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Dune is a visual and auditory feast but lacks an emotional core

Dune. Arrakis. Desert Planet.
Posted at 3:58 PM, Oct 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-24 18:58:29-04

A beginning is a very delicate time...

Dune has often been called unfilmable. Frank Herbert's science fiction magnum opus, generally considered one of the best of its genre, is at its core a cerebral and spiritual journey. The novel is admittedly, one of my favorite books and I have found myself returning to Arrakis countless times throughout my life. So when I found out Denis Villeneuve, my favorite director releasing movies at this time (Sicario, Blade Runner 2049, Prisoners) was adapting the book, I was hopeful he could manage the unmanageable. If David Lynch, another of my favorite directors, couldn't do it (though admittedly, he only attempted it for the opportunity to make more of his weird movies, not an appreciation of the source material), maybe Denis could.

First off, Dune is part one of two, meaning this movie is essentially half of a film. I put this up front because I do think it makes rating this as an individual film extremely hard. When both parts have been released, I am sure I will have more positive thoughts insofar as my major gripes with this half.

Dune follows the young Paul Atreides, the son of a duke from the planet Caladan. The Padishah Emperor uproots the Harkonnen family from the desert planet Arrakis, the only place in the universe where the precious material known as Spice can be mined. The Atreides are sent to pick up where the Harkonnen's left off; though it quickly becomes apparent there is foul play and political maneuverings involved and young Paul's destiny as a messiah for the planet's Fremen must come to fruition if the Atreides will survive.

Dune attempts a gentle introduction to its universe but if the constant questions from my viewing partner were any indication, it still has a bit of a learning curve that might turn some people away. Keeping track of the made up words and the various ideas that make up this universe is going to be tough without the background of the book. In comparison to Lynch's adaptation, this is light years easier to comprehend but still needs a little handbook to keep track of things.

As I mentioned, this is half a story and because of that, a lot of the movie is setting things up rather than propelling the story toward any kind of conclusion. That means a lot of quiet time involving politics, exposition, and trying to build the characters. The problem is that none of the characters, even our main hero Paul, gets enough time to really be someone the viewer can invest in. The book offered a lot more of that character building, especially on the part of the Baron Harkonnen (who here is much revamped from the novel's Baron and his peculiar predilections). The movie lacks that, and as a consequence, it becomes hard to invest in. It's only toward the end that Paul is propelled on his messianic journey, and right as he begins his major transformation that the credits roll.

Because of that, the actors don't have a lot of chemistry. The all-star cast led by Timothy Chalamet as Paul do a great job with the material and I'll have a hard time reading the book without seeing the actors as these characters; but that said, because Dune is bereft of a strong emotional core, they don't have much to work with.

But regardless of the emotional flatline, what will really woo moviegoers is the art, direction, and score. Villeneuve's eye for light and shadow and gorgeous cinematography make this a bountiful visual feast. There are so many frames that are absolute artworks and compounding that with Hans Zimmer's erratic, powerful score makes for a memorable experience, especially in IMAX. This is a movie that begs to be seen in the theater setting, losing some of the punch of the sound design and sweeping cinematography on the small screen.

Dune is one of the best films of the year so far but due to being half a story, loses some of the emotional momentum it starts to build toward the end. Whether the story and characters draw you in or not, the sheer craftsmanship will leave your eyes glued to the screen, taking in every shot, appreciating it like fine art at a museum. As stated above, I am sure I will have a much more positive and enthusiastic recommendation were I able to view this with Part Two (which is in the works). But as it stands, Dune Part One is a fantastic, but slightly flawed, ride.

3 out of 4 Stars

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