“There are Movies, and then there are Films”. It’s a cheesy quote, but one that does sort of explain that line between the blockbuster movies that are expected to put up big box office numbers and the smaller, usually more dramatic and serious films. Dune has a foot in both worlds.
I knew nothing about Dune. I haven’t read the book, seen the 1984 film or the TV show. All I knew was there’s some big ol’ worms. After a couple of hours in a cinema, I’m now seriously considering reading the book just because I am desperate to spend more time in this world. From the start of the film I was keen to not miss anything important. As it progresses the lines started to join up and the world starts to make more and more sense. Like watching a painter at work, first of all it’s just brush strokes and paint but at some point it starts to look like a stunning vista.
You have to be engaged with Dune or you will be lost. This isn’t a film you can drop in and out of. Even going for a pee break is fraught with risks. You could come back and have missed something that alters what we know about the world, the characters, the planets, anything. This is heavy sci-fi, much closer to Director Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival than it is Star Wars.
There wasn’t much doubt in my mind before, but this confirms Denis Villeneuve as one of the top directors working now. To ring such a complex world to screens is a feat in itself. To have it all work in such a powerful way with performances that are universally excellent and stunning visuals is just another thing altogether. I see a director’s job as being there to get the best out of every department, and he does it here.
One of those elements that’s near perfection is the score. There is a lot of dialogue free moments that the score swells and adds so much without ever being distracting. It’s no real surprise it was done by Hans Zimmer. He’s become the go to composer for these epic films and his work here is up there with his best.
As I mentioned, Dune is heavy sci-fi. There are very few big action set pieces, and it doesn’t build to a huge battle like most of these sci-fi epic scale films do. It’s a smaller finale, still full of tension and payoff, but not a grand scale special effects light show. Those type of things may be coming in future movies, which hopefully happen, as this first film is the start of what feels like an epic story.
Dune reminds me a lot of the first Lord of the Rings film. It’s a big comparison, one that I don’t make lightly, but it’s the only film I’ve seen since Fellowship of the Ring that successfully builds a huge world and sets up the lore, and then ends with you wanting to watch the next part of the story immediately. There’s elements of other great properties here too, Game of Thrones had clearly taken a lot of inspiration from Dune, and the TV Show that’s in the works to go alongside the Dune films might be a rival to that beloved (up to S6) series.
The only issue I had was with the pacing early on. The film drags a little for the first 45 while it introduces the characters. There’s still important moments in these early scenes, but it takes its time getting you hooked. That combined with the heavy, dramatic story might leave some more casual audiences a bit cold on the film. I think the next parts of the story will have much more in the way of physical conflict and could lead to some crazy action scenes.
The next part is not guaranteed, which is very disappointing and there’s a chance this ends up as the greatest trilogy never made. Dune is a great film, one that could be the first in a LOTR style epic saga. I really hope we get to see it.
Good: Possibly the best adaptation of a story with this scope I’ve seen for 20 years. Incredibly well done in all elements, Performances, special effects, cinematography, production design, sound and score. It’s superb.
Bad: Slow pace and very deep sci-fi storytelling might lose audiences who aren’t paying close attention. Not for kids or short attention spans.
TL;DR – Dune is Fellowship of the Ring but in the future. Please go and see it.