Science-fiction films have always been touch and go for me, especially those based on novels, are over 2 hours long and are of a grand scale. So when I first heard about Dune being remade, I wasn’t sure that it would be for me, given that I hadn’t seen the original film either.
Despite my many misgivings, I was somewhat intrigued about the film. Not only did it have an ensemble of talented actors making up the cast but the film was being helmed by Denis Villeneuve, a director whose films I’ve enjoyed thoroughly in the past.
Not one to shy away from new things, I watched Dune (a.k.a Dune Part One) with an open mind, expecting very little from the film as a whole. Thankfully, any misgivings I’d had were immediately removed as soon as the film began.
Dune, like most sci-fi, fantasy epics, follows the journey of the young protagonist, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the son of a noble family who have recently been entrusted with the most valuable commodity on the planet. Like with many films of this kind, all is not what it seems.
The film opens with a brilliant introduction, narrated by Zendaya, who plays the Fremen warrior woman, Chani. We’re given the lay of the land, so to speak; An explanation on the who’s who in the galaxy and the tensions that have led to the Fremen living the way that they do, as well as an insight into the much talked about sandworms that Dune is often linked with.
Such an introduction is always welcomed when it comes to films of such grandeur because it allows viewers a much deeper understanding of the world within the film, without needing to play guessing games or piece puzzles together. This kind of introduction sets the tone for the film and allows viewers to sit back, relax and be immersed in the film as a whole.
The introduction was not the only thing that was well done right off the bat. Each of the characters in the film are given enough time within the first act of the film for viewers to become familiar with the role they play in the film. We’re introduced to Paul right from the start, as well as the people around him and his relationships with them. This allows us a chance to ‘meet’ each primary character and begin feeling a connection with each of them.
Throughout the duration of Dune, these characters are all given their due on screen, with equal amount of focus, allowing that kinship we had with them at the start to grow. Unlike other films with an ensemble cast, particularly those with several leading Hollywood stars, Dune manages to strike the right balance with their cast, each character playing off one another in just the right way. For example, we see and learn as much about Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) as we do about Duncan Idaho (Jason Mamoa) and Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin). Or at least, that’s what I felt like, which is more than I can say about certain other films with several protagonists.
The character development throughout the film was spot on too. At the start of the film we see Paul as an emotionally charged boy with gifts that he’s unable to make sense of or truly control. By the end, we see him take control of his gifts and training, becoming the man that he was ‘meant to be’.
A lot of what makes Dune enjoyable is also a testament to its cleverly crafted story and the pacing in which it is told on screen. Villeneuve has shown great care in his screenplay and direction, which is evident throughout the entire film. The film’s story is almost told in the style of a play, with several Acts that help urge the story along. Each of these Acts are so captivating that at no point was I bored or felt a lull in the film. Mesmerised at every turn, Dune’s story is truly compelling and effectively tells a tale fit for a sci-fi fantasy epic.
Visually, the film is a class above. The ability to make what looks like a desolate planet look rich and vast yet lonely and unoccupied at the same time is astounding. This visual prowess doesn’t just lend itself to the desert planet Arrakis alone. At every turn, visual effects are used at optimum levels, making the film larger than life. This was especially so given that I watched the film on one of the world’s biggest screens (at least the biggest screen in Australia anyway). Watching the film on an IMAX screen only heightens the visual effects of the film, which really does make Dune feel so much more larger than life than originally expected. A good thing in my books.
Having Hans Zimmer score the film’s soundtrack is an incredible choice. With powerful reverberations echoing through the entire cinema during key moments. The combination of cinematically ‘epic’ audio mixed in with high end graphics helped illustrate the story of Dune in a masterful way.
All in all, while only being Part One of a series, Dune managed to enthral me in a way that makes me regret my earlier misgivings. With a well executed story, development of plot and character with sound pacing and wonderful visual and audio effects, Dune is definitely THE film to watch this holiday season.
*P.S Next to the Avengers series of films, Dune is now another example of a brilliant film that manages to give each character their due without any one particular lead overpowering the others. Naturally Paul Atreides stands out given the entire franchise is about him in some way but to see the other characters get their due is a testament to great direction and good filmmaking.