Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, David Dastmalchian, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem.
Following David Lynch’s divisive adaptation, for years it felt like Dune was one of those stories that would never make it to the big screen in a satisfactory way.
Many adaptations have whirred into production before falling apart, but if there’s one filmmaker that knows about defying the odds, it’s Denis Villeneuve. The French-Canadian director was the one who brought us back to the world of Replicants in the astounding Blade Runner: 2049, and has cited Frank Herbert’s Dune as a passion project.
Having endured a pandemic and controversial HBO Max release, the film finally comes to screens in October. Is it worth the wait?
Is Denis Villeneuve’s Dune worth the wait?
Set in the distant future, Timothee Chalamet stars as Paul Atreides, heir to House Atreides and son of its patriarch, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) and his concubine Lady Jessica (Rachel Ferguson).
The Duke has accepted stewardship of the planet Arrakis, a rich source of the incredibly valuable material Melange or Spice.
As House Atreides arrives on the planet to take over the Spice mining operations, Leto faces several obstacles – a resentful native people known as Fremen, and the former steward of Arrakis, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård).
As a bitter betrayal unfolds, Paul realises that visions he has been having are indicative of powers that will make him a great leader, if he can only survive the planet’s deadly landscape.
This is very much ‘Dune: Part 1’
This is a truncated explanation of the plot, which only covers half of the first book (the title screen comes with a “Part One” caption).
However, from Paul’s first dreams of Fremen native Chani (Zendaya), the scale of what is being accomplished begins to sink in.
Combining the sensibilities of an arthouse drama with the budget of a blockbuster, it’s stunning to look at.
Our character dwells in stone palaces, surrounded by desert that flows like an ocean at times.
Scenes with the giant sandworms are so epic that it’s difficult to imagine enjoying it quite the same way on a phone or tablet.
This is large scale filmmaking with a brain, and it’s absolutely fantastic.
It’s not just gorgeous cinematography, however.
Unfolding like a Shakespearean power struggle, we see a talented cast form characters that feel lived in.
Isaac is a wise leader, and has some beautiful scenes with Chalamet, particularly an early walk by the coast where the pair talk about duty.
On the other side of things, Skarsgård is revolting as the worm-like enemy, barely recognisable under a mountain of slimy makeup.
He is the darkness of Dune, while Ferguson exists somewhere in the shadows.
Her devotion to her religion, and how it relates to her son’s destiny, make her an unpredictable element as things progress, but as ever the Oscar nominee brings a lot of passion to an essential role.
Chalamet was born to play Paul
Some notable names pop up in smaller parts as soldiers for the household.
Dave Bautista and Jason Momoa have some memorable scenes as enforcers for either side, while Josh Brolin is all business as he teaches Paul to fight.
Zendaya is only really seen in flashbacks, and like Javier Barden as Fremen leader Sildar, there’s a sense that this is a teaser for more expanded roles in a sequel.
No matter the size of the roles, all clearly relish being part of Villeneuve’s eye-catching tapestry, and none more than Chalamet.
Where many actors would have been making kissy faces at Marvel the moment they gained notoriety, the 25-year-old has opted for an interesting career path since breaking through in Call Me By Your Name.
He’s capable of heartfelt performances, and as the wilful-yet-unsure Paul he rises to the challenge of such a large spotlight.
He forms immediate bonds with his co-stars thanks to a vulnerability that isn’t often seen in films of this scale, while still remaining a believable force in action scenes, despite his frame being intentionally slighter than his beefy colleagues.
A story about a man’s destiny is hard to follow if you don’t care about the man, and Chalamet makes sure you’re with him each step of the way.
Will it be a hit?
Read more: Dune Rumoured To Be Delayed Until Early 2021
Whether or not Dune is the arrival of a new blockbuster franchise is hard to say.
While the ending and the subtitle “Part One” make it clear this is only the beginning, the complex piece stands apart in a world filled with superheroes and death-defying street racers.
However, Villeneuve has managed to take what has often felt like an impossibly dense source material and make cinematic majesty.
Many people will encourage you to see new releases on as big a screen as possible.
With a masterful spectacle like Dune, it’s practically a commandment.
Dune is in cinemas from 22nd October.
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