I don’t go to the cinema very often. I’ve seen the recent five Star Wars releases, but before that I think it was the 2009 Star Trek reboot. All good films, and I tend not to go to the cinema unless I’m confident I’ll enjoy the film. travel, tickets, and food all add up, after all. But Dune is a film I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. You can find my review of the original novel here, but the gist is that I enjoy the setting and story, but am frustrated by the actual writing of it. A cinematic adaptation erases most of that issue. As an adaptation, Dune changes just the right number of elements. As a film in its own right, it is a phenomenal piece of entertainment.
This isn’t so much a review, as a collection of rambling thoughts on things I loved about the film. The first of these is how amazing it looks. Even if the story had been terrible and the acting wooden, I would have sat through this for the effects alone. I lot of people will say that CGI doesn’t matter. I recommend they watch plays instead, because Dune is one of the best looking. This is a film that must be seen on the big screen to fully appreciate. The landscapes are stunning, from ragged Caladan to the endless sands of Dune itself. But the human impact is equally impressive. The city of Arrakeen is a sprawling edifice of stone, with massive stone shutters moving to keep out the sun. Villeneuve’s Dune is a very tactile film. Everything has weight to it, literal as well a ssymbolic. The Atreides’ home is filled with images of Salusan bulls, while Geidi Prime is a world of oil and smoke. Nowhere is the scale more apparent than in the spacecraft. troop carriers stand like city blocks, and even these are dwarfed by the sheer massiveness of the Guild Heighliners. The whole thing is absolutely immense.
Speaking of immense, Baron Harkonnen is more terrifying in his brief appearances here than any other version. In the book (and previous adaptations) the Baron has been fat. In the book, he’s little more than a moustache-twiddling maniac with disgusting appetites. In 2021’s Dune, Stellan Skaarsgard brings a real weight to the role. Yes, he’s in a fat suit (and there are certainly strong opinions about that going around), but it’s not fat so much as mass. Baron Harkonnen may float with the aid of suspensors, but the impression he leaves is one of absolute terror. For the first time, Harkonnen is scary. This goes for the rest of his family too. We don’t see Feyd-Rautha, but Dave Bautista’s Rabban lives up to the Beast part of his name. Barely restrained and yelling, you can see the fury of the Atreides’ ancient enemy in his features. Now I will say I was originally a bit disappointed in the monochrome black of the Harkonnens when I saw the first trailer. I always imagined them as indulgent and excessive, covering themselves in trophies of conquest. Villeneuve takes their desire for more in a different direction. The Harkonnens are not simply abusive leaders, they are a black hole from which nothing escapes. And as the Baron draws the Atreides into his maw, I can see why Villeneuve took this approach. For villains that I didn’t really care for in the book, the Harkonnens rapidly became my favourite aspect of the film. Piter de Vries deserves a special commendation for standing out as a sinister creep on a planet full of them, with David Dastalmachian bringing so much to a role that is largely silent.
One of my issues with the book was the level of head-hopping, and while that is largely erased in the translation to screen, Dune still has more characters than a two-and-a-half hour film really knows what to do with. The Atreides family (Leto, Paul, Jessica) all do very well out of it, and Duncan Idaho has a slightly beefed-up role (possibly in anticipation of the sequels). But Thufir Hawat, Stilgar, Chani? There’s not enough of them. At least, not in this half. The fremen are sure to get more coverage in the second part. One character I want to single out is Kynes. this is one bit of casting I wasn’t sure about going in. Dune is a setting with fairly strict gender roles. The only women of authority in the book are the Bene Gesserit, so gender-flipping Kynes was always going to raise a few eye brows. But in her handful of scenes (honestly, I could have watched an entire film about pretty much any character in this) Sharon Duncan-Brewster is flawless. It’s a change that was likely to made in a male-heavy heavy, and I think they chose the right character to do it with. Villeneuve certainly chose the right actress for the part.
Dune has a bit of just about everything. Phenomenal acting, incredible visuals,a soundtrack that ranges from bagpipes to throat singing. And yet nothing feels unnecessary. Despite the fact that at two-and-a-half hours it only deals with half the story, this is a slick and effortless rendition of the book that started it all. It’s clear, it’s concise, and it’s entertaining. Simply put, it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in a very long time.