Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is heir to the throne of House Atreides, currently led by his father Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), who has just been given control of the planet Arrakis and its valuable spice operations. While Paul continues to have prophetic visions involving a young woman named Chani (Zendaya) and her Indigenous Fremen people, the competing House Harkonnen sets out to destroy House Atreides and gain control of spice for good.
I never read Frank Herbert’s legendary and influential Novel DUNE prior to seeing Co-Writer/Director Denis Villeneuve’s hugely-anticipated film. Reading that description alone made my head spin, and the idea of watching a densely layered Science Fiction epic in 2021 made me a bit concerned given the state of theatrical prior and during the age of COVID-19.
That heightened sense of caution evaporated mere moments into DUNE as Villeneuve and his team have created an instant all-timer and otherworldly masterpiece beyond your wildest imagination. Seriously, the Novel was considered unfilmable for decades after so many previous attempts fell flat. As it turns out, we were just waiting for a visionary like Villeneuve to get his hands on it before Herbert’s prose was finally done right. Fans will have no issue keeping up (and will easily pinpoint what has been excised), just as much as non-fans will be riveted by the warring faction drama. I had no problems following the story, and found that Villeneuve and his team did a superb job catering to both audience groups quite wonderfully.
While I commend the writing team for making DUNE so audience accessible, what has really stuck with me is the look and feel of the Film. Every visual element is stunning and crafted with laser-focused precision. The sets and extensive visual effects make the unreal look real, the makeup is remarkable and the details in the costuming are spectacular. The Sound Design is bold, thunderous and absolutely tremendous. I can come up with hundreds of verbs to describe all of these elements and more, and they still would not come close to accurately reflecting how great they all are. Hans Zimmer’s Score is a masterwork all in itself, taking everything he has learned over his decades of work and dialing it up well past 11. It is practically transcendent.
The only kink in the armour of Villeneuve’s epic vision is that it feels incomplete. Anyone following the Film’s development should know it is only Part 1 of the story, though it is still a bit defeating to see it called DUNE: Part 1 in the opening reel and watch it end on a cliffhanger. I understand and support Villeneuve’s decision to split the story – it enriches everything you are able to see here and has made me infinitely more excited to see how it all ends. Yet, it is challenging to review any of the performances or the overarching storyline because neither is fully realized. So many of the characters are one-note and have barely any time on-screen to make an impression (one character outright disappears with no indication of their fate). The exceptionally talented Cast all try their best – with Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, and Jason Momoa being the clear standouts – but in some places, they do not have anything to do other than be in position for what comes next. All of that said I left the theatre amped and immediately ready to see Part 2 (which I sincerely hope Villeneuve is given the opportunity to make), so here is hoping that these frustrations will not be long-term issues.
DUNE is incredible, must-see Filmmaking on the grandest scale possible. Villeneuve, his Cast and his Crew have created the kind of unique picture that will make you rethink what is possible to see on the silver screen. It transports you to new worlds and takes you on an extraordinary journey that you will not want to end. Every element is firing on all cylinders and I am still in awe of the Film’s scope and beauty weeks after seeing it. Yes, DUNE looks magnificent on the big screen, but I know it will look phenomenal on any screen (well, maybe not your 13” Shrek TV set gaining dust in the attic). Just make sure you are able to turn the volume way up when watching because the sound design will absolutely blow you away. It sets a very high precedent that will be difficult to match in the years to come. DUNE is everything you hope it would be and I have no doubt that you will be just as excited as I am to patiently wait and see just how Villeneuve’s monumental cinematic vision plays out next.
Be sure to check out David’s interviews with Denis Villeneuve and Rebecca Ferguson here.
Warner Bros. Canada release DUNE in theatres on Friday, October 22, 2021.
*Please exercise caution observing COVID-19 protocols if seeing this in-theatre*