Denis Villeneuve’s latest film “Dune”, which is based on the first half of Frank Herbert’s 1965 science fiction novel, sometimes felt like a sweat to me. While the movie kept me impressed or mesmerized thanks to its sheer visual power you must experience yourself via big and wide screen, it also often looked like a long and extended preparation step for whatever will follow after its final scene, and I can only hope that its following sequel will live up to the tantalizing promise so solemnly and majestically presented on the screen during its 155-minute running time.
At the beginning, the movie promptly throws us into the plot while often giving us a bit of background information here and there. In the far future, the humanity has expanded its realm over the universe thanks to the considerable technological advances during more than 8000 years, and the realm are divided by several different powerful noble families under the absolute power of their emperor. One of these noble families is House Atreides, and, for a reason to be revealed gradually along the story, the emperor recently orders House Atreides to occupy a planet named Arrakis instead of House Harkonnen, which has incidentally ruled over Arrakis for last several decades.
Arrakis is also known as “Dune” for a good reason. This planet is full of deserts which are quite harsh for any living organism due to their aggressively hot and dry environment, and there are also a bunch of big giant sandworms which will swallow anything to be detected by them via sounds, but these hot and barren desert areas are also have been the main source of a special substance named ‘melange’, which is also called ‘spice’. Because it is absolutely necessary for interstellar navigation, spice has been one of the most valuable commodities in the whole universe, and that is how House Harkonnen has ruthlessly devoted itself to mining spice by any means necessary despite the considerable resistance from a defiant native tribe called Fremen.
As the head of House Atreides, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) accepts the order from the emperor without any question, but he is already well aware of a tricky circumstance into which he walks. It seems that the emperor deliberately puts him in the charge of Arrakis for some hidden purpose, and he also may have to deal with the ire of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), who is the head of House Harkonnen and is certainly not so pleased about this recent transfer of Arrakis from him to Duke Atreides.
In the meantime, the movie slowly reveals the center of the story, and that is none other than Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), who is the ducal heir of House Atreides as the sole son of Duke Atreides. Mainly because of his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), he has been watched by an old secret society to which his mother has belonged, and, after his clandestine meeting with the head of that secret society played by Charlotte Rampling, it looks like he is the one for which that secret society has been planning and waiting.
Now you may find yourself busy with processing what I have described during several last paragraphs, but the screenplay by Villeneuve and his co-writers Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth, which is mostly faithful to the intricate narrative of Herbert’s novel, still has a lot more stuffs and characters to dole out along its increasingly sprawling plot. Besides the Fremen clan mainly represented by its stern leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem), there are also many substantial characters including Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), the weapon master of House Atreides; Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson), the head of intelligence of House Atreides; Dr. Wellington Yueh (Chang Chen), the doctor employed by House Atreides; Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), the swordmaster of House Atreides; Glossu Rabban (Dave Bautista), the monstrous nephew of Baron Harkonnen; Dr. Liet-Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster), the Imperial ecologist and judge of the change on Arrakis; and Chani (Zendaya), who is Stilgar’s daughter and may have an important role in Paul’s future as reflected by his recurring prophetic dreams.
I must confess that, as trying to follow and process the plot and characters, I sometime felt impatient when I watched the movie at last night, but I also admire what is so grandly and awesomely achieved under Villeneuve’s skillful direction. While the production design by Patrice Vermette and the costumes designed by Bob Morgan and Jacqueline West are top-notch to say the least, there are heaps of bleak but undeniably stunning visual moments to be savored thanks to cinematographer Greig Fraser, and I am sure that Fraser will be definitely Oscar-nominated along with several other main crew members of the film including composer Hans Zimmer, who expectedly provides another typical bass-heavy score of his for constantly emphasizing the epic scale of the movie from the beginning to the end.
The main cast members of the movie fill their broad archetype roles with each own distinctive presence. While Timothée Chalamet ably holds the center as a reluctant young man who is not so sure about himself while also afraid of his destiny to come, Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson bring some poignancy to their characters’ little private moment, and Stellan Skarsgård and Javier Bardem are reliable as usual while having some small fun with their colorful supporting roles in different ways.
In conclusion, “Dune” is an admirable opening chapter to be appreciated for its mood, visual, and performance, and I recommend it despite some reservation. Like when I watched Villeneuve’s previous film “Blade Runner 2049” (2017), I was not exactly entertained a lot even while I was excited and delighted by its technical aspects, but I am glad that I watched it on big screen at least, and I think you should also try that.