Director Denis Villeneuve’s epic sci-fi movie ‘Dune’ is a cinematic experience. Magnificently mounted, it is cinema at its finest – in scale, craft, execution, and imagination. It has grand inter-planetary clan wars, brute armies with gigantic spaceships and technologically advanced weapons, an autocrat villain and a messiah.
The film is an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 book of the same name. Visually stunning, it not only tells a comprehensive inter-galactic ‘coming-of-age’ story, but also interweaves political intrigue and colonisation, exploitative greed, and conquest for the glittering, addictive substance called ‘Spice’.
The ‘Spice’ extends human life, provides superhuman levels of thought, and makes faster-than-light travel practical. We are informed, “He who controls the ‘Spice’ controls the universe.”
Part One – as ‘Dune’ is titled – is set in the year 10191. It is a complex universe with all the different houses (Atreides, Harkonnen, The Emperor and Fremen), their cultures, societal structures, and histories.
The narrative follows Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) as he and his family, the noble House Atreides, are thrust into a war for the dangerous desert planet Arrakis, which is also known as Dune. It is the only source of the most valuable ‘Spice’.
House Harkonnen, under the leadership of its Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), was in charge of harvesting ‘Spice’ for some time. They ravaged Arrakis and inflicted cruelty on the planet’s original inhabitants, the Fremen.
So, to rectify the wrongdoings, the Emperor abruptly hands over the stewardship of Arrakis to Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac). Duke Leto is aware that this opportunity is a trap set by his enemies. So, he takes along with him his reluctant son and heir Paul, his concubine, and Bene Gesserit (a sort of a tribe with its history) Lady Jessica (Rebecca Fergusson), and the entire House Atreides clan.
They travel to the dangerous planet of Arrakis to uphold humanity’s fate, hoping to combine forces with the Fremen. Their efforts are upended by sabotage, desert space worms, and a devastating plot to wipe out the entire Atreides bloodline.
The film is astutely crafted. The script written by Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth has well-etched characters who emphasise the complex relationships in the narrative.
It tells us about a father trying to impart wisdom and responsibility to his curious son, a mother who uses her voice as a weapon and believes that her son is the path to a new future, and a son who is struggling to understand his gifts (dreams) while living up to the expectations that have been set before him. All this, set against the backdrop of the meticulously planned disruptions by those with selfish motives.
The film is studded with a phenomenal star cast where every actor plays an integral role and adds significant gravitas to their arcs in the intricate story.
Grieg Fraser’s cinematography is incredible, with a colour palette that is purposeful and organic. His frames showcase the brilliant production values in costumes and design.
And the viewing experience is elevated with the visceral alien soundscapes of Hans Zimmer’s masterful sound design, which he delivers with aplomb.
Overall, despite its runtime of 2 hours 36 minutes, the film does not appear tedious because the narrative is moderately paced, it has emotions galore, and most of all, because the visuals appear fresh.
–By Troy Ribeiro