Dune is a story of two driving forces: humans, the decisions they make and the ramifications of those decisions, and big worms. I can confidently say that Denis Villenueve’s 2021 film adaptation Dune remains true to the book in this regard, the worm is BIG, as is everything else in this film. The visuals, the soundtrack, the world, everything is thoughtfully and carefully thrown at the viewer, and it makes me so excited and elated. You see, I love Dune. I often close my eyes and imagine the serenity of the deserts of Arrakis, the sun rising over the sand as it was described in the epic sextology (it’s only a desert planet for the first three books, whatever). Villenueve begins his adaptation with this imagery, and the following two hours and thirty-five minutes are filmed just as thoughtfully as that initial shot. Dune may be one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen, period. The cinematography is unmatched, this movie is simply wonderful to look at, much like Blade Runner: 2049 and Arrival, Villenueve’s previous two films. The planets feel bombastic and massive, cities are scaling and wide, the characters and world are fully realized (except for maybe Duncan Idaho, more on that later), and most importantly of all the presentation is endearing enough to make this massive world and story digestible to anyone, Dune fan or not.
This is the definitive adaptation of Dune on the big screen (sorry David Lynch), and that is why it pains me that it is only half a movie. My biggest complaint is that this is only Dune: Part One. The hero’s origin story is half complete, and by the end you simply want more. I did not want the film to end, I was so ready to see the next steps in Paul’s path. I was shocked by how much I enjoyed Timothee Chamalamapoopypants’ performance as Paul. He really managed to portray the “I don’t want to be the prophet!!!” Paul as seen in the first book. Pretty much every cast member struck it out of the park, their performances excellent, and their characters true to the book. Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica felt perfect, Oscar Issac as the Duke Leto brought out my favorite performance of his (and you get to see his cheeks), Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Liet-Kynes just felt right, Javier Bardem was Javier Bardem (good), and for the little we saw Zendaya as Chani, she completely dominated the screen.
Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho however…. I blame this more on the studio, Duncan’s character in the books is much more remorseful of his proficiency in killing and is a depressed drunk. The ‘dudebro’ relationship he and Paul have is nonexistent in the book, that is reserved for Gurney Halleck, Josh Brolin’s character. I get it, Jason Momoa’s hot., and that’s marketable. Stellan Skarsgård takes the cake for my favorite performance in the film. Baron Harkonnen isn’t as gross as he should be (not enough boils) but he is TERRIFYING in this film. His long cape floating through the air is intimidating, and the Harkonnen planet Giedi Prime looked exactly as it was described in the book. I wish there was more of him in the movie, and I cannot wait for more in part two.
My last criticisms lie in failures in worldbuilding. Water scarcity on Arrakis was only implied, nobody got called “water fat” and when Stillgar spat in front of the Duke Leto, people in the theatre laughed. I wanted to stand and yell “this is a serious moment!!!” as shedding of any sort of bodily moisture is a sign of extreme respect. Paul’s vision in the tent must have been confusing to new viewers, if you missed one thing he was mumbling the rest of the scene didn’t make any sense. There was weird explanations of Fremen tech available in movies for Paul to watch that would give context for him to know how to use stillsuits etc. later in the movie. In the book, Paul just kinda instinctually knows because he’s used these items in the future… and he can see the future, which is much cooler than something just being like “the sand walk is done by doing x and y”. Long story short, this adaptation is fantastic, and has left me only wanting for the sequel. Until then, I highly suggest the books if you can’t wait that long for more space Lord of the Rings.
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