Reviewed: Dune is a modern sci-fi classic

Dune - Timothee Chalamet

Dune, Denis Villeneuve’s much-anticipated adaptation of the sci-fi classic by Frank Herbert is released this week (Thursday 21 October 2021) and it is a brilliant, visual feast.

In a far-off galaxy, the most precious commodity is a substance called Melange, or Spice, a drug treasured for the mind-altering properties that enable users to fold space and safely traverse the universe. Spice is found only on the desert planet Arrakis and it is the battle for control of the drug that is the canvas on which this story is set.

Cinematically, the Dune saga has been a graveyard for producers, directors and creatives alike. The intricacies of Herbert’s opus proved too great even for the visionary surrealism of Alejandro Jodorowsky. Ridley Scott was slated to develop an adaptation but pulled out and David Lynch’s 1985 effort was hamstrung by interference from the producer and studio who denied him the final cut of the film. Ultimately, he disowned it and it was panned at the box office by an audience spoiled by George Lucas’s saccharine Star Wars adventures. There was also a TV adaptation in the early 2000s, which wasn’t bad, but it too is lost to us and has sunk back into the sands.

Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac and Stephen McKinley Henderson
Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac and Stephen McKinley Henderson

Villeneuve, here, has opted to segment the story – and Dune is the supremely imagined part one. This film is optimistic, ambitious and a wise approach given the scale of the story. Where Lynch was hemmed in to deliver a mainstream sci-fi actioner, Villeneuve has pivoted in favour of long-form storytelling to more-ably convey the complexity of the vying interests on the spice planet, Arrakis.

The ensemble cast is perfect and the storytelling as labyrinthine as it is in the books. Dune is a tale of intrigues, of murder, betrayals, the fall of a once noble house (Atreides) and the fashioning of a populist leader – presented by good PR (witchcraft) as a young man who will fulfil an ancient prophecy.

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides - Dune
Timothée Chalamet

The young man, Paul Atreides (played by Timothée Chalamet), is the illegitimate son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and his concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), a Bene Gesserit priestess (witch). He has lived his privileged life on the ocean planet, Caladan, schooled in combat by his father’s master at arms, Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), and the supernatural ways of the Bene Gesserit by his mother, and as he enters adulthood his prescience fuels dream premonitions of wars to come and his near deification on distant Arrakis.

Villeneuve pitches the pace of the movie perfectly. Its opening on Caladan, allows enough room to let the characters take root. Isaac, as the doomed Duke Leto, brings a weariness and dignity to proceedings as he reluctantly honours his obligations to manage spice production on Arrakis – aware that he is being drawn into a trap. Ferguson invests enough of the ‘weirding’ Bene Gesserit ways into the story that she becomes a plausible conspirator with motives beyond her loyalty to family. As the drama finally arrives on the desert planet, the second act delivers a pitch perfect drama.

Arrakis - Dune

If the storytelling is impressive – the camera work is magnificent. Cinematographer Greig Fraser immerses us in a world of immense scale – punctuated with beautifully observed detail. Fraser’s past work includes Rogue One and Zero Dark Thirty and he delivers here an even more intricate and intense visual experience.

The only bit of sand between the toes, is the nagging doubt that Villeneuve will get to deliver the conclusion to this majestic piece of filmmaking. Studio execs have given Dune a simultaneous release on HBO in some regions much to the annoyance of the director and continued whisperings about performance cast doubt on the studio’s willingness to bankroll a film that will enthral thinking sci-fi fans but might not deliver the dollars at the multiplexes.

However, that’s all ifs buts and maybes. What we have here is a stone wall classic that deserves to be seen on the big screen – the bigger the better. Do yourself a favour, book yourself tickets and immerse yourself in the heat and dust of Dune.  

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Dune is released nationwide Thursday 21 October 2021.

For a look at forthcoming releases take a look at our Trailers channel.

OnTheBox Rating 5


Denis Villeneuve's reimaging of Herbert's epic science fiction tome is bold, beautiful and brilliant. See it on the big screen in all its glory.

5/5An absolute masterpiece
Reviewed: Dune is a modern sci-fi classic