Denis Villeneuve has turned the unfilmable science fiction book ‘Dune’ into a spectacle, something that even David Lynch failed to do. The future of the universe is at stake, but more importantly, that of cinema too. After ‘Blade runner 2049’ Villeneuve has once again managed to control an untouchable pop culture phenomenon
“Dreams are messages from the deep.” With a subliminal message the tone is set at the start in Dune, a spectacular cinema experience that both overwhelms the senses and acts on the subconscious. For example, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has finally made the film adaptation that deserved the 1965 book of the same name.
Alejandro Jodorowsky bit into the sand in the 1970s with his megalomaniac effort that failed to make it past the script stage, while David Lynch went nuts with his version in 1984. After Blade runner 2049 Villeneuve has once again managed to bend an untouchable pop culture phenomenon, with a riveting spectacle that does Frank Herbert’s book all the credit.
Or at least the first half, of the first book, of a book series that resulted in sequels, prequels and games. Dune summarizing is like telling the Bible as a joke, and you can feel that Villeneuve also struggled with it: the film consists of one long structure, and it is doubtful whether all viewers can immediately grasp all the necessary context.
Totally agree with Timothy
The year is 10191 and our hero, Paul Atreides, must prematurely follow in the footsteps of his father, Duke of Caladan. From those words alone you can tell that this story could just as well have been set in 1019: in Dune the future is centuries old, only here there is a battle for planets instead of for shires. House Atreides has just been granted custody of planet Arrakis, which is nothing but desert and is known as ‘Dune’.
A masterstroke is the casting of Timothée Chalamet in the lead role: the androgynous actor seems to have been born for this character of a boy who bears far too great a responsibility on his narrow shoulders, but who also inherited a mysterious, psychic power from his mother. He can use it well, because the previous owners of Arrakis, the evil Harkonnens, want their share of the pie. The planet Dune is almost unlivable due to its lack of water, but also immeasurably precious, because of the rare raw material that is extracted there. The spice – or ‘species’ – has hallucinatory effects, and also serves as fuel for intergalactic travel.
The war for raw materials that Herbert alluded to in 1965 has now become even more pressing. The unlivable desert landscape also gains an extra dimension for contemporary viewers with the advancing climate warming, while the colonization of the local desert people still resounds.
Villeneuve keeps all those themes in the background, while impressing with spectacular battle scenes and beautiful designs, such as the egg-shaped spaceships. And for the fans: the giant worms are also resurfacing, like big black holes that swallow everything – someone has to pour the anal obsession for those wormholes into a PhD.
One of the encounters with such a worm seems straight out of a previous Villeneuve film, Arrival, to come. Not only aesthetically but also thematically, Dune is very much in line with the previous science fiction film in which Villeneuve went into space and the subconscious at the same time. Multilingualism also played a major role in that film. But Villeneuve simply stays as close to the book as possible here.
However, that also has limitations. So you can only conclude that Dune feels recognizable. Another movie about a boy who must succeed his father in a battle against Evil – that’s very much an adventure story for boys from 1965, rather than for m/f/x in 2021.
This recognisability also comes into play because Dune already had an invaluable influence on Star wars. Sigh: then Hollywood will come up with a new franchise, and then it will be based on a book that already resulted in the most successful film series of all time – after the Marvel films. Dune looks like a Star wars without the humor – with that too Villeneuve remained true to the source (and to himself).
You can also look at this positively: Villeneuve has dared to shoot a big budget film without pleasing the audience with putting things into perspective and stupid droids. And do you want a Dune to laugh with, there’s always Lynch’s. In addition, unlike Star wars touches the new Dune also address socially relevant themes. Only, could it be more? Certainly in the last hour you keep hoping for a flash of genius, for one last finale in the subconscious à la 2001: a space odyssey.
Warner Bros. is waiting
Is this the future of the medium of film, or rather the past? Soon we will not only get annual Star Wars movies in the cinema (and derivatives on Disney+), but also the Dune-series. Because this first film full of visionary dreams speaks above all about Villeneuve’s vision: a successful franchise. Hollywood studio Warner Bros. remains cautious and waits to see if this film becomes a blockbuster before it gets the green light for the sequel. Hence Villeneuve’s opposition to Warner’s strategy of releasing the film in the US simultaneously on the HBO Max streaming service and in the cinemas: for example, they will soon be urging him that the film brought in less than expected, while he did not get every opportunity in the cinema.
You can ask all those kinds of things. But you can also simply enjoy a roaring, thundering spectacle that makes the cinema shake to its foundations. I think I’ll take another look.
From: Denis Villeneuve, 155 min.
Met: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya