Since the absolute flop of the first cinematic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” in the 80s by David Lynch, many people in the pop culture sphere thought the ground-breaking sci-fi novel was impossible to bring to life in a pleasing package. This 2021 fall movie season has proven that myth wrong.
The film, directed by Denis Villenueve, stars Timothee Chalamet of “Call Me by Your Name” fame as Paul Atreides, the son and heir to the Atreides dukedom centered on the planet Caladan. Atreides’ family is gifted the economically lucrative planet Arrakis by the Emperor of the Known Universe and this gift sparks an interplanetary blood feud between the so-called Great Houses, namely House Atreides and the previous owners of planet Arrakis, House Harkonnen. Arrakis’s economic value comes from the mysterious sand-like spice that covers its surface. This spice makes space travel possible via navigators who ingest the spice and, through its hallucinogenic properties, are able to perceive safe paths through the universe while traveling faster than light. However, the spice is dangerous to harvest due to the gigantic sandworms that burrow beneath the planet’s surface. The Atreides’ arrival is also complicated by the treatment of the native peoples, the Fremen, by House Harkonnen before them.
Villenueve’s resume of movies can be boiled down to incredible environmental shots and intriguing interpersonal interaction for characters. “Dune” certainly continues that legacy, but Villenueve excels over his previous work in this film. His directing choices truly bring this vibrant sci-fi world to life in a way that David Lynch simply couldn’t. This is partly because Villenueve is far more accustomed to sci-fi than Lynch was in the 80s, having directed “Blade Runner: 2049” and “Arrival” prior to “Dune.” This is also because Villenueve was essentially given the choice between making a four-hour cinematic experience (which was untenable to producers, movie theatres, and audience members) or he could make an extremely solid “Part One” and if box office sales are good, he would get to do part two (which has already been announced as coming in 2023).
2021’s “Dune” soars over the adaptation from the 80s for one reason in particular: this film takes its time. The original novel is notorious for throwing readers into the deep end with terminology and dense lore, but the film version uses a kinder approach. Much like the novel, there isn’t an exorbitant amount of exposition that bogs down actual scenes between characters, but Villenueve’s direction tells the lore and worldbuilding without ever saying a word. A great example of this is when Duke Leto Atreides, Paul’s father, asks his advisor Thurifer how far an Imperial envoy traveled to their planet, Thurifer’s eyes gloss over for a moment and he answers the question with incredible speed and precision. This tells the viewer that Thurifer is doing something unusual and able to provide answers quickly without ever bogging down the narrative with clunky exposition.
“Dune” is the story that inspired Star Wars, and to finally have a worthy adaptation is exciting. The film’s success might birth a franchise on par with the success of Star Wars. “Dune” receives an A-plus rating.