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Timothee Chalamet and Josh Brolin in Dune, now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max (Photo provided via @DuneMovie on Twitter 

Film Review: ‘Dune’ is the sci-fi epic it was always touted to be

Dune has been one of my most anticipated films of this year (and last year before its delay), not due to its source material — which I’m mostly unfamiliar with — but due to the caliber of the film’s director, cast, cinematographer and composer. 

The sheer amount of talent on screen and behind the scenes here is insane. Thankfully, the film mostly lives up to the talent of its creatives, but I sense many will not feel the same way.

Dune is adapted from the sci-fi classic by Frank Herbert. The film follows Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the heir to House Atreides and son of The Duke (Oscar Isaac), as his house prepares to take over operations of planet Arrakis and its massively valuable spice trade. When House Harkonnen, the house formerly in charge of Arrakis, decides to take violent action against House Atreides’ rule, Paul must recover and journey across the desert to complete his noble house’s mission. 

The more I think about Dune and the more it sits in the recesses of my mind, the more I like it; it ticks all the boxes for me. Director Denis Villeneuve had a clear vision for what he wanted to accomplish with this adaption of Herbert’s opus that’s long been thought to be unadaptable to film. I think Villeneuve proves those doubters wrong here, but many might not agree with me. 

The marketing shows the film off to be action-centric, something that couldn’t be further from reality. Every single action scene in the film has been shown in the trailers, obviously something the director had no control over, but it will probably lead to many being disappointed when they sit down to watch a film more along the lines of Villeneuve’s previous film Blade Runner 2049 than another sci-fi epic like Star Wars

It’s not what a general audience, with no prior knowledge of the source material, probably wants out of a film like this, especially with how it’s been shown off by Warner Bros. Most people probably aren’t looking for an introspective and slowly-paced sci-fi blockbuster.

Despite the film not being what it was marketed as, the reality of what Dune has to offer is still extraordinary, just in different ways from what was shown off. Most notably, the look of the film, which I’ll credit to veteran cinematographer Greig Fraser and the visual effects team at DNEG, is both beautiful and impressively massive in scale. 

This is due to the choice to shoot the majority of the film’s scenes from the perspective of where a camera could actually be, grounding the film in reality more than its colleagues in the genre. People have said the film looks bland due to its limited color palette, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Somehow, it remains visually interesting and investing despite the constant shades of tan. There are more colors than just that, though. Because of the dirty look the film is clearly going for, it makes scenes in which other colors are present exciting. In particular, a scene in which Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) finds plant life in the sand sticks out in my mind. 

The sound editing also deserves a special shoutout. It’s incredible. The entire sound team deserves an Oscar for their work because it’s masterful. Their work elevates this film on so many levels. If it weren’t for the sound alongside the visuals, the film simply wouldn’t work. 

Hans Zimmer’s haunting score is a massive part of this as well, combining orchestral, operatic and otherworldly sounding cues into an extremely unique and powerful final product. 

On a technical level, this film couldn’t be any better. The visual effects are incredible and impressive. The incredibly real-looking CGI sand simulations are enough on their own, but all the different vehicles, landscapes, creatures and explosions created using digital effects push it over the top. 

The sandworm sequences stand out because of the absolutely insane sand simulations the crew would’ve had to have obsessed over for months. It all looks immaculate and realistic while somehow simultaneously being stylistically in line with Villeneuve’s previous work. The shield effects, in particular, have shades of Blade Runner 2049’s hologram overlay effects. 

Everything on-screen looks as it should — amazing — and the cast helps this out with worthwhile performances across the board.

The entire cast here is phenomenal, something I had no doubts about going in. Chalamet is fantastic as Paul, but it takes a while for the character to become likable. When his character inevitably breaks down and opens up was when I was fully sold on him leading the rest of the film. 

Rebecca Ferguson is the real standout here, though, portraying Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother. Her performance is the most emotionally charged of the film, easily making her the film’s most relatable and likable character. She really sells this role, her dialogue and her place within this vast and deep universe. It also helps that these two share the majority of their screen time together, playing off each other incredibly well.

The rest of the cast is all great, but many of them are either underutilized or just not given that much to do. For example, Momoa’s character, Duncan Idaho, is the film’s most fun character to watch, but he’s only in a few scenes. Josh Brolin falls into a similar camp. Dave Bautista, despite being quite prominent in the marketing, is barely seen in the film. I can’t even remember if they bother to say his character’s name.

Most of these issues are forgivable, as this film only covers the first half of the first book in the series. Despite only covering half the book, the film still has over a two-and-a-half-hour runtime, something that was seemingly unavoidable. 

Dune’s world and lore are so vast and all-encompassing that a long runtime is pretty much required to make anything on screen make sense to an uninitiated audience. Because of this, the film has to spend time introducing you to this world, how it works, the people in it and what’s going on. 

The film doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, though, letting you fill in the gaps for what was explicitly told to readers of the source material. This could lead to people getting lost in the shuffle of the vast amount of stuff being constantly thrown at them. You just have to be on board from the beginning, or it’s going to leave you in the dust. 

Despite all this, I don’t think it would’ve been wise to leave all that explanation in, as the film is already long and suffers a bit from its slow pace. Adding in all the things that are missing would’ve only ballooned the film’s length, creating another, perhaps bigger, pacing-related issue in the process. So, I think the film did the best it could in the time it takes up. 

I also think those who are looking for an open and shut film should lower their expectations a bit. In the opening title card, the film reveals its true title to be Dune: Part One, something that’s long been rumored. 

That should quell any hopes for the feeling of a real conclusion at the end of the film right off the bat, but it will still be an issue for some regardless. This problem would only be maddening for me personally if the film doesn’t get a sequel to finish the book’s story, something Warner Bros. has all but officially confirmed leading up to the film’s delayed release.

Dune is a cinematic event that shouldn’t be missed, especially on the big screen. This is the kind of film you need to see in a theater, no matter the convenience of your HBO Max subscription or your couch. The sound system and screen, especially if you have an IMAX option (or something similar) will make it worth the price of admission alone. 

@zachj7800

zj716018@ohio.edu

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