Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 36 minutes, Director – Denis Villeneuve
Ducal heir Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) finds his visions of the future becoming true with increasing frequency as his family arrives on the much fought over desert planet of Arrakis, holding the universe’s most expensive and sought after substance, Spice.
There’s a slight surprise when the title ‘Dune: Part One’ appears on screen at the start of Denis Villeneuve’s latest. It’s not because this is only an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel – it’s been stated many times that this will be at least a two parter – but the fact that the lettering is so small when compered to the size of the screen. In many ways it reflects the film as a whole. While undeniably grand in scale with its awe-inspiring visuals, Dune never feels overinflated or as if it’s grabbing for your attention. Dune is unashamedly itself.
It allows for the vast landscapes of the desert planet of Arrakis to speak for themselves. Pouring over the viewer and bringing them into the futuristic world that has been visually carved out. Each shot, region and detail helps to expand this world and simply creates an even more impressive cinematic spectacle which explodes, sometimes literally, onto the big screen. What has been achieved visually makes Dune a rarity of a cinema experience. A feat close to that of getting away with bagpipes on another planet thousands of years in the future. There’s a striking impact which keeps the viewer in place over the course of the gradual build-up that acts as much of the film’s somewhat loose narrative.
We follow house Atreides her Paul (Timothée Chalamet) as he travels to Arrakis where his father (Oscar Isaac) is to take charge. It’s a time of great change for the planet, which has been much fought over and craved for the Spice which can be found on it. Spice is held highly as perhaps the most expensive substance in the universe thanks to its ability to held with space travel. It also makes the sandworm filled planet a must have for Stellan Skarsgård’s little-seen Baron Harkonnen. It’s after arriving on Arrakis that strange, almost painful, visions of the future that Paul has been having begin to become reality with increasing frequency. It builds up to an event that will shake the Atreides family, including Paul’s mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and cause Paul to drastically change – perhaps a bit too suddenly? – whether he likes and knows it or not.
In the build-up to this event there’s not much in the way of story. The planet is explored and there are certainly some visually stunning moments. From the expansive confines of the palace which the family reside in to some eye-widening sandworm action in the heights of the sand dunes there’s plenty to keep you engaged and entertained throughout. Moments which aren’t just visually engaging but also sound fantastic, truly capturing the atmosphere of the world which has been created and bringing you deeper into another layer of authenticity and believability which has been sculpted by the entire creative team behind the film. There’s no denying Dune’s chances in at least technical categories come awards season. The budget has clearly been used to great effect, however it’s also in the smaller details where there’s great effect. There’s something quite effective about the way protective suits worn by the characters during moments of combat surge red when hit and killed, perhaps landing more of an impact than the sight of blood would in this futuristic realm.
When it comes to more core elements and happenings in relation to the building narrative some points feel somewhat glossed over. Particularly the first appearance of Javier Bardem’s Stilgar – a leader of Arrakis inhabitants the Fremen. There’s a lot placed into this film, and it does mean that some elements are covered almost too quickly, yet there’s still the scale and appeal of the piece, which particularly helps when considering the fact that there seems to be little dialogue over the two and a half hour plus course of the film. You’re captivated by what’s happening on-screen, helped by the look and style of the piece. Everything builds up and continues to escalate and escalate towards a rather thrilling climax. And then the film continues.
It feels slightly weird to still be kept in the film, with a slightly slower pace, after what you thought was going to be the end. Perhaps this just me, but personally it did feel as if the ending was being built up towards and then the narrative progresses, albeit to the logical conclusion for this first half of the story. It’s certainly not that the film outstays its welcome, you definitely don’t feel the two and a half hour run-time. It’s more a case that it feels slightly odd remaining a part of it as it builds up momentum again in a much shorter space of time as the actual ending is built up towards.
Again, maybe this is all just me thinking that things began to slightly retract away from the five star spectacle that the film initially held. Perhaps on a rewatch I might see the film as just that all the way through. It certainly starts as one. Things just don’t completely recover after perhaps too much build-up and eventual release. But with a film of this magnitude and impact, perhaps it was bound to happen at some point?
One of the best cinematic spectacles for a long time, Dune effectively uses the big screen to express its grand-scale locations and stunning effects. Bringing you in for a story that while sometimes slightly rushed builds up pace to a point that on a first watch is perhaps eventually almost too far?