News Editorial Assistant Niloufar Shahbandi reviews Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” in a guest piece for A&E.
After many failed endeavors to portray “Dune” on the big screen, Denis Villeneuve has taken a shot at depicting the complex and imaginative world of Paul Atreides and Arrakis. The novel by Frank Herbert, which has sold over 20 million copies, has been deemed as one the “greatest science fiction books ever written.” The film which runs two hours and 35 minutes long, covers only half of the 800 page novel.
“Dune” takes place in a far away galaxy in 10191. The story follows Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) who is sent to the planet Arrakis with his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and father, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) to rule after the previous rulers, the abusive Harkonnens are banished by the Emperor. Arrakis holds many dangers, with its uninhabitable desert landscape, the fierce desert-dwelling Fremen, and massive, destructive sandworms. Despite these troubles, Arrakis is a valuable possession, as it holds the key to interstellar travel— spice. Whoever controls Arrakis controls spice, thereby placing them in a position of immense power. It is over this last issue that fighting breaks out to determine who will be in control.
Villeneuve’s casting in the film is spot on. Chalamet fits the mold of a 15-year-old who is in a place of power without awareness of how to use it and Rebecca Ferguson as his caring, yet authoritative mother works well. The film also does an impressive job incorporating all of the nuances of “Dune”’s complex universe. The film requires lots of exposition: the witchlike behavior of the Bene Gesserit, the prophecy of Muad’Dib, the brooding threat of the Harkonnens, and the secretive ways of the Fremen. The explanatory dialogue may feel tedious to those who already read the novel, but runs smoothly for those who haven’t. Despite this, the film’s explanations are somewhat surface-level and admittedly the logic of the film’s events might not make sense to the latter. To counteract this lack of context, Villenevue hints at larger things brewing below the surface — both literally and figuratively. He foments this speculation through Paul’s dreams; montages of a character we later meet, Chani (Zendaya), who we can assume will be significant in Paul’s upcoming journey among the Fremen.
While missing the psychedelic ambiance that Herbert originally intended for his novel, Villeneuve’s portrayal is consistent with his personal style: cold and soulless as seen in “Arrival” and “Prisoners.” While the film may have benefited more from using a more evocative and bright design, emblematic of the desert heat, Villeneuve’s vision places more emphasis on the futuristic aspects of “Dune.” His depiction stands in complete contrast with what other directors imagined the film to be. David Lynch directed the dreadful 1984 adaptation of “Dune,” a film with a lackluster narrative and menial imagery. Alejandro Jodorowsky, a Chilean filmmaker in the 1970’s, aspired to make “Dune” a psychedelic experience. The film was set to star David Carradine and Salvador Dali, with music by Pink Floyd. However, the film was never made as Hollywood studios deemed the project too costly.
“Dune” relies heavily on its visuals to gravitate viewers towards the film. Images of sandstorms, desert cities, and high-tech space ships are compelling. Villenevue infuses this imagery with a more human aspect, like continuous images of Chani within the desert landscape looking back at the audience. Unfortunately, the marketing of the film geared too heavily toward Zendaya’s character, whom we only get to meet at the end of the film. Chani’s character is left in the air without any major developments, yet she appears in most of the advertising. This loosely applies to character relationships in the film as well, which were not fully developed. Exploring Duke Leto and Lady Jessica’s love for each other would’ve added dimension to their seemingly cold relationship as well as provide context for the Bene Gesserit’s distaste for Lady Jessica and Paul. For now, audiences will have to wait to see whether or not such characters will be further explored in 2023’s “Dune Part Two.”
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Mimoa, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin
Release Date: October 22, 2021
Images courtesy of TV Insider and Highland Piper.