From: Silver Screen

REVIEW: Spiced to perfection — ‘Dune’ continues Villeneuve’s spectacular sci-fi spree

REVIEW: Spiced to perfection — ‘Dune’ continues Villeneuve’s spectacular sci-fi spree
Caption: Timothée Chalamet as “Paul Atreides” and Rebecca Ferguson as “Lady Jessica Atreides” in “Dune.”

This isn’t your father’s “Dune (1984).” 

“Dune (2021),” helmed by Denis Villeneuve, brings Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel to the 21st century with a star-studded cast, explosive setpieces and cinematic scenes of galactic proportions. 

In the far future, House Atreides, a House Major in the Galactic Padishah Empire, has been granted control of Arrakis — the most valuable planet known to man for its abundance of spice — a drug that enables superhuman thought and, more importantly, space travel. The film revolves around Duke Leto Atreides’ (Oscar Isaac) son, Paul (Timothée Chalamet), whose mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is a part of the Bene Gesserit, a sisterhood of political actors with telepathic abilities. Unlike the previous rulers of Arrakis, the menacing and brutal rival House Harkonnen, Leto sees an alliance with the local people, called the Fremen, as the key to bringing peace to the planet. The ruthless Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), however, launches a surprise attack on the Atreides base leaving Paul in a desperate game of survival. 

The film isn’t just a sci-fi drama about interstellar politics and betrayal; this is, above all, Paul’s journey of greatness, as he is destined to be more than just the future of House Atreides. He constantly searches for the meaning behind his dreams, which are always set on Arrakis and feature a mysterious Fremen woman named Chani (Zendaya). Chalamet plays Paul to a tee: his performance captures the slow maturity of the character in little nuances. From practicing his inherited Bene Gesserit powers to dueling Fremen to prove his worth, Chalamet makes his presence known, a feat that’s impressive when surrounded by a truly incredible cast. 

That’s not to say that the other stars of this film stand idly by. Every minor character is portrayed with commitment and purpose; Josh Brolin as a senior military advisor and mentor to Paul, Gurney Halleck, and Paul’s close friend Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) stand out as they’re involved in some of the most memorable scenes. In fact, the swaggering, sarcastic, sword-buckling portrayal of Idaho might as well be Momoa’s most effortless role — he’s essentially playing himself. 

But if there is one word that captures the experience of seeing “Dune” on the big screen, it’s atmosphere. The vast desert landscapes of Arrakis are made up of rich textures and mystical shapes. As we see the shimmering spice float through the air and sift through someone’s fingers as they grab a fistful of sand, it’s as if we were there, feeling the effects of the wondrous drug ourselves. Other planets, like the Atreides’ ocean-covered home of Caladan, or the menacingly metallic and minimalistic throne room of the nefarious Baron Harkonnen, feel otherworldly and intriguingly innovative.

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Paul learns to navigate the different dangers in the desert, like walking across the sand with arrhythmic movements to avoid the gargantuan sandworms that lie beneath the surface — they use vibrations and rhythm to strike and devour anything in their path. A thrilling sequence features Leto and Paul’s rescue of several spice harvesters after their transport fails to extract them: the sandworm, after sensing the vibrations of the harvesters, engulfs the entire surface of their massive vehicle in what can only be described as a sinkhole of certain annihilation. 

That’s basically how Villeneuve wants you to feel — but in a good way. It’s clear that we aren’t just watching “Dune”: we’re entrenched in it, seemingly caught slowly sinking in the sands of the film’s wondrous all-encompassing nature. The swelling, humming, futuristic score pairs perfectly with the simple yet stunning cinematography. 

For those familiar with the books — or, unfortunately, the atrocious Lynch film — you can rest assured that this film’s narrative stays faithful and at times champions its source material. Villeneuve, however, does one very basic thing to keep the story fresh, even to those who have read or seen it before: he simply leaves in just enough narrative for the viewer to piece together the full picture. A two-hour and 35-minute run time with very little exposition leave much to decipher for those who are experiencing “Dune” for the first time. 

If you haven’t seen “Arrival”, “Blade Runner 2049”, or anything else by Villeneuve, don’t expect this film to be your typical blockbuster. Like his other films, Villeneuve’s meditative style can feel at times inert and bone-achingly slow. It’s also the first of a two-parter, which results in an ending that’s acceptable, but still feels slightly awkward and abrupt. The film’s pacing, funnily, would be good at dodging sandworms; a kinetic and purposeful first and second act stumbles to a slow crawl by the third, which lacks a conventional climax that we desire.

These qualms are for the most part negligible, for “Dune” still excites and activates our love for the cinema again. This may be just the beginning of Paul’s story, but Villeneuve’s signature style of sci-fi is one many have seen and adored before; they pair to create a cinematic experience that’s truly inescapable, like a poor traveler caught in the sinking sands of Arrakis. 

With spectacles of cosmic proportions, “Dune” is the must-watch film of the year — sorry, Wes Anderson. 

Dune will be released in theaters and on HBO Max starting Oct. 22, 2021.

tau@theeagleonline.com


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