Dune: Part One (2021)

Rating: ****
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Music: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Chang Chen, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling

"Fear is the mind-killer..."

For years, House Harkonnen has ruled the planet Arrakis and controlled its precious spice trade, but now the Emperor has ordered House Atreides to take over, hoping to destroy both houses in the process. Duke Leto Atreides' (Chris Isaac) occupation of the planet is short-lived, as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) infiltrates his palace with the aid of a traitor and annihilates the royal family. Only his teenage son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and concubine Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) escape, and they meet up with the indigenous Fremen people in the desert. Paul has exceptional physical and psychic abilities, and the Fremen see him as their messiah who will liberate Arrakis and lead a war against the galactic empire.

"The spice must flow..." And so must ticket sales if Part Two is to be made. The fact that the movie only covers the first half of the book took nearly everyone by surprise, leading many to wonder "Where's the rest?" "Dune" is a big budget epic with an excellent cast, breathtaking scenery, and superb art direction. I was never a fan of the book and I actually graduated from high school two weeks late because I had to write a 20-page paper on it and couldn't finish the reading in time. That said, I thought it was a good adaptation, but I'm not a purist so I can't geek out about it. Much like the book, the movie is slow, tedious, confusing, and convoluted, but I never felt lost or bored. It feels very much like Denis Villeneuve's "Blade Runner 2049" (2017) in terms of style, pacing, and execution, but without all of the sickening violence, thanks to its PG-13 rating. Hans Zimmer's evocative music score nicely complements the desolate desert imagery, and while I wouldn't call it melodic, it's pleasantly atmospheric.

Timothée Chalamet is superb as Paul Atreides and really fits the role. He is an innocent and emotionally volatile teenager who is thrust into an overwhelming position of power, intrigue, and political warfare. In the book he was fifteen years old, and I always felt that Kyle MacLachlan looked too old and mature for the part in the David Lynch film. Oscar Isaac is wonderful as Leto Atreides, and both Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa are excellent supporting characters. Dave Bautista makes a good Harkonnen heavy and Stellan Skarsgård is appropriately cruel and creepy as the Baron. Only Rebecca Ferguson seems miscast as Lady Jessica, even though she gives an outstanding performance. I haven't made up my mind about Zendaya as Chani yet, since she only shows up right at the end.

More than anything, the film is a visual feast. The scope is huge and the scenery is awe-inspiring. The cinematography is superb and the color palette does an excellent job of conveying the harsh and dry world of Arrakis. The visual effects are fantastic, and much like "Blade Runner 2049," exceedingly subtle as to not bring too much attention to themselves. This is not a film that relies on eye-popping aerial dogfights and dazzling action sequences. Instead, the visual effects serve the story in a thoughtful and contemplative way as they slowly build up the world of "Dune." I regret not being able to see it on a larger screen when it first came out. It's a long movie that clocks in at two and a half hours, and your enjoyment of it is probably directly proportional to how successfully you can immerse yourself in the world that Villeneuve is constructing. Given its overall positive reception, Part Two is scheduled to come out in 2023, and I hope it can maintain the same level of quality and visual excellence.