One of the most anticipated films for many attending the New York Film Festival was without a doubt Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. The outlandish and artistic sci-fi epic will leave audiences wanting more. This is definitely a good thing.
Many will be satisfied with the product Villeneuve has bred for the big screen, creating a take on outer space visuals somewhat reminiscent of Salvador Dalí. Dune, or Dune: Part One as it is officially titled onscreen, is an adaptation of the 1965 novel of the same name by Frank Herbert. It follows a young Paul Atreides who might just be the chosen one. Finding out is part of the journey. His family must travel to a hazardous planet to fulfill a duty assigned to them by the emperor. They quickly come to realize that malicious work is at play as they try to harvest the planet’s resources only to come across various setbacks and deadly threats.
Dune is your typical hero’s journey. Paul ventures into the unknown, crossing the threshold into a world foreign to him, yet familiar all the same. Audiences will be able to fully transport themselves to Paul’s reality. It does a good job of helping one understand the rules of the world in a quick stride. That being said, it does not hold the viewer by the hand. The exposition, while done well, might be overwhelming to some. There is a lot to take in and process, but once the ball gets rolling, there’s no stopping it.
The story itself is a calculated adaptation of a colonial narrative set in worlds unknown and new to us. The most lengthy task at hand was to convince the audience of this world’s realism. To hook them in. Dune succeeds at this. However, the grand scale splendor isn’t enough to distract from the absence of Villeneuve’s trademark emotional vulnerability.
Many have praised the 2017 film Blade Runner 2049 for balancing its cold exterior with said vulnerability at its center. While Dune is a nearly perfect film, it exudes a hollowed-out nature at times. To perfect the visual spectacle, the film creates emotional moments that, while well-timed and fitting for the narrative, often feel formulaic. At the very center, one can’t help but think the emotional core of the film is missing.
At its roots, it’s also a conflicting narrative. The hero of the film partakes in the colonial siege of a foreign territory. While his family suffers the consequences, he is framed under the guise of empathy. Part one of the Dune duology in short tackles the crumbling of an empire. It explores loss under the ruse of conquest for honor. Villeneuve ventures into the politics of expansion and takeover that will ring true to many that face this reality today. Nevertheless, the film does not go beyond that. It presents the ramifications of forced subjugation, leading up to the exploration of the other side’s perspective in the future installment.
In terms of the performances, the cast was one to watch. An excellent and dynamic ensemble, they make the best of every scene. To name a notable outlier would be difficult because one cannot excel at what they’re given without another. Timothée Chalamet might be the exception due to the cards he’s dealt as the protagonist.
The mountainous weight of Dune weighs down on Chalamet’s shoulders. As a result, this adds to his portrayal of Paul. A young man with too much to take on too fast. The same doubt one might cast on his ability to carry the role translates into the same doubt one might have on whether Paul is prepared to step up to the challenge. Without a doubt, they both are.
While lacking the visual charisma Chalamet often brings with his presence, he was a mesmerizing lead. Clouded by conflict and turmoil, it contributes to the troubled atmosphere of the story. He’s able to characterize the film as an exploration of a subtle loss of humanity through the sacrifice of one’s empathy in the face of loss through his performance. His journey will probably seem to many as the antithesis of K’s own in Blade Runner 2049.
Dune falls under a high-brow take on science fiction. It is an entertaining cinematic feat to say the least. Its take on a coming-of-age story through the trials of manhood is an experience many should give a chance to. Now, whether it will leave one satisfied will be entirely up to the viewer. Regardless of this, the franchise has a bright future. – Josie Meléndez
The film will have its premiere with a hybrid release in theaters and on HBO Max on October 22nd.
It stars Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgård, and more.