Dune: Another Mind-Blowing Epic From Denis Villeneuve


“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And once it has passed, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain,” – The Litany Against Fear

Released in 1965, Dune by Frank Herbert went on to become a long-lasting and iconic science fiction classic. No one has been able to properly adapt the story to the big screen, despite several attempts over the decades. Between a daring effort by Alejandro Jodorowsky that ended up being canceled, a heavily panned David Lynch adaptation, and a bloated Syfy miniseries, no adaptation has been able to capture the magic of the novel. Now, with the incredibly acclaimed Denis Villeneuve at the helm, a massively talented team at his disposal, and a necessary two-part franchise on the line, it is finally time to let the spice flow once again with the newest adaptation of Dune.

Dune takes place in the year 10191. The many colonized planets across the universe are led by a group of royal houses. In this far, distant future, the universe vies for one planet in particular: Arrakis, a scorched desert wasteland populated by monstrous sandworms. Arrakis is the only planet in the universe to have the “Spice Melange,” a powerful drug that grants its users prolonged life, superhuman intelligence, and allows the group known as the “Spacing Guild” to travel across the universe with ease.

The story begins with one of the royal houses, the benevolent House Atreides, being given control of Arrakis, with the house leader, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) hoping to improve spice production on the planet. Shortly after arriving, however, they are attacked by the rival House Harkonnen, led by Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård). Two of the only survivors are Leto’s concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), who is also a member of the powerful, all-female organization known as the Bene Gesserit, and Leto’s son Paul (Timothée Chalamet). Escaping into the deep desert, the duo eventually meets a group of natives to Arrakis known as the Fremen. Paul begins a journey to take back Arrakis from the Harkonnens and lead a rebellion that will change the universe forever.

I feel like I need to mention something pretty important to know about the film going in: the 2021 adaptation of Dune does not cover the entire book. The film ends roughly halfway through the book, and it very much ends on a cliffhanger, which many people could find abrupt. There are several characters who have minimal development and screen time, and there are quite a few characters from the book that are not even mentioned, nor seen, in the film. The bottom line is that you should not go into Dune expecting to see the entire story. If the story feels incomplete, that is the point, and that is the exact reason why the recently greenlit sequel is mandatory.

First and foremost, let me talk about the cast of this film. They are amazing all-around. Every single cast member gives a great performance, including Josh Brolin as the rough and paternal weapons master Gurney Halleck; Oscar Isaac as the honorable and loving Duke Leto Atreides; Javier Bardem as the stoic Fremen leader Stilgar; Sharon-Duncan Brewster as the helpful ecologist Liet-Kynes; and Timothée Chalamet as the young and naive, but occasionally fierce, Paul Atreides. The highlights, however, have to be Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, who is unapologetically cruel and almost frightening to watch. The other has to be Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica, who manages to give a truly emotional and multi-faceted performance. The cast in Dune is pretty much perfect, and I cannot wait to see some of them, particularly Stellan Skarsgård and Zendaya (the latter of whom appears very briefly as the Fremen Chani), to be further developed in the second part.

Strictly in terms of visuals and other technical elements, Dune might not only be the best film of 2021 but the best film in years. Grieg Fraser’s cinematography, while not quite as distinctive or immediately iconic as that of Villeneuve’s frequent collaborator Roger Deakins, is still really great, with nearly every single shot being utterly beautiful to look at. The editing by Joe Walker is smooth as silk and never detracts from the film. The costume and set design are immaculate, to say the least, and the visuals are gorgeous.

There is one other technical element I have not mentioned yet, and that is because it deserves its own time in the spotlight: the score. The musical score of the score is done by none other than Hans Zimmer, and his score feels so ethereal and alien. It combines the smallest hints of humanity with very desert-appropriate Middle Eastern chants that are honestly hypnotizing to listen to. The score, combined with the visuals and cinematography, makes the film truly incredible to witness. Dune feels less like a film and more like an experience.

Last but not least, there is the story. Having read the book myself, I knew where the story was going. Despite the abrupt nature of the film and the heavy amounts of exposition, I could not help but love it. Said exposition honestly did not feel intrusive at many points, especially considering it is quite literally necessary for audiences who may not be familiar with the source material. 

After many decades of being considered “unfilmable” by many, I think we finally have a worthy adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic novel. The 2021 adaptation of Dune is truly excellent, and it is honestly a breath of fresh air after years of comic book films and other films like it that all just feel like the same thing. The acting from the entire cast is sublime, the technical elements are fantastic all-around, the score is amazing to a nearly impossible degree, and the story is very great and captivating. Do not get me wrong: had we never gotten the second part of the story, then the opinions of myself and many others definitely would have changed drastically about this film. But now, with the sequel now greenlit and set for a 2023 release, it is safe to say that we have not seen the last of the world of Arrakis.

Final Score: A+