If You Only See One Movie In Theatres This Year, Make Sure It’s ‘Dune’

Dune Review BH

The initial announcement that another adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 sci-fi novel Dune had been assigned to Denis Villeneuve provoked wildfire excitement across the board. It represented a natural career progression for the electrifying auteur, who’d worked his way from producing gripping masterpieces like Prisoners and Sicario towards oeuvre entries that more closely resembled the upcoming project, i.e. Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. Suffice it to say, the sheer weight of expectations alone was heavy. Not only would falling victim to Dune’s reputation for being unadaptable a la David Lynch sully the French Canadian director’s otherwise flawless run of cinematic output – it’d also incur the wrath of an unforgiving fandom. But as you’ll discover in our very own Dune review, that simply isn’t the case. In an era where the theatre experience has sustained blow after blow thanks to COVID-19 and the streaming era, Villeneuve’s magnum opus may very well go down in history as the triumph which revived said experience.

Worried about SPOILERS? Don’t worry… this is a safe Dune review.
We won’t be covering explicit story details here.

In the modern post-Afghanistan context, there are some obvious parallels to be drawn between the resource-rich desert planet of Arrakis and the real-life Graveyard of Empires; which I’m sure someone far more qualified than I may examine in detail, critiquing the wider implications of imperialism and so forth, unless a certain publication shames them for “intellectualising pop culture.” But for all intents and purposes, rest assured, the comparisons drawn within BH’s Dune review will strictly involve films themselves.

Dune is essentially the sci-fi genre’s answer to both David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (eagle-eyed moviegoers might even pick up the odd visual homage to both). And that’s setting aside the comparable storylines centred upon an idealistic/naive protagonist tasked with bringing order to an ungovernable land/correcting a zero-sum scenario. In terms of scale, ambition, and potentially cultural impact, it arrives with the same captivating sheen of a modern blockbuster, complemented by the unflinching + unapologetic nature of films from old.

RELATED: ‘Dune’ Receives 8-Minute Standing Ovation At World Premiere

Denis Villeneuve is to be commended for several reasons, but chief among them is having the discipline to strip the story bare, select the most pertinent and cinematic elements for the big screen, while managing to preserve the spirit of Frank Herbert’s original novel… a feat believed to be “impossible” prior to this. Yes, some diehard fans will probably grumble about the rushed arcs of certain key characters. Namely House Atreides’ Dr Wellington Yueh (portrayed by Chang Chen), Imperial ecologist & judge Dr Liet-Kynes (portrayed by Sharon Duncan-Brewster), as well as how Sietch Tabr Fremen, Jamis (portrayed by Babs Olusanmokun), was handled during the climax.

But keep in mind: a) there’s obviously a limited amount of screen time, b) adaptations of novels are always required to make these kinds of compromises, and c) Dune: Part II has already been greenlit, so omissions may very well be addressed come 2023. Although I anticipate all three of the aforementioned points will be little comfort when you’re hit with the painfully abrupt ending. If you thought you understood the definition of blue balls before, just wait until the credits roll. A cold shower will be necessary. In the words of Zendaya’s Chami, who punctuates the sci-fi epic’s opening instalment, “This is only the beginning.”

Dune Review BH 2

Collaborating with Australian cinematography extraordinaire Greig Fraser – who you will have encountered in Zero Dark Thirty, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and soon enough, Matt Reeves’ The Batman starring Robert Pattinson – Denis Villeneuve has crafted a striking and remarkably consistent visual dialogue glimpsed in his previous works, i.e. Blade Runner 2049, Arrival, Sicario.

What do I mean by this? Despite the fact audiences are plunged right into a fully-realised universe with all its cogs, intricate machinations, and established politics, you’re never scratching your head wondering about the “Why?” You’re just wondering about the “What next?” Everything seamlessly clicks into place and makes perfect sense; which can also be largely attributed to the masterful approach of Villeneuve himself, Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange, Passengers), and Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, A Star Is Born, Killers of the Flower Moon) when it came to adapting the screenplay. Underscored by a rousing composition by the inimitable Hans Zimmer – who, similar to Villeneuve, has yet to fail in any of his professional objectives – and you’ve got yourself a lethal combination on your hands.

And then there’s the matter of actor/actress performances. As the kids say these days, everybody understood the assignment. Whether it was Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides sharing a verbal exchange about the burden of destiny – the burden of being the Kwisatz Haderach, a messianic superbeing with psychic abilities – with Rebecca Fergusson as Lady Jessica, mother to Paul, concubine to Oscar Isaac’s Duke Leto Atreides, and a member of the supernatural Bene Gesserit…

Dune Review BH 2

Jason Momoa as House Atreides swordmaster ruminating aloud about the combative prowess of Arrakis’ native people, the Fremen… or witnessing Stellan Skarsgard in a borderline unsettling prosthetic bodysuit, plotting House Atreides’ downfall as the malevolent Baron Vladimir Harkonen… the character dynamics were nothing short of enchanting. It’s hard to recall a blockbuster released recently that left you craving more from just about everyone involved. It’s hard to recall a blockbuster released recently that didn’t use its players as anything more than sentient set pieces. Dare I say it, there was nary a weak link from the all-star cast of thespians. Not even Dave Bautista, who seemed as though he was practically born for the role of the brutish Glossu Rabban, nephew of Skarsgard’s Baron Vladimir Harkonen.

I suppose when all is said and done, all you really need to know is this: hit the bathroom beforehand, put your phone on silent, strap in, and save the questions for the foyer. Dune is a sensory journey that should be experienced first and discussed second. It’s the not-so-brief respite from reality many of us have been searching for – the best possible option in 2021 – and precisely why we even go to cinemas.”

Dune will officially screen here in Australia from December 2nd – check out the trailer below.

Now that you’ve read our Dune review, check out our recent interview with The Sopranos creator David Chase for the prequel film, The Many Saints of Newark, via the link here.