Dune Review (TIFF 2021)

PLOT: Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is the sole heir to the ducal House Atreides. When his father, Duke Leo (Oscar Isaac), is assigned to oversee spice production on the desert planet Arrakis, he’s plunged into a dangerous war between his father’s loyal subjects and the legions of House Harkonnen. 

REVIEW: Like everyone else, I’ve been dying to see Dune ever since it was first announced. Denis Villeneuve (a fellow Quebecois) is one of the rare filmmakers left whose movies are always events, and Dune has been a passion project of his for years. It’s a brave movie to take on, given how David Lynch’s adaptation was a big enough flop that it would have destroyed his career had he not immediately bounced back with Blue Velvet (which is not to say his version of Dune is terrible – it’s not). Dune is based on a dense novel by Frank Herbert, and, in an optimistic move, Villeneuve opted to only film the first half of the book in the hopes that the pricey epic is a big enough hit to merit a second part to wrap up the story. 

Our own JimmyO loved it, and I have to agree, Dune is the most lavish, exciting sci-fi epic we’ve gotten on the big screen in years. Villeneuve is a visionary operating at the peak of his talents, and everything about the film is exceptional – from the cast to the visuals to the music. Wisely, Villeneuve takes his time to establish the world of Dune, spending a good forty-five minutes developing all the characters before sending us to Arrakis. As a result, you get a sense of who Paul is and why he’s destined to be a great leader – much more so than in the Lynch film. 

Chalamet plays him as a somewhat reluctant hero. His exceptional work in the vastly underseen The King is a good preview for what he does here. While physically slight, he’s got a sense of gravitas that gives the character a lot of weight. He’s ideal casting, in that he commits fully to the part, giving Paul a sense of responsibility and heroism that makes you root for him, but also hints at the more dubious morality of the character that will come into play in sequels (if we’re lucky enough to get them). 

Zendaya, whose role has been hyped pretty heavily since the start, has a small part with, Chiani the Fremen woman he dreams of. But, again, if a sequel gets made, she’ll get a huge role in the next film, as will Javier Bardem as Stilgar, the Fremen leader and Josh Brolin as Gurney Hallack, one of Paul’s mentors. 

Of the supporting cast, those who get a chance to shine are Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson and Jason Momoa. Isaac’s Duke Leto feels like he could have been the star of his film to a certain extent, and his chemistry with Chalamet is strong. Ferguson is excellent as Lady Jessica, with her Bene Gesserit voice and intensity frightening at times. But, of everyone, Jason Momoa steals the show as Duncan Idaho. For those who haven’t read the book, he’s House Atreides’ resident badass, a swordmaster devoted to protecting Paul who makes alliances with the Fremen. He has the movie’s best action sequences, which focus on hand-to-hand combat and swordplay. I can see him quickly becoming a fan favourite.

If I have any complaints, the bad guys – the Harkonen’s – are underdeveloped. Stellan Skarsgård Baron is hideous, but there are no memorable signature moments of cruelty here, such as the heart plug scene in the Lynch version. Dave Bautista’s Glossu Rabban also has a pretty minor role. Indeed, this is likely going to be the only significant problem people will have with the movie – in a lot of ways, it leaves you wanting more, although I imagine that’s by design. 

Of course, I also have to join the “see iron the big screen” chorus. Villeneuve and DP Greig Fraser shot pretty much the entire film (90% or so) in IMAX, which is either 1:90:1 on Digital IMAX screens or 1:44:1 on the real deal ones. Either way, the film is drop-dead gorgeous, with Hans Zimmer contributing one of his best (and most unusual) scores in years, done in a way that’s meant to evoke instruments that would exist in the world of Dune

If a sequel to Dune doesn’t get made, it’ll be one of the biggest tragedies in modern film, as Villeneuve’s delivered us half of a masterpiece. But, God willing, he’ll get the chance to finish it, as his version of Dune could go down as a classic. 


Joblo Recommends…

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