Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted October 22, 2021
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, a Sarlacc is the 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.
I watched this last night on HBO-Max, on my 43" screen, whereas I would have preferred the largest screen and best sound system possible, but I'm not comfortable going back to the theater yet. It was the main reason I subscribed, lucking into a six month promotional offer. It will be streaming for another 30 days, and I am sure this will not be the only time I watch it during that time frame, and feel confident I will buy it on Blu-Ray eventually. While that six month offer has expired, I am sure they have a free week trial period like most streaming services. If you don't feel confident in the safety of theaters, definitely check that out. If you do feel confident, make sure you go to a theater with the biggest screen and best sound presentation. I am confident you will be blown away.
We would appreciate your support for this site with your purchases from Amazon, Bookshop, and ReAnimusPress.