Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem
Movie length: 2 hours 36 minutes
Dune is an investment. It’s 2 hours and 35 minutes fly by, but it still stretches the bounds of how long someone can sit down for a movie. More importantly, Dune is clearly intended to tell a story over multiple movies. If you are looking for a resolution, you will be disappointed. But for those willing to be patient, Dune is a sci-fi film worth your time.
Dune is the latest adaptation of a classic 1965 novel by Frank Herbert, which had multiple sequels. The story is a sprawling galactic space opera centering around a planet where ‘spice’ – the galaxy’s most valuable resource – is mined. This adaptation feels faithful to the novel (which I admittedly read many years ago).
Unlike most movies based on books, Dune doesn’t take shortcuts. Much like chapters in a book, the story carefully lays out the premise and explains why things are happening. This adds to the length of the movie, but makes it accessible to people unfamiliar with the source material without boring longtime Dune fans, who will recognize the blue eyes and of course, the sand worms. It feels similar to Game of Thrones in terms of scope and political intrigue, and pulling it off in a movie instead of a TV series is an accomplishment. The movie isn’t isn’t trying to hide the ball – it foreshadows exactly what is going to happen. This, coupled with a foreboding musical score, adds a great deal of tension.
Dune is a gorgeous film. The technology looks both futuristic and gritty. The dragonfly helicopters were awesome and the personal shield technology is the source of some of the movie’s best special effects. The major action set piece is impressive in scale and the individual fight choreography is well executed. The desert and the special effects employed in it are beautiful in ways you wouldn’t expect. How much can you do with tons of sand? It turns out a lot. Most importantly, the glimpses of the iconic sandworms are stunning.
While this was an entertaining movie and an excellently faithful book adaptation, it isn’t perfect. The movie boasts an A-list cast and strong performances. Unfortunately, there are almost too many great characters to give each his due (you’ll be surprised how few lines some characters have). Dune also relies a bit too heavily on visions of the future which feels like a storytelling crutch. The but real weakness to this movie is its ending. Dune eschews the normal storytelling cadence and puts its major climatic fight scene in the middle of the movie. After that there’s a small conflict and then the movie just ends, clearly to be picked up in a future film. Even some of the future visions are not resolved, apparently taking place in the next movie. It doesn’t feel arbitrarily padded for a cash grab like the Hobbit movies, but it is an odd place for a break. You’ll leave wanting more, but you’ll have to be patient for the next installment. Dune also made me want to go re-read the book, which is probably the highest praise I can give a movie.
Here is the podcast version of this review on Through the Lens featuring a special guest reviewer. And I finally figured out which movie I was thinking about – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets! https://anchor.fm/darren-shulman/episodes/Dune-Review-e19c9gn
Dune is now playing in theaters as well as streaming through November 21 on HBO Max.
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