James Jay Edwards

Dune May Be Unfilmable, but Denis Villeneuve Gives It One Heck of a Try

(Dune, courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment and Legendary Pictures)

James Jay Edwards reviews Dune, an epic science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve, the latest attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s novel. (Warner Bros. Pictures

 

There are some works of literature that are considered by many to be unfilmable. In the case of Frank Herbert’s Dune, that hasn’t stopped people from trying. David Lynch made an unintended cult classic in 1984 with his shot. The SyFy channel took a swing at it as a miniseries in 2000. Even the legendary Alejandro Jodorowsky planned a star-studded adaptation which then ran out of money before a single shot was filmed. And now, indie-darling-turned-Oscar-winner Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival) gets his chance to bring Dune to the big screen.

Dune takes place in a universe where the most important material is a substance called spice. Some use it for holistic purposes, while others use it as a catalyst for space travel, but everyone needs it, and it runs all. Duke Leto Atreides (Ex Machina’s Oscar Isaac) is offered a position on a planet called Arrakis that is the universe’s main source of spice. Well, he’s not really offered the position. He is commanded to go there and take control of the spice mining by his Emperor.

 

(Dune, theatrical release poster, courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment and Legendary Pictures)

So, Leto gathers up his most trusted advisors, and along with his concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson from Doctor Sleep) and their son Paul (Call Me by Your Name’s Timothée Chalamet), he goes to Arrakis to get spice production back on track. He soon discovers that he was set up to fail, caught between the Harkonnens who have been harvesting spice for generations, the native Fremen who own the deserts, and the Imperial armies that are laying in wait. But, besides his loyal inside circle, Leto has another thing on his side—his son and heir has mystical powers being cultivated by his mother that may help save the day.

There is way more to Dune than that. Way more. But that’s the skeleton plot, missing all of the political intrigue, clairvoyant dreams, and economic warfare. Dune is the very definition of Epic Sci-Fi. It’s a dense and deep experience; dry at times, but never tedious or boring. Denis Villeneuve has shown us time and time again that he knows how to make an amazing movie and, for the most part, he shows us again with Dune.

 

(Dune, courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment and Legendary Pictures)

The beautiful photography by cinematographer Greig Fraser (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Vice) screams to be seen on an IMAX screen, just as the banshee-wailing score courtesy of Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight, Dunkirk) deserves to be heard on a Dolby surround system. It’s also packed with as many awesome visual effects as any decent science fiction movie has any right to have. The cast is first-rate as well, and just as versatile as the plot; Jason Momoa (Aquaman), Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame), and Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) soldier up the action for the war film segments while Isaac, Ferguson, and Chalamet are all there to turn on the dramatic effect when things quiet down. It seems as if Villeneuve was born to make Dune.

 

(Dune, courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment and Legendary Pictures)

Yet, Dune was clearly made for a very specific fanbase. While cinephiles will appreciate the craft that has gone into it, it’s the sci-fi crowd who is going to fall in love with it. It is very much made for fans of Herbert’s books, and while the screenplay (written by Villeneuve along with Doctor Strange’s Jon Spaihts and A Star is Born’s Eric Roth) may not always be a note-perfect version of Herbert’s story, it succeeds far more often than it fails. It takes patience and perseverance to get through it, and while it does wander off in a few places, it finds its way back every time. And the space opera fans will be there waiting for its return when it does.

 


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One thing that deserves to be spoiled about Dune, and it’s not much of a spoiler since it’s noted in the opening title card, is that it is a “Part 1.” Which means that, even at two hours and thirty-five minutes, it’s still only half of a movie. Which is to be expected, since the source material is so heavy and dense (Jodorowsky’s planned adaptation would have run over eight hours). But Dune fans not only expect this, they embrace it. So, again, fans of the book should love this movie. Or, at least, they should love the half of it that they can see right now.

Dune is in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

 

 

Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.

 

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