Tom Crowley controls the spices.
There are a lot of moving parts when reviewing the long awaited release of Denis Villeneuve’s vision of Dune. Not least one’s relationship with Frank Herbert’s original text. It should be clear that this reviewer has not engaged with the much lauded science-fiction novel. David Lynch’s 1984 effort, has been my only window into this world, in all its campy, clunky glory. It is an ambitious project for Villeneuve to take on. Tasked with satisfying lovers of the novel, and blockbuster film fans alike. Villeneuve loves a challenge. As evident from his taking the mantle from Ridley Scott by making Blade Runner 2049. Whether he delivers on the high expectations sought after by avid fans of the novel, these opinions cannot be expressed here. However, what can be said is Villeneuve has made a thrilling sci-fi epic that, at times, gets bogged down by mandatory world building exercises.
Dreams have always been a fixation for Villenueve. His 2013 effort Enemy is essentially a waking nightmare. Dreams link the protagonist of Dune, Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), with the protagonist of Arrival (2016), Louise Banks (Amy Adams). But, are they dreams or visions of the future? Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) asks Paul ‘Do you often dream things that happen just as you dreamt them?’ to which Paul replies ‘Not exactly’. It seems Villeneuve is continuing his musings, on dreams, language and the space-time continuum that proved so awe-inspiring in Arrival.
Unfortunately Villeneuve does not get a chance to stick any kind of landing on this set up because Dune is Part 1 of a prospective 2-parter (this has not been overtly mentioned in the film’s promotion because Part 2 is essentially still ‘to be announced’). What we do get. however, is an audio-visual feast. Villeneuve and his screenwriters do an excellent job of executing a complicated plot without either dumbing down the narrative or alienating audiences with overbearing exposition. House Atriedes are tasked by the Emperor to rule over Arrakis, a harsh, desert planet that is home of a precious mineral ‘spice’ which not only has mystical qualities but is critical for interstellar travel. To go any further would constitute spoiler territory, but suffice it to say the Emperor might not have House Atrides’ best interests at heart.
The film is swarming with interesting characters. The aforementioned Paul Atriedes, son of Leto (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), is seen as a potentially messianic figure. His father is royalty and his mother is a member of the Bene Gesserit- a group of women capable of the supernatural. As Reverend Mother Mohiam attests ‘You have more than one birthright, boy’. House Harkonnen are the film’s antagonists. They are led by floating super-being Baron Vladimir- a grotesque individual played by Stellan Skargaard, who seems to be wilfully channelling Marlon Brando’s performance as Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (1979). Supporting characters include Duncan Idaho, a soldier for the House of Atriedes. Aside from being a fantastic name for a character, Jason Momoa brings a certain amount of levity to the role, which is refreshing in a film that otherwise treats itself very seriously.
Like Apocalypse Now (1979), Dune hints at anti-colonialist themes. Paul certainly finds himself ‘up river’, as he encounters characters from his earlier dreams. However, it is debatable whether this film has a climax of its own. He meets his Montagnards but by this point, the film has run out of runtime, and fans can only dream of visions of a future Part 2.
Dune is in cinemas from 22nd October 2021.