It is finally here, after seeing the trailers forever, it is glorious fun to watch Denis Villeneuve’s spectacular imagining of the iconic Frank Herbert science-fiction novel Dune (1965). Herbert combined his interests in the environmental cost of progress, the concentration of messianic religions in deserts and T.E. Lawrence’s story into Dune.
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The novel follows the fortunes of a young nobleman Paul, in a world riven by rivalry between feuding houses. The desert planet of Arrakis is wild and inhospitable, but of great value to the empire as it is the only place to produce melange or the spice which is necessary for interplanetary travel, apart from keeping a person young. The native population of Arrakis, the Fremen, survive the harsh conditions and are waiting for a messiah.
Dune has a troubled history as far as cinematic adaptations go with this being the third. In the ‘70s Chilean-French director Alejandro Jodorowsky proposed a version with Salvador Dali playing the Emperor (for $100,000 an hour) and psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd providing the music. That movie was in development hell forever, and then there was David Lynch’s deeply divisive version in 1984a , as well as a mini-series in 2000.
- Director: Denis Villeneuve
- Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem
- Storyline: Far in the future, a young man meets his destiny on an unhospitable planet
- Duration: 156 minutes
Incidentally, composer Hans Zimmer used a version of Floyd’s Eclipse in the trailer as a tribute to the doomed Jodorowsky production. For a novel long considered unfilmable for its density and obscure themes, Villeneuve read Dune when he was 12 (!) and has since wanted to direct his vision of the subject.
While the movie is extraordinarily good-looking, there is little of the wonder or joy that would have captivated a 12-year-old. Was there any particular reason to excise all the pleasure out of this story of young people meeting their destiny, while evil older people shadow box in the background? Villeneuve has called Dune as a Star Wars for adults, but that is no reason to leach out all the fun from the story, is there? Luke had fun on Tattooine even if it was just sand and two suns. In the same vein, we do not get a proper look at the sandworms, which is beyond disappointing.
The ensemble cast — Timothée Chalamet (Paul), Rebecca Ferguson (Jessica) who plays his mother, Oscar Isaac (Duke Leto) his dad, his mentors played by Josh Brolin (Gurney Halleck), Jason Momoa (Duncan Idaho) and Stephen McKinley Henderson (Thufir Hawat), Stellan Skarsgård (Baron Vladimir Harkonnen) the all-round villain, Dave Bautista (Glossu Rabban), Harkonnen’s blackguard nephew, Zendaya (Chani), the Fremen girl Paul dreams of, Chang Chen (Dr. Yueh), in the employ of House Atreides, Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Liet-Kynes), the Imperial ecologist, Charlotte Rampling (Gaius Helen Mohiam) the Reverend Mother who is interested in Paul’s visions and puts Paul through a horrible pain test, and Javier Bardem (Stilgar), a Fremen leader — are all uniformly good.
The sets are gobsmacking and the costumes diabetes-inducing eye candy. The ornithopters that take to the air like so many dragon flies, are delicious. If only the movie had not been so much in love with its own portentousness, it would have been unbridled fun. Hopefully there will be a sequel soon, and we will get to see the sandworms properly. That is surely not too much to ask….
Dune is currently running in theatres