Part One of Something Epic
Chris Kavan - wrote on 11/03/21
There have already been attempts at adapting Frank Herbert's Dune in the form of David Lynch's 1984 troubled adaptation as well as a made-for-tv mini-series. Denis Villeneuve's vision, however, is the most ambitious attempt to date and it comes closest to matching the book in terms of scope and depth.
Villeneuve, of course, is not stranger to adapting the impossible. He helmed the Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049 and while it wasn't as big of hit at the time, it is now regarded a true successor and a sci-fi classic in its own right. Dune is as big a gamble and despite an all-star cast, it also faced plenty of challenges and no guarantee of a sequel. And that was the big question as this version of Dune covers only roughly the first half of the book - meaning it ends on a huge ...to be continued. Lucky for use, a sequel has already been greenlit and it's no small feat.
Dune tells the story of House Atreides - led by Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), a powerful house who has been given control of the most important planet in the known universe Arrakis, the only place were Melange, the spice that powers interstellar travel, can be found. His house includes his concubine and Bene Gesserit witchy woman Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and his son, Paul (Timothée Chalamet). Like all houses, his retainers include a fighting master Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), mentat (think human computer) Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and Suk Dr. Wellington Yueh (Chang Chen). The house also has a mighty fighting force, including elite solider and pilot Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa). The entire clan is set to take over the dune planet after House Harkonnen, led by the bloated Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) and his rabid, bloodthirsty son known as Beast Rabbon (Dave Bautista) have been outsted by Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV.
Even before they leave, Paul has been having dreams of a Fremen girl, Chani (Zendaya) - the local warriors who call the planet their home. His mother has been training him in the ways of the Bene Gesserit, something their leader Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) fears and she tests the boy - and failure means death. But Paul passes the test, one step into becoming the Bene Gesserit's Kwisatz Haderach - a messianic figure - though he is far from the only candidate.
Duke Leto suspects their post to Arrakis is not a blessing - as both House Atreidies and Harkonnen are very powerful and he suspects the emperor has pitted them against one another in order to secure his own powerful position for the future. But he is not idle, sending Duncan on a recon mission in order to appeal to Fremen, who have been crushed under the heel of the Harkonnens. He feels making a connection is the much better option and is rewarded when Stilgar (Javier Bardem) at least acknowledges their attempt - in his own way. After finding equipment old, outdated or sabotaged, he appeals to the imperial arbiter Dr. Liet Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) on getting more support - but she has gone native, in that she has the blue eyes of the dune-dwelling Fremen and is more interested in protecting the planet than anything else.
Of course Duke Leto is correct in his assumptions and the Harkonnens are not content with letting their prize go - and an unthinkable betrayal leads to all-out war. But while many are lost - not all are as Paul and Jessica flee into the desert where they meet up with Stilgar and Chani - but it is not the meeting they expect but manage to secure their spot with the tribe.
Dune has a lot of characters and a lot going on. I have a feeling that those who aren't familiar with the book may feel fairly overwhelmed by the many people and terms that are thrown about. Still, the table has to be set before you can enjoy the banquet - and it's necessary for this introduction, even if it is over two hours. What Villeneuve gets right is the epic scope - from the visuals to the music to the characters - and he has a rock solid cast that shines. While I was wary of Chalamet, he really does make Paul feel both powerful and vulnerable - naïve yet willing to grow - and he does a good job anchoring the film. Momoa provides some levity in Idaho's affable but strong nature while Isaac is fine father figure with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Even small side characters - like David Dastmalchian's twisted mentat Piter de Vries, just fits like a glove.
I will say with all this set up, the pacing can be slow - and there is a lot of exposition to get through - but if you can see it through the eyes of fan of the series, it doesn't matter in the end - this is the sci-fi epic we were promised so long ago that has finally been delivered. Now we know the show will go on and I am excited to see how the second part (and maybe beyond) turns out - and if part 1 is any indication, it will be just as epic.