Review of 'Dune: Part One'

dune_part_1.jpg The latest adaptation of Frank Herbert's Science Fiction masterpiece challenges SF director Denis Villeneuve to show if he is up to the monumental task. This film covers only the first half of Herbert's novel as is clear with the “Part One” subtitle in the opening credits.

“Dune” tells the story of a young man Paul Atriedes (Timothée Chalamet) the talented and gifted son of Duke Leto Atriedes (Oscar Isaac) and concubine Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). Leto leads the great House Atriedes and is in conflict with the leader of another great house, House Harkonnen, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) who has sworn to destroy the Atriedes. In a surprise move the emperor gives House Atreides the dessert planet Arakkis (aka Dune), the most profitable planet in the galaxy as sole producer of the psychoactive spice melange. Leto and Paul suspect this is a trap by the emperor to seize control of the galaxy but the house moves from their verdant homeworld of Caladan to the dessert planet to discover their destiny.

I have been aware of this film for quite some time and the promise of being the hands of a talented SF director. It looks absolutely stunning with incredible action sequences and effects that put it's predecessor, 1984's Dune (by David Lynch) to shame but otherwise this is a sterile echo of the earlier film. Sure, it covers all of the key elements and with much more veracity than the older film (gone are the controversial “Weirding Modules”) but otherwise there is little character here. There is some attempt at humour here to attempt to humanize the characters though most of these bits are seen in the 2-3 minutes of the trailer leaving the rest of it as if the cast were blindly reading the script.

The music which stands out so dramatically in the 1984 Dune film here is barely noticeable in the background despite being written by the Hans Zimmer. It is quickly forgotten with only the main theme even remotely sticking in the head.

From a purest perspective there are some odd omissions to this film that proports to follow the book more faithfully. For example, we never see the emperor, nor his daughter Irulan who features so heavily in the books. We also never see the guild navigators nor the folding of space. Oddly, when Paul undergoes the Bene Gesserit trial we do not actually see nor are we even told the nature of the pain that is inflicted, all we are shown is the actor squirming about in pain with his hand in a box with no sense of the physical “reality” of what is happening to him. Perhaps this is in part in an attempt to tone back the violence in what, to be honest, is a very violent book. Blood can only be seen once or twice with characters dispatched with a simple grunt and fall to the ground.

Setting aside the original film and how accurately this film depicts the book is the film actually enjoyable? Well, Villeneuve is not afraid to take his time with scenes which are all the better for it and, as mentioned before, the effects are great. The acting is a bit sterile and the film feels overlong at more than 2.5 hours long. The problem is that it is difficult to be attached to these characters as they never really seem human. Perhaps part of it is the framing of the film with the camera always quite a distance away from the action and never really drawing the viewer into the story.

A fairly faithful adaptation of a classic SF novel that somehow loses it's humanity on the big screen despite the amazing special affects. Frankly, a bit boring despite the huge events that unfold.

Rating: “It is OK but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2021-10-24

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Studio: Warner Bros.

Year: 2021

Length: 155 minutes

Genre: Science Fiction

Other reviewed films by Denis Villeneuve: