Dune (2021)

In a universe controlled by dominant noble houses, a political power struggle is about to erupt on the planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. The emperor has decreed that House Harkonnen will no longer control the planet and the universe’s only source of Spice, the substance required for interstellar travel and thus the most valuable commodity known.

Instead, House Atreides is now being sent in: Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) and his son and heir, Paul (Timothee Chalamet), will now attempt to replace almost a century of Harkonnen brutality towards the workers and the indigenous Freman people. Nobel and kind, the Atreides goal is peace, of a planet and peoples working in harmony.

I mean, you know that’s going to go wrong, don’t you? 😉

Frank Herbert’s novel Dune was published in 1965, and went on to spawn several sequels both by the author, and then his son. The books cover not just centuries, but millennia of lore and story telling. Even just the first book is a hefty 600+ pages of dense intrigue and backstory, so no small wonder that this movie is subtitled “Part One”.

And let’s get it over with: that is my biggest complaint, and it’s not a small one: this is half a movie, at best. In fact, somewhat less, as it has to do all the set up for none of the pay off. I caught myself wondering if much of it would make any sense at all to those who hadn’t already read the book.

Even if you haven’t, and even if it doesn’t (make much sense) you are going to be able to at least sit back and marvel at how gorgeous this movie is. I am so glad I got to see it on the big screen, it deserves it utterly. While most of the story takes place on the desert world, we also get glimpses of other homeworlds, vastly different in tone and type. The sweeping exterior shots are impressive, but so are the magnificent structures and interiors, managing to seem quite subtly alien and different.

I was also thoroughly impressed with the cast, albeit knowing from the books that many of them will not be back for part 2, alas! It felt a bit of a shame to have so little of Josh Brolin (as Gurney Halleck) or Jason Momoa (as Duncan Idaho), and mere glimpses really of Stellan Skarsgard’s Baron Harkonnen, or the twisted Piter De Vries (David Dastmalchian). And there’s more! Others such as Zendaya and Javier Bardem will probably feature heavily in the sequel.

Of course, the focus is really on young Paul, and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). The later was excellent, she seemed made for the world of Dune. Even Chalamet wasn’t too awful, and I say that as a giant non-fan – he’s all floppy hair and smugness, imo. It’s not his fault that the story is one of a ‘white saviour’, a child of (argh) prophecy and the chosen one. Yawn yawn. It is also so very difficult to do ‘visions’ on screen, and they pretty much pulled it off.

And then, of course, alas alack, the story just… peters out. “This is just the beginning,” says Chana, helpfully, but… yeah. I really really hope the sequel gets made. This is a gorgeous film, and a very good adaptation of a very difficult novel, and yet… it’s lacking. It needs its second part, not least because that’s where all the interesting stuff happens. I hate to say it, but there were moments during this that I was… bored? Yeah, kinda bored. I’m not sure it needed to be 2½ hours long, and I definitely wanted to have the pace pick up in the last third.

And still. *If* this gets its other half, and possibly even the second book to form a trilogy, I think it will stand as one of the great sci-fi adaptations. But right now? Go see it so that they *will* make the rest, but go for the spectacle over the story, and use it as an excuse to (finally / re) read the book.

Released: 21st October 2021
Viewed: 21st October 2021
Running time: 155 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10 – mostly for a respectful adaptation, and downright gorgeous visuals

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