Denis Villeneuve has achieved part 1 of a monumental task, making Dune an engaging cinematic experience. He must be competing for the impossible adaptation Olympics. First, he makes the stunning Blade Runner 2049 and now Dune. Villeneuve understands the power of the atmosphere. A theater is supposed to transport you to another world. Like 2049, Dune can get stuck in that world with exceedingly long moments of characters pausing, soaking in the environment while Hans Zimmer’s score takes over. The immersion can be distracting when the story should progress instead of trying to blow us away with its jaw-dropping vistas. Even so, my God, what an experience.
How in the world would Dune work as a film? It certainly didn’t before. It’s an exposition sandworm trap. Frank Herbert’s novel is as thick as a bible with head-spinning terminology. Attempting to navigate the maze of information required to adapt to the screen is not easy. In the words of Dr. Malcolm in Jurassic Park, “he did it. The crazy S.O.B. he did it.”
From the get-go, I understood the houses. House Atreides occupies the desert planet of Arrakis. Arrakis contains “spice,” a unique substance that grants mystical powers. The bad guys are House Harkonnen, run by the physically repulsive Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård). In this Dune, the details from the David Lynch original are switched from being unintentionally comedic to miraculously serious. A little too mod at times, yet the brooding tone is exactly what Dune needs. Without it, how can someone unfamiliar with the material connect to it? As one of the uninitiated other than the 1984 original, I finally get why people might be obsessed with the book.
Arakus isn’t a copy and paste of Tatooine; it’s the real threat the house of Atreides must face when collecting the spice. Villeneuve makes Arakus a character itself. The elongated scenery explains itself, letting the audience sync in the information at their own pace. Flashes of Kubrick’s Space Odyssey echoes my mind where Hans Zimmer’s score plays as the narrator instead of a literal narration. Films like Dune might validate Dennis Villeneuve’s opinion on Marvel. Never from Disney could you find such a singular vision attached to a project.
I love what Disney and Marvel have done, but I know when a film is meant to be part of corporate property. A Marvel picture can have subtext, unpredictable twists and turns, and deep character development. But they still follow the same formula. Disney’s attempt at Dune would fail. But Dune is hailed to be Star Wars written for adults, so it wouldn’t work anyway. And thank God it doesn’t, or else we wouldn’t get to see a blockbuster that trusts its viewer on this high a level.
I don’t know any film in 2021 with this budget that would challenge a crowd’s patience the way Dune does. The director isn’t holding your hand the entire way through, explaining everything as it happens. We’re meant to understand the world as the way it’s presented. Seeing such a presentation on a television screen would, by all accounts, be advantageous to the picture. Watching Dune on HBO Max is not watching Dune. No home theater setup will help you witness the film if you’re streaming it.
Like watching a movie on your telephone, Dune is a major motion picture. You’re supposed to be part of the desert, overwhelmed by the size of everything and the feeling of fear it instills. Suppose you do feel that from your television screen, then count me wrong. I may not have understood every single detail amidst a world that requires multiple viewings, but I’d be happy to take a journey to Dune once more. Hopefully, even, for part II, if the money flows.
When Dune comes out in theaters and HBO Max on October 22 let me know if you agree with my rating