Dune (2021)—Review

I see a lot of films every year, and with every year comes a fresh batch of films that are phenomenal feats in the art of filmmaking, with only a very few, if any at all, being absolute masterpieces and instant classics. Prior to last night (October 21, 2021), I believed 2021 had already seen its most artful and masterful film in The Green Knight (2021)—my review it for will come eventually. The film I just witnessed, challenges The Green Knight‘s reign on 2021. Denis Villeneuve—famous for Prisoners (2013), Sicario (2015), Arrival (2016), and Blade Runner 2049 (2017)—has directed yet another jaw dropping piece of cinematic art in Dune (2021), and the emotions I felt walking out of the theater were indescribable. This is one of the most immersive films I have ever witnessed on the bog screen.

Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in Dune (2021). Via Warner Bros

Dune (2021), or Dune: Part One as it is titled in the film itself, is an adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel of the same name. When the Emperor of the Known Universe instructs House Atreides, of the planet Caladan, to move to and rule over the desert planet, Arrakis, Duke Leto (played by Oscar Isaac) answers the call. Arrakis is home to the Known Universe’s greatest resource, Spice, and all the great houses want the great wealth that comes with the rule over its flow. Paul (played by Timothée Chalamet), heir to the Atreides name, is plagued with dreams and visions of Arrakis and its people, the Fremen, prior to and upon the arrival to Arrakis. While struggling to find what these visions mean with their relation to his mother (played by Rebecca Ferguson) Lady Jessica’s religious group of great political power, the Bene Gesserit, the House Atreides finds themselves in great political danger while on the most dangerous planet in the universe.

Every thing about this movie worked for me. Every technical aspect of this film was stunning: the cinematography, lighting, costumes and makeup, the sound mixing, Hans Zimmer’s score, and the audio and visual effects were all top notch. With all of the technical aspects coming together to create this visual and audio feast, this film is one of the most immersive films I’ve ever seen. Denis Villeneuve and his production team have blurred the lines of reality with what they have accomplished, in seamlessly melding the lines between physical sets and special effects to near perfection. With the otherworldly looking so real, audiences will be transported to these other worlds and believe every second of it. The jaw dropping visualization of Dune is only amplified more by Hans Zimmer’s score and the incredible sound mixing of the film. The music in this sci-fi epic is sweeping and impactful and one-hundred percent encapsulates the essence of the Dune universe.

The visuals and audio were a piece of art on their own, but the true meat of this film is in the characters and the story. The cast of Dune (2021) is absolutely stacked with incredible talent, and none of them disappoint. All of the performances of these incredible characters were great: Zandaya as Chani, Jason Mamoa as Duncan Idaho, Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck were all fantastic in their very limited screen time. Another fantastic performance included Stellan Skarsgård, who brought a great sense of menacing dread to the villain Baron Harkkonen. Oscar Isaac as the leader of the House Atreides, Duke Leto, was an amazing standout. He delivered the gravitas and severity of a great leader, while also delivered great compassion as a father and lover. Isaac’s complexities into his role were a massive standout amongst all of the incredible talent. Rebecca Ferguson’s Lady Jessica was a little different than how I envisioned her when reading the book, but the slight changes were great as they made sense and made Ferguson’s performance even more pronounced and impactful. Then there is Timothée Chalamet as the lead character, Paul Atreides, and he did an incredible job bringing this character to life and making it his own. The Paul character in the novel is not the most intriguing character, but the combination of the fantastic script and Chalamet’s performance, brought Paul Atreides to life in a way that audiences will connect to him and want to follow him on his journey.

Timothée Chalamet, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Oscar Isaac, and Rebecca Ferguson in Dune (2021). Via Warner Bros.

The biggest complaint I have seen people raise about this film, is its structure and pacing, and I completely disagree. This film, and the Dune story as a whole, is not an easily digestible sci-fi/fantasy story. Dune is more than just the standard sci-fi story, it is an epic, and with an epic, I welcome the slow and methodical pace. The film used it to great benefit as it completely immersed me into this sweeping world. While a lot of these types of films are heavy on action and easy to follow plots, Dune is much more complex and involved as it is, at its core, about the political and religious forces at play in the world. On the surface of this film, it would seem that the political side is the most prevalent in this Part One film, but that isn’t entirely the case. Several criticisms I have read have said that the Part One aspect of the film leads to either an anti-climatic ending (which I can see why some would feel that way if they’re unaware of the source material) or an abrupt cutting off point (as this is Dune: Part One, it only covers the first half of the first novel in the series). I think that recognizing the the religion aspect and how it relates to Paul’s visions throughout the film, makes the end of this chapter of the story a phenomenal place to leave audiences hanging. It’s hard to discuss this in detail without spoilers for this film, the second half to the story, and the other books in the series, but I think if a newcomer to the Dune franchise comes into this film and makes note of the religious overtones in what happens with Paul, they will love the ending as well.

My only complaint with this film is that it left a few scenes, from the book, out. Both of the scenes I have in mind were both integral to a lot of character development and to setting up the political innerworkings of the world. That said, with how methodical the pace is in this film, if these scenes were in the film, it would make for an even longer movie for a film that several believe to be too long already. So, I completely understand why they were not scenes in the film, and I am just ecstatic with everything that we did get.

As I have already stated, I believe Dune (2021) is a masterpiece of cinema. Every aspect of this film was incredibly, methodically woven into a jaw dropping product that will excite fans of not just Dune, but of film itself. This is a film that MUST be seen on the largest screen possible, preferably an IMAX or Dolby screen. If you read my review of the Dune novel, then you know that I said it would not be an easy task to adapt for audiences, but Denis Villeneuve did it, and he did it to such incredible mastery. Now all we need is to hope that Warner Bros. horrible decision to put the film on HBOmax simultaneously doesn’t cost the film the money it deserves: I want Denis Villeneuve’s entire take on the franchise greenlit immediately.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

10/10

Dune is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing images and suggestive material.

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