Before I begin, if you don’t know already this film is a part one, meaning “Dune” ends on a transition point; notice how I didn’t say cliffhanger.
Writer/director Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2024, Arrival) adapts Frank Herbert’s notoriously difficult to adapt (seriously, look up the history of attempts to adapt “Dune”) “greatest science fiction novel of all time”, which follows the youngest member of House Atreides, Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet). The beginning of this film sees House Atreides gain power over the planet Arrakis aka Dune; a desert planet filled with many dangers, including massive Godzilla-sized worms (sandworms); calling them worms may be selling these visually grandiose creatures short. This planet is also the home to an indigenous peoples called Fremen and a valuable mineral referred to as “spice”, which makes interstellar travel possible. The story soon finds Paul encountering conflict involving spice mining, double crossing, and the aforementioned big ass worms. But Paul is no ordinary duke. He may or may not be a messiah of sorts, whether he wants to be or not.
For cinematic reference sake, I’ll describe the tone of this story as a darker “Star Wars”. Although within “Dune” fandom, I acknowledge how blasphemous a statement like this is. To those I have offended, I will add that there is definitely some “Game of Thrones” in this, with a tiny bit of “Mad Max”, just not as cranked up to eleven.
And now for the only question that matters: Do you have to have read the novel or even be aware of the novel to enjoy Villeneuve’s “Dune”? I am familiar with the history of “Dune”, including the novel. So going into this, my concern was that due to the sheer amount of material in the novel along with the lore attached to it, this is a world that would take a while to establish, and thus may bore audiences who are expecting “Star Wars” (there I go again). But I should’ve known better, as Villeneuve eased my concerns rather quickly.
As expected, there is a ton of exposition which I saw and accepted as necessary in order to adapt a book like “Dune”; even again when you take into account that it’s a two hour and thirty-five-minute part one. Villeneuve handles the pre-action stuff by acknowledging the extensive exposition and (with the help of cinematographer Greg Fraser) establishes his brand of spectacular visual effects from minute one. This along with Hans Zimmer’s score, carry the first hour of this movie until everyone is up to speed.
Final Thought: While there are many reasons why this film works, it’s greatest achievement will not be the film’s adaptation integrity; which Villeneuve does stay as loyal as possible to considering the time constraints. Sure, it can be picked apart by purest, but THERE IS NO WAY TO ADAPT EVERY ASPECT OF “DUNE” INTO A FILM THAT IS UNDER TEN HOURS LONG! So, as far as a film adaptation of a novel which touches on themes such as colonialism, 2021’s “Dune” (part one) does hold true to the spine of the source material. Anyway, the success of “Dune” will be because it works for the masses. I saw this film with my wife, who knows nothing of the novel. And as I sat there geeking out, I looked over and saw her enjoying this as the epic spectacle it was intended to be. And that is really the highest recommendation I can give.
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