Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted October 22, 2021, with later edits
Bottom line: this is a very good film, which I recommend. I'm hesitant to say a great one, but it's as good as I could have hoped. Infinitely better than the previous adaptations, effective in telling its story even while being limited by the source material. By that I mean the novel was more concerned with the grand scope of the various factions making up a galactic empire, while using only broad strokes in describing individual characters. Paul Atreides is a boy with a destiny, with the story content to move him from place to place in order for him to have the experiences and meet the people who will propel him toward that destiny. In another time this would have the potential to be a major phenomenon, although it's possible a large portion of the audience, those not familiar with the book or its earlier adaptations, will think it's a rip-off of another franchise.
I don't think it's a secret that George Lucas was heavily influenced by the book, and in some alternate universe he may have adapted Dune instead of creating his own fictional galactic civilization. Luke Skywalker is Paul Atreides, the Force is the Bene Gesserit's Weirding Ways, Tatooine is Arrakis, the Tusken raiders are the Fremen, the Sarlacc is a sandworm. Not sure who would be the stand-in for Obi-Wan Kenobi, but enough of that analogy. It's inevitable that will be on a lot of people's minds as they watch Denis Villenueve's take on the Frank Herbert novel. As with Star Wars, the new Dune film is on the cutting edge of visual effects, nearly perfect in embodying the grand scope of the galaxy reference above. Everyone is dwarfed by the ships, and the buildings, most of which show their age and their power to crush the weak and unprepared. The briefly glimpsed sandworms are more awesome and terrifying than the previous cartoonish versions, and the ornithopter is finally as I pictured it while reading. Light and shadow play a big part in setting mood, from the harsh sunlight of Arrakis, to the oppressive darkness of Baron Harkonnen's keep, and particularly how they varied the lighting and camera angles for Duke Leto, Paul, and Jessica.
Every adaptation has cast Paul with actors about ten years older than he was at the beginning of the book, but at least Timothée Chalamet looks a lot younger than his years. Oscar Isaac is effectively imposing when being the Duke, and warm and humble when interacting with Paul and Jessica. Most of the other actors have such little screen time it's hard to judge them. Some will return for "Part Two," currently in production, while some viewers might be surprised when big name stars are killed off early. If you've read the book or seen the other films you know exactly who I'm talking about. I won't spoil it for anyone not familiar with the story. We only get about halfway through the book here, as Paul and Jessica are taken into Stilgar's tribe, heading toward Sietch Tabr. That same action came about halfway through Lynch's film, and a short way into Part Two of the mini-series. Discounting credits, that's about two hours, twenty-five minutes; a full adaptation would have clocked in close to five hours. Almost everything is very close to the book, minus a few brief scenes, and some dialogue from a different character. At no time will you think you are watching anything short of a faithful adaptation. One brief criticism, however. Because personal shield technology is used by all sides, knives and swords are used for close combat rather than guns. Only slow and steady movement can penetrate the shield. In this film it seems apparent the shields are not working as stated, because quick stabs, slashes, and thrusts are able to get through the barrier.
EDIT: Another criticism; On numerous occasions, Paul, Jessica, Chani, and others are in still-suits but are not wearing their masks, when that would be necessary for where they are. Granted, it allows us to be able to identify the actors, but otherwise is against the Fremen code of preserving as much of the body's moisture as possible.
I watched this last night on HBO-Max, on my 43" screen, whereas I would have preferred the largest theater screen and best sound system possible, but I'm not comfortable going back to the theater yet. Might not ever be. [Minor edits here] It streamed there for a month, but will likely be back on the service at a later time. At the current time (January 17) it is only at one of the theaters in my town, and down to just three screenings a day, but probably won't be there long. If you do feel confident in the safety of theaters, I'd still recommend that if you have the opportunity. I am confident you will be blown away. It is now on DVD and Blu-Ray (and 4K, but it will probably be a long time before I upgrade to that, if ever). I have no idea how long it will take for Part Two to be completed, but I'm ready for it now.
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