'Dune' transports its audience to Frank Herbert's world
Frank Herbert wrote the novel Dune and had it published in 1965. It became a famous science-fiction story and has been adapted for the screen twice; first as a feature film in 1984 and then as a TV miniseries in 2000. This third adaptation of Dune, from French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, 2015), is an adventurous science-fiction spectacle showing fully realized alien worlds that completely transport you. (Geometric spacecrafts float gracefully through the air, and monolithic stone buildings tower above the natural landscape.) But this film is not just about cool visual effects.
Dune tells the story of the royal Atreides family who, under government decree, move to the dangerous desert planet Arrakis to work on mining and distributing a precious natural resource there called spice. But soon after this royal family arrives on the planet, they are attacked through a well-crafted insurrection by a rival family, forcing the Atreides' teenage son to fight for his family's place in the universe and claim his foreseen destiny.
Denis Villeneuve proved he can create brilliant science-fiction films with psychological intrigue in Blade Runner 2049 (2017) and Arrival (2016). Dune continues the director's legacy with the story's premise serving a clear metaphor of colonialism and the more current conflicts and violence in the Middle East. (Interesting that this film was released less than two months after the official withdrawal deadline of American troops from Afghanistan and its subsequent wave of criticism.) Dune feels very reminiscent of the first Star Wars film (1977) but darker and faster with a style that's part Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk, 2017) and part Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968).
I recently finished reading the book Dune before watching this film, and it's not an easy piece of material to translate to the movie theater. The book has a lot of content on the intangible forces of a mystical group of women, there's a complicated lifestyle with the primitive desert natives, a foreign vocabulary is used for certain terms, and it has a lot of characters to keep track of. Thankfully, this film only covers the first half of the book, so its efficient adaptation doesn't feel over-stuffed. The dialogue and narration is rather moderate and cautious which adds to the sense of conspiracy and mystery. The only issue I have is the musical score is sometimes too loud, making it difficult to hear what some characters are saying.
Dune is a great reminder that blockbuster action-adventure films don't need to be emotionally shallow or dumbed down for audiences. They can be entertaining but also complex, demanding and rich with meaning. At a run time of two hours and 35 minutes, I didn't think of the time once. Dune is appearing to be what movie theaters have hoped for all year long: large crowds returning to the cinema.