First published in 1965, Frank Herbert’s Dune is nothing short of a science-fiction bible. A story that created a world, mythology and franchise that is as popular today as it was then. And yet it is a book that has struggled on the big screen.
David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation has been much maligned but is in fact a film that successfully captures Herbert’s tome of a novel. Where Lynch’s film struggles is under the sheer weight of trying to cover such a dense story, not to mention vast appendix, into one coherent film.
So it was with a gasp of excitement that Denis Villeneuve announced he was to make his dream project in an adaptation of Dune. Fresh off the back of injecting something heartbreakingly original into the Blade Runner universe Dune felt like a perfect fit for a filmmaker whose output has never been anything less than fascinating.
The film follows Herbert’s novel – at least the first half of the book – almost to a tee. In the distant future the most sought after substance in the universe is Spice. Harvested on the planet Arrakis, also known as Dune, it has become a place of political fighting. The Emperor has decided that Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Issac) will become the supervisor of Arrakis. Traveling to the planet with him are his son Paul (Timothee Chalamet) and wife Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). What the Atreides soon learn is that the previous stewards of Dune, the vicious Harkonen, led by Baron Harkonen (Stellan Skarsgard) have other ideas.
Before we carry on it is key we get something out of the way which the film’s marketing has kept secret until it’s release; this is very much Part One of Dune. Not the first part of a franchise, although with any hope that will be the case, but Part One of Herbet’s source novel. As such one of the film’s only flaws is that it is incomplete. For some this will be frustrating, for others it more than whets the appetite for what is to come, and the good news is, off the back of this film’s success, there will be a second installment.
That being said, Villeneuve’s vision is typically jaw-dropping. His lens doing for Arrakis what David Lean did for the desert. It feels real, gritty, expansive and utterly alien while feeling achingly familiar. There are moments of such beauty that have you beaming with excitement as to the possibilities beneath the sand. And when said possibilities arise from the depths they are a magnificent spectacle of cinematic achievement.
What this Dune does so well is create a world that feels lived-in. Yes, there are a lot of politics going on but they are always handled in a similar fashion to Game Of Thrones, that sense of every word being spoken is going to resonate if not now then later down the line. And, unlike Lynch’s film, it doesn’t get too bogged down with it all, there is no whispered, Malick-esque voice-overs going on here, in fact the dialogue at times it quite sparse, verging on Western rather than heavy-exposition Sci-fi.
The cast is a collection of whose hot right now and all are brilliant. But two standouts shine brightest. Rebecca Ferguson flexes acting muscles until this point not seen before. Her Lady Jessica is brimming with rage and yet always maternal, a black widow just waiting to destroy all those who threaten her or her son. Chalamet meanwhile carries this colossus of a film on his young shoulders without flinching. His young prince is at first naive before growing ever stronger in the force, it is a role that could easily have become one-dimensional and yet in Chalamet’s hands it feels strong, fragile and warm all at once.
A staggering and breathtaking first look into the world of Arrakis, Dune is a true cinematic opera, played out with the most ferocious visuals in mainstream cinema.