When you pair the mercurial French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve with an all-star cast (featuring Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Ferguson, and Josh Brolin), you can expect fireworks. You can also expect a film worth a rating of at least a 7.5 out of 10; he is one of only a few filmmakers alive that “never misses.” And Dune is up there with Arrival and Sicario as one of Villeneuve’s greatest films. Granted, this brand new adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel series has some flamboyant flaws. The pacing is uneven. The screenplay is too cluttered—boasting several films’ worth of giant sandworms, colossal spaceships, cosmic mercenaries, CGI, and galactic political drama. Plus the ostensible level of ambition conveyed in the constant flow of action unfolding on enormous, high-budget sets is almost underwhelming in the sense that viewers gradually become desensitized by how monumental this project is. Perhaps a better way to think about that remark is to consider that a goal in a soccer game is more exciting than a successful free throw in a basketball game because there are so many points scored in a basketball game that the excitement is diluted. And to extend the metaphor, a similar experience can be forecasted when you have a film like Dune that is constantly knocking down half-court logo threes, so to speak. Regardless, the blockbuster we have been waiting for all year is a thrilling victory for high-budget action cinema, with a taste of Villeneuve’s avant-garde flair and an ending that galvanizes excitement for the film’s upcoming sequel.
In essence, Dune is a hero’s journey that follows the development of a young man named Paul Atreides. Set in a high-tech universe with advanced civilizations (as well as unadvanced ones), interstellar travel, authoritarian forces, and constant galactic strife over who wields the most power, Paul’s world is a mesmerizing one. He is the son of a powerful duke who single-handedly controls multiple planets and a mother who contains clandestine supernatural powers. In his father’s quest to become one of the most powerful people in the universe, the family dynasty travels to the most dangerous planet in the universe (with the intention to take control of, distribute, and profit from the sale of an extremely sought-after substance that is unique to the planet). But this quest is certainly no easy task, and Atreides quickly find malevolent forces—some hailing from this planet itself, some originating from other planets—converging on their new settlement. Paul, who is suspected by natives to be “The Chosen One” who will become the emperor of the universe and bring stability to it, emerges as a target and has to utilize his extensive training to survive and become his own realized self. Along the way, we encounter a titanic assortment of people (a few with benevolent intentions and many with sinister ones) until the story spirals into a spirited pandemonium of organized chaos.
As for the nature of the film’s themes and such, its scope is too far-reaching for me to even begin to elucidate it. Yet what I will emphasize is that Dune enjoys the stunt choreography of a cutting-edge action feature; the textures, decoration, and score (composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer) of an elite drama; and the spectacular cast, cinematography, visual effects, and sound of a high-budget Marvel film. On the flip side, Dune does carry a load so heavy that it eventually finds itself unable to carry this any further. And to some, it may just feel like an elaborate spree of well-done scenes that prove to be unfulfilling in the end. Part of this can be blamed on Covid-19. The pandemic—which forced many industries, including Hollywood, to shift to an increasing reliance on remote work—was the source of some issues I noticed with the visual effects and sound editing. Then again, the pandemic lowered the general standard of cinema, so Dune is still a success relative to the other box office hits of 2021. I’m still on the fence in my general standing with this film; I love the director and the actors, but it didn’t quite live up to my high expectations. Still, if you feel like going to the theaters or you have HBO Max, you can check Dune out for yourself today. It isn’t a masterpiece that will forever shape your life, but—like all HBO productions—it is significantly better than the average production churning out of the robust Hollywood cinema industrial complex.