Film review: “Dune”

Director successfully makes the transition from book to screen


Christian Lo, Film Critic

“Dune” is a space epic about the son of the House Atreides, one of many political factions, that is destined to rule and bring peace to a world plagued by constant turmoil over Spice, the most valuable asset in the universe. When I discovered the heavily anticipated sci-fi film recently released, I immediately bought tickets to see what Denis Villeneuve would come up with for the expansive, extremely confusing space adventure, notorious for being impossible to adapt into a movie.

Its origins go back to 1965, when the novel was first released. The impressive world building and intense politics drew many readers to the book, and it soon became a classic that would influence the next generation of science fiction media, leading to the creation of new concepts such as “Star Wars.”

However, it would soon become evident that while the novel was extremely influential, it was not built for the theater. David Lynch’s 1984 “Dune” was an extreme disappointment, with a confusing plot and awful CGI. The campy feel of the movie deflated the lofty hopes of eager fans of “Dune,” and because the story requires so much world building and exposition, many doubted the ability for a good adaptation of the novel to ever exist.

Villeneuve’s “Dune” is part one of his ambitious saga, featuring an all-star cast with Timothée Chalamet as the main protagonist, Paul Atreides, Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica, and Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck, just to name a few. (If you were expecting Zendaya to be a major part of this movie, don’t; she doesn’t really play a major role until the last 30 minutes).

I had high expectations for Villeneuve’s adaptation of “Dune” as a fan of his, and I was not disappointed.

A central part of Villeneuve’s movies is the absolutely gorgeous cinematography, and “Dune” has some of the most impressive visuals I have ever seen in a movie. Every shot translates the immense scale of the universe, with many long shots capturing the enormous palaces, warring factions, and a giant, terrifying sandworm. The movie truly felt otherworldly, which is something that is extremely hard to do.

There is apparent care on Denis Villeneuve’s end to make sure that the film felt exactly the way he intended. A prime example of the masterful cinematography is the Gom Jabbar scene, where the protagonist, Paul, is tested in a life-or-death situation. The set design makes Bene Gesserit Gaius Helen Mohaim look like a chess piece as an imposing figure in command over Paul, who is kneeling before her. The lighting is dark and gives a feeling similar to that of a horror movie.

Performances by the actors were also spot on. While I am not the biggest fan of Timothée Chalamet, he was undoubtedly great as the main protagonist. I especially enjoyed the chemistry between his character and Rebecca Ferguson’s character, Lady Jessica. The mother-son relationship is put to the test, with the mother constantly pushing her son to evolve.

Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho was also refreshing. His character brought humanity and relatability to the universe, a stark contrast to the terror that House Harkonnen invokes in audiences. Once again, Stellan Skarsgård proves his versatility, this time playing a floating villain who plans to oppress the sands of Arrakis.

The only major flaw that exists in this film is the lack of character development. While much attention is focused on Paul Atreides, the side characters often stay stagnant and serve only to guide the main character toward his goal. Some of the relationships feel sterile at times, and there is a lack of emotional attachment to the characters that could be a product of plot confusion and just the story itself. Of course, it is important to remember that the book is extremely complicated, and while a lot can be translated to the screen, there will always be some lack of understanding present because of the book’s nature. Despite this, Villeneuve’s “Dune” will definitely become the definitive film adaptation to satisfy the fans.

I absolutely loved this film, and I am excited to see what he will deliver with the next installment of the saga. If you like “Star Wars,” this is the movie for you, as I believe “Dune” has the potential to achieve the same levels of success and prestige that “Star Wars” has.

My letter grade: A-