For a long time Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune was considered to be “unfilmable,” likely due to the complex plot and deeper themes. This notion has proven itself true over several failed attempts thus far, but the latest by noted director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) has decided to try splitting the tome into two separate, lengthy films to avoid having to make too many major cuts or changes. It’s a bold move, considering that whether or not the sequel actually gets made hinges on the performance of this movie, which will not be helped by the ongoing pandemic and the fact that it is available to stream for HBO Max subscribers from day one. While Warner Bros. has very recently indicated that part 2 will almost certainly get greenlit, just be aware that this was made with the idea that it would happen very much in mind, and so ends in a way that isn’t exactly a cliffhanger, but leaves a lot of things unresolved.
The story takes place in the year 10191 as the powerful House Atreides is assigned by their interplanetary Emperor to take over ruling the planet Arrakis from the cruelly violent House Harkonnen. Arrakis is the only planet in the empire known to have the valuable material known as Spice, which is a necessity for human interstellar travel, and therefore extremely valuable. Fans of Game of Thrones will suspect that things can’t possibly be that simple however, and they would be right. What follows is full of political maneuvering, literal and metaphorical backstabbing, and war; all as the only child of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), Paul (Timothée Chalamet), begins to discover just who he is and what it means for himself and the Empire going forward.
There is a lot going on here, so those that don’t pay close attention may find themselves feeling lost, but even as someone who has never read or watched any previous version of this material I found it easy enough to follow along, even with some of the weirder elements present throughout. The absolutely stacked cast all do excellent jobs, even while some are only on screen very briefly. Chalamet is fantastic as always, which is a good thing as much of the film rests squarely on his performance. This is always a spectacular movie to look at as well, with the desert landscapes used to gorgeous effect and some of the more imaginative technology designs in recent cinema (the dragonfly inspired craft and the flickering force fields in particular stand out).
While there are some more philosophical moments scattered throughout, the script mostly stays away from that. It does seem that it will likely have more to say about religion going forward, but that is only hinted at here. Instead it seems to mostly focus on what those in power are willing to do to both people and planets in order to maintain control over any resource deemed valuable, which anyone who has seen what we are currently willing to do for oil, coal, and the like can attest is not exactly pretty. Though it is pretty clear that’s what is going on it doesn’t beat you over the head with the message. It may be both prettier and deeper than most blockbuster fare, but it’s still made to entertain the viewer, and at least for me it did that in spades. ★★★★★
Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing images, and suggestive material.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor