Denis Villeneuve’s long-gestating creation of a fantasy sci-fi film Dune is an impressive feat of majestic vision with a surprisingly coherent narrative, leaving you yearning to see what comes next.
Dune is the first of Villeneuve’s two planned features based on the 1965 novel by Frank Herbert. Epic in every sense, it offers stunning otherworldly landscapes, alien-like machinery and dystopian styling. As with all good storytelling, it is the strength of Villeneuve’s lead characters that also help make the film: stoic and brave yet soft with pregnant pause enough to still the raging battles, deceitful traps and wild tapestry of a plot.
Screen versions of the Herbert novel have had a famously fraught history – including the convoluted, stylistic, slow, polarising – and sometimes confusing – version by auteur David Lynch, who on his own accord was so disappointed, he liberated himself from the movie. Villeneuve, after proving his merit with revered long-awaited sequel to original sci- fi masterpiece Blade Runner, seems to have struck gold twice with Dune.
The director recently said to Vanity Fair, “I would not agree to make this adaptation of the book as one single movie.” This Dune covers only the first half of the novel, begging for funding to continue the saga, should this prove to be a box office success… and that is looking likely.
Up-and-coming “A-listers” Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya join an all-star cast, with talented chameleon Oscar Isaac performing as the regal and moralistic patriarch Duke Leto of Atriedes, ruler of the peaceful ocean planet Caladen.
The matriarch is played by Rebecca Ferguson, who grows on you until she breaks out of the wooden stereotype of dutiful mother and wife to distinguish herself as a bad-ass woman not to be underestimated.
Jason Mamoa plays charming Duncan, a powerful sword master who serves the House of Atreides, and, casting veteran actor Stellan Skarsgård as the despicable Baron, Vladimar Harkonnen, Villeneuve and his team set out to create a bold new vision of the Harkonnen world.
Not relying on CGI, the prosthetics that actor Stellan Skarsgård wore to play the ‘Dune’ villain weighed more than 80 pounds! Rounding off this stellar cast are strong performances from Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and David Bautista.
But back to dude of the moment, Timothee Chalamet, his screen presence is sultry, his chiselled face stunning. Indeed, Chalamet steals the screen without so much a word but a furtive glance. He came to my attention with his stand-out performance in the period film The King (playing David Michod), currently stars in Wes Anderson’s wonderfully warped The French Dispatch, and will surely delight in the origin story of Willy Wonka (playing Wonka, of course). This is is one in-demand actor set for future greatness.
Now, back to the Dune story… The sandy vast planet of Arrakis houses colonies that have a long history of conflict over the trade and colonisation of mining a magical substance called “spice”. The powerful substance is an unparalleled energy source that fuels space travel and acts as an hallucinogen. Paul is exposed to the spice while heroically aiding his crew to save the neglected workers harvesting in the dangerous desert. The spice unleashes his prescient abilities, public witnessing of his powers propels a widespread stirring of murmurs of a rebel uprising with Paul prophesised as the saviour messiah to bring down the Emperor.
We witness the beginnings of his bravery and his potential to challenge the corrupt Emperor and ally with the oppressed colony, the Freman who see the spice harvesters as exploiters. The Freman forced to live underground in secret enclaves have come to co-exist with the gargantuan worms that rise up out of the sand like a villain wired to kill anything in its path in order to protect the spice. The reimagining of the alien like worms supported by a big budget in tow, results in breathtaking scenes when the sandworms finally attack.
So now, to simplify the storyline. There’s a nexus of planets under the reign of an autocratic Emperor, whose deceptive rule wreaks havoc. He upsets the balance of order by removing the long running rule of the evil house of Harkonnen who control the harvest and trade of the spice. He decrees that the benevolent House of Atriedes and its leader the Duke, Paul’s father take their place. The power play evokes an epic planetary battle with no holds prisoners with monumental consequences, all reflecting the Emperor’s grand design to entrench his future wealth and domination. Ultimately, Dune (part one) ends at the halfway point in the story, where upon surviving the first ambush, Paul meets the Freman girl, (Zendaya) from his visions and starts a quest that resembles the prophecy, leaving us with the timely teaser, “This is just the beginning.”
Yes, it sure is… leaving us longing for more, to relive this seductive cinematic experience with old-fashioned blockbuster escapism, immersed in a combination of an explosive soundtrack with truly epic feels. Oh, and do yourself a favour: see Dune on the big screen. After all, 35 years of waiting and visionary Villeneuve at the helm demands it.
‘Dune’ is in cinemas December 2.