Fear is the mind-killer.
There are a few movies that come once in a generation where they don’t feel just like cinema, but rather as raw, immersive experiences that feel equally epic in their scope of storytelling as they do in their visceral visual presentation. Star Wars in the 1980s is one such example. Jurassic Park in the 90s is another. Lord Of The Rings in the 2000s. The Avengers movies in the 2010s. Now here comes the newest science-fiction epic in Dune, and if it isn’t destined to become the next decade-defining blockbuster, it definitely feels like it should be.
Based on Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction saga, Dune takes place in the far distant future where different houses fight for control over different planets in the galaxy. One of the most sought-after planets is the desert world of Arrakis, which carries an element known as spice that allows for interstellar travel, making it the most valuable asset in the universe. The House of Atreides is gifted the planet of Arrakis to harvest the spice for the good of all the houses, but in the process, they get caught up in a violent conflict between the Fremen, the native dwellers of Arrakis, and the Harkonnen, a vicious race of savages that seek the power of the spice only for themselves. Now trapped on the world of Arrakis, Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) needs to find a way to adapt to the harsh environment surrounding him and harness the desert power of Arrakis.
When I heard that Denis Villeneuve was remaking Frank Herbert’s classic tale of “Dune,” I nearly fell out of my seat. For those of you that are unaware of it, “Dune” has been hailed as one of the most important science-fiction novels of all time, right alongside the likes of “Anthem”, “Ender’s Game,” and “1984.” To see a large-scale adaptation of one of the most essential books ever written would have any reader giggling in their seats, where I admittedly found myself not too long ago.
Yet despite Denis’s cinematic prowess, I found myself a little hesitant to accept a live-action “Dune” remake. For one thing, “Dune” had been visually adapted twice before, once in David Lynch’s 1984 film and once in Frank Herbert’s TV show in 2000. Neither one really reached the fascination or intrigue that the book inspired and were really kind of silly and gimmicky in retrospect, although I do find their amateurish quality slightly endearing. For another thing, “Dune” had been largely considered an unadaptable story, with its dense lore amounting to a massive 412 pages.
Granted, it wasn’t the first book to be considered “unadaptable.” Yann Martel’s “Life Of Pi” was largely considered unadaptable, as was Alan Moore’s “Watchmen.” Yet, both were made into magnificent movies by Ang Lee and Zack Snyder. Still, that doesn’t mean that it’s a sure thing. Indeed, it means that whoever does end up tackling the project has a massive, massive challenge ahead of them, one that may mean breaking up the book’s plot into multiple movies.
Thank God that Denis Villeneuve was a brave and competent enough filmmaker to take it on, because he fulfills every bit of the book’s lofty expectations and then some. The first thing you notice with Dune is how immersive it is: visually striking, audibly haunting, and emotionally stirring. The very first line of dialogue you hear in the movie isn’t even human: it’s Harkonnen, and its rich, deep voice eerily echoes the words “Dreams are messages from the deep.”
Immediately after that, we’re swept into an engrossing display of Arrakis: its beauty, its danger, its dry, devastating heat, the invaluable spice, and the people willing to fight and kill and die over it. What follows from there is an engrossing and absorbing experience that completely and fully immerses you in its characters, lore, and setting in a rare display of intrigue, excitement, and fascination.
I’m not just talking about merely watching the movie play out on screen. Sure, you see the vast landscape, the colossal spaceships, the endless void of space and its planets, the massive explosions that blow up on battlefields and mining sites. But the film is so much more than merely seeing the images on screen: you experience them. You feel the sun rays beating down on you, the dryness in the air as the desert sands of Arakkis parch your mouth, the wind from the space thrusters blowing against you, and the heat from explosions radiating off of your body as the shockwave blows you off of your feet.
See, in a rare marriage of visual and audio mastery, Dune drops you in the middle of Arakkis and forces you to feel the loneliness and isolation of its characters. Movies have a bad habit of superficially showing you what characters are going through instead of engrossing you in the moment of what they’re experiencing. Dune places you right alongside House Atreides and forces you to try and survive the dangers of the desert alongside them. Not since Avatar has a movie immersed you so vividly into its lore and setting.
The production of the film is a technical marvel, from Greg Fraser’s vast and expansive cinematography to Joe Walker’s expert editing to the eerie and striking visuals to the mesmerizing score by Hans Zimmer. Even the all-star cast is masterful in their roles, with Timothee Chalamet shining the most as a fallen prince torn between two different destinies.
Dune is a rare example of a perfect picture. Yes, a perfect picture. I literally would not change a single thing about it. Some viewers may not appreciate Denis Villeneuve’s trademark slow-burn style of storytelling, but that’s because of their personal preferences as movie watchers, not Denis’ craft or ability as a filmmaker. To think that years ago, we questioned how he would handle his first science-fiction picture with Arrival, then how he would revive Ridley Scott’s long-cherished franchise with Blade Runner 2049. Now he has made Dune, and its legacy will surpass both of those pictures. I can’t wait for the sequel.