The novel Dune was written in 1965 and became such a massive hit that other science fiction staples, like Star Wars, owe their existence partly to its influence. It was only a matter of time until it was adapted to film in 1984 and to a TV miniseries in 2000. Unfortunately, fans of the classic novel weren’t the happiest with either version. Now in 2021, Legendary Pictures has made another attempt to bring the book to life. Is this latest take on Dune the best one yet, or should it be buried in the desert and forgotten? Let’s take a closer look at every vision, battle, and betrayal to find out.
The visuals throughout the film are absolutely captivating. The beautiful environments, impressive special effects, and outstanding costumes work together to make Dune a true visual masterpiece. Director Denis Villeneuve somehow found a way to make a desert wasteland look gorgeous and whimsical.
The designs of the tech used throughout is like nothing I’ve seen before. For a science fiction epic, it’s important to have vehicles, weapons, armor, and other gadgets designed in a way that makes sense, looks cool and unique, and could believably exist in that universe. The dragonfly-like ships have an especially neat design, and it makes sense that someone would base flight mechanics off of how dragonflies move their wings. The holographic armor is an original-looking design, and it works in a unique-but-believable way without it feeling overpowered. None of these designs ever feel too goofy, either. The tech designs in the film help with the immersion into this futuristic world.
Speaking of immersion, that brings us to the fantastic worldbuilding the movie offers. The story pulls the audience into a world they may not be too familiar with and teaches them about its politics, important public figures, culture, and even what goods are traded. We’re even introduced to some of the wildlife, being the giant, terrifying sand worms. We learn about a couple of planets and how they differ from each other. It’s almost like The Wizard of Oz in the way it takes its audience into a new world.
The movie is overall slow-paced, but when action does happen, it’s incredibly fun. It’s extremely well-choreographed and is thrilling to watch. The sci-fi tech plays a role in much of, especially the holographic armor. The tech from this world being used makes the action feel more unique than other modern films. There’s chases, swordplay, and again, giant and terrifying sand worms. It’s hard not to feel suspense during much of the action sequences.
Most of the acting is fantastic, mostly from a couple of the secondary characters like Oascar Isaac as Leto, Jason Momoa as Duncan, and Josh Brolin as Gurney. Most of the rest of the performances are fantastic, but these few absolutely steal the spotlight when they’re in a scene. In a film with so much world-building and immersion, it’s extremely important that the performances are able to bring these characters to life so that immersion is never broken.
Something that immediately jumps out as the story plays out is that Oscar Isaac’s Leto is a surprisingly positive father figure. Usually in movies or TV, if there’s a stern and authoritative father figure, he’s an unloving jerk with seemingly no sympathy for others. Leto, however, is an authority figure who presents himself as serious, but he clearly shows affection to his son and is willing to take chances to put the lives of others above everything else. A positive father figure in an authority role is certainly a nice change of pace.
Dune overall offers an incredibly intriguing story involving betrayal, suspense, and interesting ideas. It’s difficult not to feel captivated by the plot as it plays out, and it leaves any audience clambering for more once it’s finished, which is a success for any type of story.
The story is definitely an interesting one to follow, however the way it’s portrayed in the film is not very friendly for those who have not read the source material. Going into this movie blind leads to a fair amount of confusion about some of the important plot elements. Reading up the Wikipedia page definitely clears up plenty of questions and helps make sense of some things, which is handy, but a film should be able to stand on its own without needing that.
There is an obscene amount of whisper-talking throughout the film, especially from the character of Jessica. She has several important lines of dialogue, but they’re whispered, making it hard to hear her. It doesn’t feel organic either. Other characters speak to her in a normal tone and she responds with whispers. Some other characters are guilty of this at times as well, but not quite as much. Listening closely to try to hear the inorganic whisper-talking for loud music and explosions to occur in the next scene is rather startling.
Paul, the protagonist, suffers from a mean case of what I like to call Frodo Baggins Syndrome. He’s far from the most interesting character despite being the protagonist, and the characters around him steal a lot of the spotlight. With Lord of the Rings, Gandalf and Aragorn steal the show. In Dune, it’s the same with Leto and Duncan. The only thing really interesting about Paul is that he has visions, but figuring out what these visions mean is more entertaining than the character having them.
Because this film is based on the first half of the novel rather than the whole book, it’s left rather open-ended. I’m definitely excited to see what comes next, and it’s great that the source material will be given enough time to ensure that everything gets to be explored more, but it does feel like it barely has an ending because of it, which is a little unfortunate if you’re looking for a solid standalone movie.
Dune is a welcome addition to the library of great science fiction epics. It transports audiences to a new land filled with fantastic world-building, gorgeous imagery, and interesting science fiction ideas and technology. It’s suspenseful, action-packed, and whimsical, and the story leaves viewers wanting more. However, it does suffer from being a bit confusing or dull at times, and the boring protagonist doesn’t exactly help that. It may have its flaws, but it’s certainly engaging enough that it’s hard not to be excited for Dune’s next installment.
Rating: 7.5 / 10