Warner Bros. Pictures
Adapting books to film can be a difficult task. There is no greater example of this than Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel “Dune.” David Lynch’s attempt in 1984 and a SyFy miniseries in the early 2000s both led to mixed results. For a while, the story about noble houses in feudal outer space warring for the desert planet Arrakis and its life-enhancing crop, Spice Melange, seemed impossible to adapt. With “Dune” 2021, “Blade Runner 2049” director Denis Villeneuve takes a crack at it and becomes the first filmmaker to successfully do justice to Herbert’s 800-page epic.
The plot of the film tells the first half of the book, “Dune,” following the journey of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his family who acquire Arrakis by decree of the Padishah Emperor, and attempt to control the desert planet. However, betrayed by House Harkonnen and the Emperor himself, Paul and his family must learn to survive on the desert planet. Over time, they gain the trust of the nomadic Fremen and make plans to retake Arrakis.
With a large tale like “Dune,” splitting the book in half works in the film’s favor, allowing for character and world development in a reasonable time frame. The film handles the heavy exposition of the novel well, having the characters visually show what they want or feel rather than telling the audience.
“Dune” is an amazing visual experience since Villeneuve is an expert at creating grand, eye-grabbing pieces through film. Every scene or shot in “Dune” can be seen as a work of art in itself, from the castles to the designs and scale of the spaceships to the power and might of the Shai-Hulud sandworms roaming the dune seas.
Color also plays an important part in “Dune,” creating a certain mood and atmosphere for the distinct planets. The deep blue colors of Atreides’ homeworld, Caladan, as well as the black, misty atmospheres of Giedi Prime are the first of many examples.
The score composed by Hans Zimmer — whose portfolio contains soundtracks for dozens of classic films — is once again powerful and causes an emotional reaction in the viewer. The intense human chanting and instrumental attacks throughout the pieces make the viewer feel part of a world beyond the stars.
While the complex narrative of “Dune” is laid out well in this film version, it brushes over certain aspects and plot lines. The buildup to an important and impactful betrayal between the ruling families is completely cut out of the film and comes out of nowhere when it happens.
“Dune” is a perfectly cast film, with the representations of Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and Leto Atreides I (Oscar Isaac) adding depth and personality to the original characters from the book. It is fleshed out in a way that allows the characters to jump right off the pages and onto the screen.
The villains of “Dune” are menacing and ruthless. However, their development is not as strong as that of the protagonists. The lack of the antagonists on screen weakens the overall conflict in the movie, with the viewer only seeing glimpses of the monstrous Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) and the cruel, barbarous Glossu Rabban (Dave Bautista).
“Dune” is a grand story with legendary visuals and a powerful score. Performances are well done but not groundbreaking, and the narrative is weak in some areas. Despite its flaws, “Dune” lays the foundation for a great sequel, setting up prophecies and armies for an even greater crusade through the stars. With the direction taken by Villeneuve in this film, this series can become a faithful, entertaining adaptation of Herbert’s “Dune” saga. The spice will flow with this sci-fi epic.