Paul Atreides has been having vivid dreams. Dreams of the desert wind that blows sand through the sweltering hot air, dreams of spice that shines in the transparent rays of sunlight, dreams of a girl with blue eyes on a planet unknown. The year is 10,191, after 80 years of control on Arrakis, the House Harkonnen must make way for House Atreides, by order of the Padishah Emperor. Arrakis, home of spice, has made the Harkonnen’s unimaginably wealthy. The question is, will they go quietly for the incumbent House Atreides, or will they risk catastrophic warfare to ensure their wealth and barbaric grip is maintained? Directed by Denis Villeneuve and based on the hugely influential novel by Frank Herbert, Dune: Part One is an awe-inspiring triumph, which demands to be experienced on the big screen and elevates Villeneuve into the stars.
It really is no passing comment to state that this film demands to be experienced in a cinema. Perhaps not since Avengers: Endgame and Avatar before that, has there been a film so tailor made for the contemporary blockbuster experience. Because Dune is an experience in every regard. Whether it be Stellan Skarsgård’s transformative make up as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, Hans Zimmer’s booming score or Patrice Vernette’s highly immersive production design, each component intersects like a Venn diagram, creating an immersive experience, for the viewer to lose themselves in. It is no exaggeration to state that this is the film which the contemporary cinema was designed for.
Aside from being one of the most impressive ensembles in recent memory (though Don’t Look Up may supersede that), perhaps the most important component of Dune was finding the right actor to play Paul. Thankfully, Jina Jay and Francine Maisler achieve this through the casting of Timothée Chalamet. Some will take note that Chalamet is not young enough (Paul is 15 in the book), nonetheless, his youthful appearance combined with his mature acting ability, disregard any doubt about his take on the character. Chalamet is convincingly able to switch from the playful Ducal air who banters around with his sword master Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), to the serious Duke who champions for his mother in a battle against death. It is another impressive performance that not only highlights his range but also adds to his growing résumé. Credit must also be given to the whole ensemble with not one person turning in a bad performance. I’d like to give praise to Oscar Isaac, Momoa and Skarsgård, who despite having limited screentime make up for that with their work when they are on camera.
It’s important to note however that Dune is by no means a flawless film. For some, the opening act will be confusing as screenwriters Jon Spaiths, Villeneuve and Eric Roth try to balance and navigate the narratives many political plotlines and players. If you have read the book, this will neither be a surprise nor an issue, but for some viewers, it may take a while to become oriented with Herbert’s vivid world building. It is also worth noting that Zendaya is not a prominent screen presence, despite what the film’s advertising campaign suggests. Whilst Chani is an integral character to Paul’s development, she plays a much more potent role in the second half the book, an arc which will no doubt be explored in the recently announced Part Two. Nonetheless, this is worth highlighting as some viewers may feel mislead. Thankfully Warner Brothers were not, greenlighting Part Two within a week of the film opening on the UK and US market. I think I speak for many when I say it would have been a crime to deprive this adaptation the conclusion it deserves.Where better place to end, then to talk about Villeneuve. Again, he walks the tight line between emotional storytelling, intelligent sci-fi and striking, immersive world building. And you know what? He succeeds. Declaring himself the cinematic master of contemporary sci-fi in the process. Throughout, the sand swept vistas of Arrakis under Villeneuve’s camera are reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia. This is no surprise considering both films were partly filmed in Wadi Rum, Jordan. But Dune achieves a similar level of awe, as Villeneuve like David Lean before him, perfectly utilises the desert and its features, to create a cinematic experience and a film for the ages.