Upon hearing that an adaptation of Dune was in the works, the diligent English student in me attempted to read Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel. I gave up fairly quickly due to the heavy world – building, one of the reasons this book is infamously unadaptable. A subsequent failure to watch the notoriously weird David Lynch adaptation meant that I went into the film blind, with no prior knowledge of the characters, story or setting. I can pat myself on the back and say that my decision to avoid all previous Dune content was a conscious one to keep my mind fresh, or I could put it down to laziness. Either way, it served me well. Villeneuve has made the unadaptable accessible: the brilliant mind behind Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival has risen to the challenge like only he can.
Dune is a beautiful film. The pacing is slow and deliciously indulgent, the visuals arresting and dreamy. Greig Fraser’s stunning cinematography makes it worth the watch alone: the reds and oranges of the hallucinogenic sand mingle within Paul’s visions and seem almost to float out of the screen. Hans Zimmer’s spiritual score adds to this sweeping beauty. He relies heavily on female voices throughout to assert that “the female characters drive the story” and has produced three separate soundtracks in tandem with the film (you can listen to those here)
While the necessity for small amounts of exposition cannot be avoided due to the sheer richness of Frank Herbert’s world (with Villeneuve choosing to do justice to this by making Dune the first in a series), the plot has here been reduced to something relatively easy to understand. Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) and his family are given stewardship of the planet of Arrakis by the emperor, and have no choice but to relocate there. The Harkonnen, the house previously in power, are reluctant to relinquish it, and struggles for dominance mingle with sand rebellions and spice harvesting. Throw in a couple of giant sand worms, Stellan Starsgard as the evil Baron Harkonnen floating above the ground, political intrigue and nifty space – gadgets, and you have Dune, a two and a half hour epic that left me wanting an immediate rewatch. Rebecca Ferguson gives a great performance as Lady Jessica, torn between loyalty to her religious order and her family and convinced that her son Paul is the Kwisatz Haderach (Messiah).
Chalamet plays to type as a young man forced to come to terms with his blossoming adulthood, with greatness being very much thrust upon him. His performance is good, although in the true Chalamet way, a little studied. Zendaya is, disappointingly, only afforded about 15 minutes of screen-time, a feature I look forward to see rectified in future films.
While the abruptness of the film’s ending has been criticised by some, it only served to make me more excited for the upcoming instalments. The production of these, however, depends entirely on the success of the first film. I wouldn’t worry though – if the general audience reaction is half as positive as mine, Warner Bros. will be churning out Dune films for years to come.