Format: AMC Theater, DeKalb.
I feel like I need to talk about my connection and relationship with the world and empire building of the various iterations of Frank Herbert’s Dune before I talk about the Denis Villeneuve Dune that is current in theaters. I have what I think is a unique history with this property. Back in 1998, I was working freelance for Prima Publishing, writing computer and video game strategy guides. One of the first ones I did was for Dune 2000, a reboot of Westwood Studios’ Dune 2. I worked with Westwood a lot, and also did the book for Emperor: Battle for Dune a few years later. When the estate of Frank Herbert started to run out of money (clearly no longer a problem), they started suing people—including Westwood—for changes to the Dune universe that they had previously approved. I was deposed for that case, which never went anywhere.
Those games were connected visually to the David Lynch version of Dune, and because of that, I have particular notions of what Dune should look like. I spent a lot of time running around Arrakis, after all, so my idea of what an ornithopter or a spice harvester looks like is fairly set.
Regardless, I knew that I would be breaking my two-year streak of not going to a movie theater when Dune was released. I’m very invested in the source material at this point, so unless the initial reviews were terrible, I knew I was going to go. So, when the opportunity arose, I went. I immediately remembered why I don’t go to the theater—the showing started at 3:40, but the movie didn’t start until 4:08. That’s a lot of trailers; it’s worth suggesting again that theaters should run trailers between movies as much as they want but start the movies at the listed start time.
I’m not going to go into the story here, which is a huge shift for me. Dune is too complicated—the backstory would take too damn long. Instead, I will link you to a very good and short primer on the basics of the story. There are spoilers here, so be warned, but this will give a good overall look at the Dune universe (or the Dune-iverse, if you like). Thug Notes: Dune
The most impressive part of Dune is the epic scope of the film. Everything in this movie is huge. The architecture on Arrakis is massive to the point of being agoraphobic—even the insides of many of the buildings are large enough to feel like they are outside. The sandworms are massive in scale as well, of course. But it’s the spacecraft where we see the real size of everything in this film. Massive spacecraft land on the planet, but in space, we see these ships leaving craft that dwarf them. Things here are of a size that is literally terrifying to contemplate.
Much of the appeal to this version of Dune is the overall design of things. Beyond the scope, there is a sense of a world that is truly lived in and that has existed for a very long time. There is a real sense of place, not of movie sets but of solid existence that has been there for generations and will be there for generations to come.
It’s also near perfect in its casting. Timothee Chalamet is perhaps the best current choice for playing Paul Atreides, the person who is destined to become more or less the ultimate superbeing in this universe. There is something otherworldly about his appearance, and he fits the role well. The same is true of Oscar Isaac as Paul’s father Duke Leto Atreides, who comes with the gravitas needed for the role. Josh Brolin works well as Gurney Halleck, the scarred and knowledgeable Atreides warrior. Zendaya as the Arrakeen Fremen warrior Chani is arguably as good a casting job as Timothee Chalamet. As baddies, having Stellan Skarsgard as the pure evil Baron Harkonnen and Dave Bautista as his regent Rabban are great choices as well.
In smaller roles (for this movie), we also get some smart casting. The bulk of the native Fremen are people of color, which is a very smart choice. The one exception is Javier Bardem as Stilgar, but it’s a role he is suited for. The role of Dr. Liet Kynes has been gender-swapped from the book and is played perfectly by Sharon Duncan-Brewster. I also want to nod to Stephen McKinley Henderson as Thufir Hawat. I like Henderson as an actor whenever I see him, and I love seeing him in this role. Charlotte Rampling as Gaius Helen Mohiam is pitch-perfect as well.
If you are familiar with this story (or have seen the movie), you will note there are two very important roles I have not discussed. The first is the one I was most worried about—Jason Momoa in the very important role (for the full story) of Duncan Idaho. He pulls this off very well; I’m honestly surprised at just how well he fills this role. The second is Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica, the mother of Paul. And she is the weak point. She looks like a love interest (she is only 12 years older than Chalamet) rather than his mother. Someone 10-15 years older than Ferguson (Rachel Weisz? Toni Collette? Kate Winslet?) would make this work better in my mind. I think Rachel Weisz would have been just about perfect.
I liked Dune, but I’m still processing it. Much like the LotR series, I don’t know that I can fully address what Villeneuve has done until I see the next film…in two years.
Why to watch Dune: Epic scale and scope.
Why not to watch: I don’t know how much sense it will make for someone who doesn’t know the source material.