Near the beginning of Dune, House Atreides arrives on the planet Arrakis, a desert world this noble family takes dominion over after an over 80-year rule by the tyrannical Harkonnen. As Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and their son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) walk off their ship and onto their new home for the first time, the immaculate Han Zimmer score blasts bagpipes to signal their arrival. But for the audience, this instrument, along dozens of lingering shots, memorable lines of dialogue and engaging characters, are indicators that Denis Villeneuve’s grand sci-fi spectacle is more than just one of the best films released this year, but the beginning of the next big franchise we’ve been waiting for.
Based on classic novel by Frank Herbert, we follow Paul, the heir to House Atreides, who has been experiencing strange visions of Arrakis in his sleep, foreshadowing the dangers we might see play out over the film’s runtime. He’s a good son, protected by his father and mother, as well as two soldiers under the Atriedes army in Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa). As his father makes their move to Arrakis, Paul’s visions turn to nightmares, thus leading his mother Jessica to call on the Bene Gesserit to examine her son, to see if he has the ability to become the Mahdi, which is essentially the one who will bring balance to all worlds and the elements in them. But as the Atreides make their move, the Harkonnen plan for their revenge, thus leading to betrayal, death, and the birth of hope within this scorching atmosphere.
It’s easy to get lost in the plot details of Dune on the first viewing if you aren’t familiar with it. But Villeneuve and his co-writers Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth are able to build a world on the page that it executed perfectly on the screen, thus all qualms anyone may have about the film seem to disappear as events are unfolding. The experience of watching Dune is the closest many will feel to watching The Lord of the Rings back in 2001, where Peter Jackson had the task of creating an unadaptable project into something that would carry cinema for years to come. And much like Fellowship of the Ring, Dune engulfs us with its wonder and lore to the point of rendering all who views it speechless. Alongside it’s wonder is a true sense of understand of the original source material and understanding that this is a story about people trying to figure out who they are and if they are as important as they are made out to be. Paul doesn’t know if he wants to be the one, or even the head of his house, his birthright. But we get to see his struggle, the struggle for survival of all that are around him, and the realization that it takes more than one person to save the world.
This isn’t surprising for Villeneuve, whose last film Blade Runner 2049 was as impressive of a technical achievement as any filmed within the last decade. But low box office returns showed lack of enthusiasm for that sci-fi drama, thus can make anyone nervous about the outcome of what he was going to do with Dune, but rest assured, he learned from his shortcomings, and created as accessible of a sci-fi action adventure film as you can get. It does help that he has Herbert’s novels as a jumping off point, but it’s his attention to detail mixed is masterfully displayed in every aspect of this project. Alongside cinematographer Greig Fraser, editor Joe Walker, costume designers Robert Morgan and Jacqueline West, production designer Patrice Vermette, and hair and make-up designer Donald Mowat, Villeneuve has brought together an all-star team of talent, working together in pure cinema harmony to create this intergalactic beauty.
Then there is this cast, which is one of the best ensembles of the year. Chalamet, Ferguson, and Momoa deliver the best performances of their career so far. Chalamet, who is the hottest up and coming actor in the industry right, is perfect as Paul. Quite at first, he displays layers of pain, uncertainty and confidence brilliantly as we see Paul grow throughout the film. Ferguson is captivating and heartbreaking as Lady Jessica, who can defend herself and her son well against any of the dangers that come near them. Then there is Momoa, who steals every scene he is in with dashing charm and skilled execution of those who mean to harm to Paul. Isaac, Brolin, Javier Bardem, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, and Sharon Duncan-Brewster deliver vital, rememberable, powerful performances throughout. Each actor is able to carry the responsibility of the iconic characters and create enough space for them to become comfortable, thus making each person we meet be someone root for and against and ultimately, invest our time in. By doing this, they effectively and successfully did what casts of old have done in creating a franchise, which is leave us wanting to see more.
A lot will be said over the next couple of months to determine the fate of this property. Everyone will be looking at box office and streaming numbers and pray they add enough to push the studio to greenlight the next installment. After all, this movie is only half of a complete story. But we shouldn’t get to that conversation too quickly, but instead, focus on this monumental achievement that Villeneuve and company created and celebrate the fact that this exists. It’s becoming rare to see directors create their passion projects on this level of scale. With this, Villeneuve cements himself as one of the visual masters of our time and provides hope that not every big budget story released nowadays needs to have capes.
Dune is the best blockbuster since Mad Max: Fury Road and an absolute masterpiece that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible with the best sound possible. And when it is all over, you will want to see it again and again. Dune is special, and just so damn good.
Dune will be in theaters from Warner Bros in 2D, 3D and IMAX and on HBO Max October 22.