am aware that political intrigue doesn’t always play out well in a movie that is trying to fit everything in. Think if Game of Thrones was a 2-and-a-half-hour movie (or even two of them) and how each of the houses would have had to be compressed to 15-20 minutes of introduction.

Visually Dune is on a scale, unlike anything I’ve seen since Avatar. It is a movie that must be encountered on the biggest screen available (in my case that was in IMAX). The set, the vehicles, the planet itself cannot be properly viewed at home on a 65” television and if you aren’t anywhere near an IMAX you should at least find the next biggest venue. As an audience member, I was immediately immersed in the sand, the flying Ornithopters (Dragonfly shaped ships), and the massive sandworms. This all was brought to life by an absolutely breathtaking score from Hans Zimmer, one of my all-time favorite composers and an absolute masterpiece here. Do yourself a favor and see this in a theater where it absolutely deserves to be enjoyed.

The cast is absolute without a doubt one of the best ever assembled for such an epic masterpiece. Timothee Chalamet, does an incredible job as the young Paul Atreides. He brings an eagerness and brashness to the role that I think was desperately lacking in the 1984 film (sorry that’s really the only comparison I have). Zendaya in what could be one of her biggest roles however is sadly left sidelined for the bulk of the film, serving as mainly a woman in Paul’s visions. Let’s hope that when/if we see a part 2 she’ll have far more of the starring role I feel she deserves. Jason Mamoa portrays one of his best performances as Duncan and probably the biggest transformation (both in size and character development) goes to Stellan Skarsgard for his portrayal of the disgusting Baron Harkonnen.

If you are a fan of Dune in any medium (Book, movie, game) this is truly a masterpiece you’ve been waiting for. If you have any interest in space operas or visual spectacles this will be definitely right up your alley. While some barebones understanding of the source material certainly helps to make sense of the film, you can always follow it up later with reading (or watch it again when it premiers on HBOMAX as well). Dune is the grand epic that fans have waited for, it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Outside of potential budget constraints, it would make for an incredible series on HBO or Netflix. Potentially a backstory on each of the houses and how they came to power. Something that would certainly provide the additional build-up that sadly can’t be done in only two and a half hours. Dune is a spectacle of a generation and will be talked about long after it’s release on Blu-ray.

4.5 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

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