Director and co-writer Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is quite the movie to behold, even if you don’t necessarily understand what’s going on for a while. I had high hopes for this adaptation of Frank Herbert’s best-selling 1965 novel, since Villeneuve’s alien-arrival drama Arrival was my favorite movie of 2016, and I was also a fan of his Blade Runner 2049 the following year. The man knows his way around the future.
This time, however, he’s jumping not decades but thousands of years ahead—to 10191, specifically, when the galaxy’s emperor has decided that control of the valuable desert planet Arrakis should switch from the ruthless House Harkonnen to the much more fair and reasonable House Atreides. Duke Leto Atreidis (Oscar Isaac) suspects his house is being set up to fail (or be slaughtered), but he leaves for Arrakis with his concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) in tow after it’s been scouted and deemed safe by trusted solider Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa). Yes, that’s really his name.
It’s clear all is not going to go well once House Atreidis settles in on Arrakis. The planet’s never-ending dunes are populated by gigantic underground sandworms that like to snack on humans; its native population, the Fremen, are sick and tired of others ruling and mistreating them and have no reason to cooperate with their new royalty; and the priceless “spice” that’s mined from its sands makes it a tempting target for all sorts of space rogues.
But House Atreidis does have a few things going for it: Paul has some budding supernatural powers, and might also be the messiah. His mother’s mysterious sisterhood, the Bene Gesserit, believes he is, and the Fremen have their own legends and prophecies that make them curious about this thin young man with the absolutely killer hair.
One of Paul’s powers is that he can control people when he speaks to them in this certain deep and mega-freaky voice, and another is that he has visions that seem to be of the future. Again and again (too many times, honestly), he sees a Fremen woman (Zendaya) in his visions. So imagine his surprise when he actually, finally meets her. And imagine my surprise when this 2.5-hour-long movie ENDS shortly thereafter! Like, very, very abruptly ends.
Now, when Dune starts, a “PART ONE” flashes on screen, clearly warning audiences that its story is not going to be wrapped up in this installment. And that’s all fine and good, but even though Dune is long, it didn’t feel long to me, and when everything suddenly cut off I was shocked and annoyed. But in retrospect I know it’s a good thing for me to have become so immersed in this other world that I wasn’t getting antsy about the time and actually wanted more.
So if you’ve read until now and feel like your head is swimming because of the complex set-up and all the weird names to keep straight, I’m here to tell you to just find the biggest screen you can and see this movie, because it’s much easier to know who’s bad and who’s good and what’s going on when you see it all acted out—and when you have an awesome score by Hans Zimmer to guide you. Plus, everyone in the cast is top-notch. And I didn’t even mention Josh Brolin, Javier Barden, Dave Bautista or Stellan Skarsgård.
But the real reason you should see it is because its cinematography by Graig Fraiser is jaw-dropping. And because the world that Villeneuve has brought to life has to be seen to be believed—the dragonfly-like copters, the ships, the weapons, the outfits, the WORMS—it’s all so freaking cool. You will feel like you’re there. And I already mentioned Chalamet’s hair, right?
Speaking of Timothée, the majority of the movie is really on his shoulders. While I do believe he is one of his generation’s finest actors, I got a little annoyed with his version of Paul. He felt very much like the typical “chosen one” stereotype. Chalamet’s performance was fine, but I just thought it was weird that the guy this entire epic revolves around was pretty much the least interesting character to me. Who I really wanted more of was the savvy planetologist Dr. Liet-Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster), who’s caught with Paul, his father and others during a heart-pounding sandworm-attack sequence.
Perhaps we’ll see more of her in Part Two?