By Theo Burman
The fact that there is a Wikipedia page dedicated to failed attempts of Dune movie adaptations should tell you everything you need about the ambition on display in this film. Dune has the unenviable task of condensing 22 novels’ worth of worldbuilding into a few short hours, and it’s a testament to both Denis Villeneuve’s ability and the strength of the source material that this film doesn’t feel like one big exposition dump.
That’s not to say the runtime doesn’t leave it’s mark. Watching the characters stumble around a vast alien desert, hoping to find their destination, I likewise found myself wondering at what point in the movie we were actually at. After a solid hour of smart exposition only slightly ruined by the fact that I couldn’t hear Josh Brolin talk without hearing Thanos’ voice, and an action scene where the brilliant special effects take centre stage, Dune loses a bit of momentum as it drifts towards the ending. The worldbuilding and pacing decay into a more predictable cat-and-mouse chase across the desert, with the visuals becoming the most compelling part of the experience.
Not that they weren’t compelling before though. The influence of Arrival and Bladerunner 2049 is clear in Villeneuve’s imagery, as the skies fill with oppressive pebble-like spaceships, and the harsh reality of life on Arrakis is slowly developed. If there is one consistent line of praise, it’s the cinematography and special effects, which have set the standard even higher. Also reminiscent of Villeneuve’s prior work is the trust Dune places in the audience to keep up, and the commitment it has to deliver the story on its own terms.
The ominous tone is fuelled by the noted lack of Marvel-esque quips and jokes, made more serious by the cast being filled with faces from Star Wars and superhero franchises, who we’re used to seeing in quite comedic roles. The exception to all this is Jason Mamoa, who is playing the stereotypical Jason Mamoa himbo character, becoming one of the more light-hearted personalities as a result.
My personal biggest fear going into the film was that there would be an oversaturation of worm content. Fittingly, the iconic creatures on the front of most of the novels are treated with the same respect and awe that the native Fremen give them. The worms are teased infrequently, glimpsed twice, and seen in their full glory only once, in what was easily the standout moment.
Despite a weirdly timed ending, and a few underdeveloped characters, Dune is a genuine treat, delivering as much as any fan could ask given the scope of the narrative it’s adapting. Most importantly, it feels like the beginning of something massive, as if it’s keeping its powder dry for later instalments. More than anything else, Dune is confident in its own skin, which was always going to be needed for a project of this scale. It’s on the other parts to determine how the whole package will be judged, but for now, this is a pretty good start.
Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr