In yet another remake from the 80s, Dune makes its way back onto the nostalgia train and into the pop culture collective memory. For the record, this is the second film but the fourth adaptation of Frank Herbert’s award-winning novels. This is the second movie remake for director Denis Villeneuve and he does not disappoint as a filmmaker. There is grand and sweeping cinematography mixed in with intimate performances from seasoned actors. Dune had everything it needed out of the gate and gains so much momentum on the strength of its direction. Y’all, it does the original vision justice.
Denis Villeneuve holds the line in another sci-fi remake. Listen, he’s got a style, it worked in Blade Runner 2049 and it is even more refined in Dune. Highly contrasted between the extremes of light and dark in each shot. There’s a high level of creativity and intention all throughout the film. It would be easy to just glaze over the undertaking by calling it ‘a love letter’. Nah fam, there were so many obviously deliberate choices and painstaking details that the movie really does just vibrate with the resonance of Villeneuve’s signature style.
Casting is loaded but not at all overdrawn. A lot of heavy hitters in this cast. While Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya are top-billed and do the damn thing in their roles, my goodness, everyone else carries this first outing. Everyone understood the assignment. Rebecca Fergusson as Lady Jessica is a complex balance of the affection and ferocity of any and every mother. Charlotte Rampling alone, as the Reverend Mother completely ate every moment of her less than five minutes of screen time. The bruisers of the film – Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, and Dave Bautista provide the edge and gruff to contrast the deeply woven (and intentional) feminine strength that defines the main story arc; but never counteract it. Oscar Isaac, Stellan Skarsgård, and Javier Bardem bookend the cast as the patriarchs fighting for interplanetary supremacy and survival of their peoples. Each and every character is portrayed in the fullness of their humanity, and the actors leave nothing on the table. Also, shout out to David Dastmalchian for being in everything and being memorable in every role.
Denis Villeneuve is a Dune Stan and he is not shy about it. In several interviews and featurettes, he goes in about Herbert’s work being instrumental in his personal development. He went so far as to say he made this movie for himself since there would be no greater critique. In response to that, his interpretation of Dune is visually stunning. It is clear from the first moment that every penny possible went to making sure the visuals were without flaw or failure. The logistics alone required to bring this world to life make this a must-see in cinema history.
*Light Spoiler Alert*
That said, there are some cultural moments that didn’t sit right with me. For those of you seasoned in the Dune-iverse, quite a few bodies hit the floor in the first part of the book and the original movie. Which is great for getting the story arc off to an explosive start, but literally all of the primary speaking roles for the Black and Brown actors are killed off! When the movie opens it says, “Dune: Part One”, so why oh why can’t these actors have been characters that live? It was so sad to watch the life leave their bodies in such a rich narrative landscape. Quite honestly, it’s a little triggering with all of them but for the one that goes out with some dignity.
Another thing, the OG Dune was very much inspired by various cultural influences, most notably language and aesthetics sourced in Arabic. None of that seems as important or revelatory in this interpretation, but this is only the first installment of a series. Hopefully, there are more people in the room to create longer-lasting opportunities for actors of color in this franchise. Suffice to say, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is a phenomenal movie and it demands to be seen.