“Dune: Part I” Review

Film: Dune

Running Time: 155 Minutes

Age Rating: 12A

Starring: Timothy Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Jason Mamoa, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista

Director: Dennis Villeneuve

Following the story of Paul Atreides (Timothy Chalamet) as his family take charge of the most important planet in the universe, Arrakis (nicknamed Dune), this huge political sci fi epic finally gets it’s release after various delays and pandemic problems. With a colossal scale and incredible set pieces, this is a must see for the big screen.

Written by Frank Herbert in the mid 1960s, Dune tells the story of a young duke, Paul Atreides attempting to find his way in the vast cosmos that is the Dune Universe. His family have just been given control of the most important planet in the universe, Arrakis, due to it’s concentration of spice, the most valuable substance known in the galaxy as it is responsible for Interstellar travel. The previous guardians, House Harkonnen are not happy with this and seek revenge on their replacements, House Atreides. As Paul and his family arrive on Dune they have to deal with old enemies, new alliances and a harsh planet literally filled with things trying to kill them.

This story has been attempted to be adapted numerous times, the most infamous of which was by director Alejandro Jadorowsky in the mid 70s – an ill fated attempt that at one point saw Salvador Dali cast as the emperor, demanding a fee of $100,000 per hour to appear. Sadly this never made it to the big screen, but David Lynch did manage to get his adaption made roughly a decade later, famously moving away from Herbert’s original script and being as off the wall as you would expect with Lynch being at the helm. Nearly forty years later, Quebeqouis director Dennis Villeneuve has his turn, adapting the story over two, now possibly three films and having the luxury of technology to help turn this epic sci fi into a reality that his predecessors lacked.

Full disclosure, I’m predisposed to like this film. Huge sci-fi fan, even bigger Dennis Villeneuve fan, and have even read the books the film is based upon. So as the middle of ven diagrams go, I’m right in the middle of that particular sweetspot in order to ensure my enjoyment during this particular big screen adaptation. With Hans Zimmer scoring and Greig Fraser as cinematographer, everything is set up for this to be a huge collection of major talent. If only it had the cast to match. You know, it would have been nice to some really Hollywood A Listers to go with all this experience behind the camera. Oh wait, its only got Timothy Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Jason Mamoa, Charlotte Rampling, Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin. To name just a few!

Let’s get the negatives out the way first shall we? To quote another film critic, it is not without it’s flaws. This film is very dense. Whilst it deserves it’s description as a huge Hollywood blockbuster, it’s not the most accessible of films. You have to pay attention and really immerse yourself in the lore discussed in the dialogue. Absolutely don’t go out for a pee unless you have to, and with a run time of over two hours and thirty minutes, this is no mean feat. That may sound like a long film, and you know what, you’re right , it is. There are definite lulls in the pacing, and if it wasn’t for a huge set piece about two thirds of the way through, you wouldn’t be blamed for glancing at your watch a few times. And if it wasn’t for some well chosen moments from Mamoa, the film could be accused of being pretty humourless.

Having said that, this is definitely not an unengaging script. Whilst the lore is heavy and the exposition full on, Villeneuve never talks down to his audience so the result is a film that trusts you are intelligent to grasp the concepts, without overloading you with too much lore and unfamiliar vocab so that you lose interest. This well thought out script combined with some stand out performances combines to make every scene truly watchable. Everyone’s on top acting form here and is superbly cast. From Mamoa’s cheerful Duncan Idaho (best character name ever) to Josh Brolin’s morose Gurney. Stellan Skarsgård is virtually unrecognizable as the closest thing this story gets to and out and out villain. There a few that have been given less to do in this first installment, but presumably will have a much bigger role in Part II, noticeably Zendaya and Bardem. Chalamet and Ferguson have the most to do here and boy do they throw themselves into it. The intensity and depth they manage to get across with these central performances is quite remarkable, to the stage where, including all the moments with crashing spaceships, desert ambushes and towering sandworms, one of the most engaging scenes in the whole film takes place in a tent between this mother and son.

But the aspect that truly took my breath away, that vaults this film from pretty good into truly magnificent is how it has translated onto the big screen. Anyone who’s seen any of Villeneuve’s previous works will know he has an eye for scale. And combined with Fraser’s cinematography, good god is this a good looking film. Bringing Dune, a desert planet, to life and not making it completely dull was quite a challenge to begin with. Each scene, each set piece, each room has been drawn up with such meticulous detail that it’s impossible to not be instantly drawn into this strange, crazy world. In contrast to Lynch’s extravagant vibrant version, Villeneuve takes a very measured approach. The whole colour palette of the film is filled with dull greys, shades of brown and the of course, beige.

Yet this is the least beige film you will ever see. Epic, huge set pieces combined with an intelligent rich script and underlined with a bombastic Zimmer score make a fitting recipe for a truly enthralling watch from start to finish.

With the budget estimated to be well over $160million, there was a huge concern that even releasing it now, Dune would “Do a Tenet” and not take nearly the money it needed to in order to warrant the cost, and would also dash Villeneuve’s dream of making a sequel. These fears were put to rest this week though as Dune Part II was given a 2023 release date, and I for one can’t wait.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10 – Classic