Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel is a staple of sci-fi, a towering work that has influenced the genre going forward. To attempt to explain the narrative of Dune would be folly but it is a tale of feuding galactic families, prodigal sons, giant sandworms and a mystical substance known as spice. It is a piece that creatives have often struggled to adapt, with even the mighty David Lynch coming unstuck in his 1984 film. Well now there’s a new blockbuster taking on just the first half of the first book (one of six). Packed with stars, often delayed, Dune has become quite the cinematic event.
Dune is a remarkable piece of cinema, one that has the kind of scope and scale that has been seemingly absent in recent years. It's ambitious and willing to introduce audiences to a wealth of mythology and world-building. In fact, almost by necessity, much of the expanded run time is give over to exposition. And what is most remarkable is that it remains, for the most part, utterly compelling. This is not the first time that director Denis Villeneuve has produced a grand slice of sci-fi. Dune continues a run that began with Arrival and progressed with Blade Runner 2049, of telling stories in this genre that refuse to hold the hands of the audiences and instead set a gauntlet that they must keep up with.
On a visual level, Dune is masterful. Having impressed with the likes of Zero Dark Thirty, Rogue One and The Mandalorian TV show, cinematographer Greig Fraser gives a distinctive, sweeping look, enhanced by flawless special effects. And Hans Zimmer continues to build a portfolio of striking scores, one of the few composers to bring the kind of sound a sci-fi epic needs. The rest of the technical team bring so much to Dune and on this level it really is flawless.
The cast are an impressive parade of talent with the likes of Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Jason Momoa and Javier Bardem all taking on supporting terms with more limited screen time then you might expect. With so much going on here, few characters have an actual arc within the narrative. But there are emotionally powerful turns come from Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson, whilst Timothée Chalamet gives a grand leading turn, living up to the promise he has shown since he became one of the biggest stars on the planet.
I’m not sure I felt much beyond awe towards this film and the whole experience feels a tad emotionally cold. But maybe awe is enough. Maybe spectacle is what we need as an audience, what we’ve all been missing of late. This is a world which envelops you and takes you on a journey - one that only begins here. The hope is that there will be a follow up and we are told late on that this is only the beginning. Little is resolved here and if Dune: Part Two fails to emerge it would be a great loss to cinema. Because, after over two and a half hours in this universe, you could spend many more hours in what Herbert and Villeneuve have created.