“Dreams are messages from the deep.” Those are the first words that are heard as the screen goes pitch black as we’re thrusted into the world of Arrakis, a planet also known as Dune. With powerful visuals and an immediate sense of conflict, the 156-minute film Dune directed by Denis Villeneuve immediately starts with a short history of Arrakis voiced by Chani (Zendaya). She is a Freman girl who speaks of the rise and fall of empires that have abused her people’s planet for its spice, the most valuable in existence. This introduction acts as a basis for understanding the power imbalance, politics and characters that are later built upon throughout the movie.
After the intense opening, the film’s atmosphere drastically changes as we are introduced to the main protagonist Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the heir of House Atreides of Caladan. As he wakes up from a dream about Arrakis, plagued with the face of Chani unbeknownst to him, the overlap between dream and reality blurs with great care to the contrasting details. Throughout the movie, the dreams and visions Paul has hold a warm, mystical air to them while Paul’s reality is much clearer and even harsh. These brilliant cinematography decisions play a crucial part to the way the film engrosses the audience.
An eruption of conflict over the planet’s precious spice supply and an added attempt of destroying House Atreides helps Dune reach its climax. This is where the underlying themes of ecological devastation and autocratic rule make their strongest appearances. It all started with Chani’s telling of Arrakis’ history although the references and critiques it makes can be missed in the complexity of the film’s plot. Though Villeneuve does an excellent job in re-imagining the world of Dune fit for visual entertainment, there’s no secret that the 1965 novel has a reputation for being difficult to follow.
This new adaptation is one of many, and this time around the achievements made by the screenwriters and production team are impressive. Villeneuve was able to take classical sci-fi properties and breathe life into them with high quality visuals and casting. Even so, the pacing at times felt unbalanced, almost inevitably considering the world building required for the plot. There’s more time spent developing Arrakis and its politics than developing the relationships between the characters, making scenes feel like a sudden end for characters when there could have been more.
Nevertheless, the cast should be recognized for doing a wonderful job in portraying the changing emotions of their characters. A memorable performance is Rebbeca Ferguson’s acting as Lady Jessica, Paul’s powerful mother. Fear, power and a chilling sense of uncertainty come alive in her character, a perfect contrast to Timothee Chalamet’s Paul Atreides. Critically acclaimed actor Jason Momoa is given a character which highlights his strengths. Duncan Idaho has the best fighting sequences of the film and Momoa maintains his charm.
Another important recognition of this film is its powerful soundtrack. Composed, orchestrated, conducted and produced by Hans Zimmer, each song did a perfect job of matching and adding to the ambience.
Watching Dune is a worthwhile experience in all its 2 and a half hours and because this film is only part one, there is still a lot more to experience in this vast world Villenauve has re-created.