Dune is the best fantasy film since The Lord of the Rings
Watch out Frodo...
Staggering in scope and scale, Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited sand epic Dune might just be the movie franchise massive enough to give the Fellowship a run for their money. You know the type: sprawling cinema releases that feel more like important diary events than casual trips to the flicks. They usually span multiple (lengthy) instalments, have you shelling out for those extra-pricey IMAX tickets and come with so many gaudy CGI set-pieces, your popcorn gets lost somewhere between your lap and your hungry little face. In fact, Dune has enough gratuitous shots of beautiful alien vistas, odds are your laptop background will be sporting scenes of Timothée Chalamet’s sand-flecked mug for years to come.
It’s this intricate attention to detail that could make Villeneuve’s huge fantasy blockbuster the next must-see series for film fans with a Lord of the Rings-shaped hole in their lives. Helmed by the same visionary behind 2016’s emotional alien encounter Arrival and 2017’s lush space sequel Blade Runner 2049, this latest adaptation of author Frank Herbert’s cult sci-fi anthology does wonders for those yearning for a truly otherworldly escape. As a story that’s long been deemed ‘unfilmable’ (especially following David Lynch’s messy 1984 attempt), Villeneuve’s first Dune chapter isn’t perfect - instead emerging as a grand spectacle that’s sure to wow despite there being little warmth underneath the sand.
In the film we follow the House Atreides, a family who are sent across the galaxy by the all-powerful Emperor to become the stewards of the desert planet Arrakis. While seemingly barren, this sand-covered world is home to ‘spice’, a substance which extends human life and makes intergalactic travel possible. As such, it’s the most valuable material in the universe and acts as Dune’s elusive McGuffin. Rival clans threaten to topple Arrakis’ newly-installed leader Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and violent locals seem none-too-pleased at his sudden arrival. Meanwhile, his son Paul (Chalamet) starts having strange visions that seem to point towards a fate that’ll see him unite warring worlds and put an end to this spicey space feud once and for all.
There’s more going on than that, lots more - we haven't even mentioned the huge subterranean sandworms for flip's sake - and this is partly to blame for Dune’s weighty focus on narrative that often detracts from some storytelling basics. While Villeneuve crams as much exposition into every available line of dialogue and beautifully crafted frame, you are left wondering when you’ll get that all-important empathy-hit that’ll help us actually root for budding ‘Chosen One’ Paul and his perilous spice fight. The director made sure to include the empathy hit in both Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 to great effect - but perhaps he left it on an as-yet-unexplored planet here in Dune.
That said, there’s plenty to like - and if you're looking for a reason to finally return to your favourite cinema seat post-pandemic, this is undoubtedly it. Production Designer Patrice Vermette splices a Game of Thrones-esque sword and shield world with a lived-in Star Wars aesthetic, creating huge practical sets that are rarely seen in modern blockbusters. Meanwhile, composer extraordinaire Hans Zimmer’s use of guttural throat singing and throbbing sonic landscapes helps the raw scope of Villeneuve’s world vibrate off the screen and into your very being. Combine it with the movie’s striking visuals and you really are left with the eerie feeling of experiencing something ‘other’ - especially when it comes to the movie's primary villains.
Dune’s opening credits make no secret of the fact that this is the first part of a larger overall journey - and if most trilogies are anything to go by, part two is usually bigger and darker. Considering the level of action featured in part one (think the battle of Helm’s Deep with less elves and dwarf tossing and more lasers and holographic body shields), we could be in for one heck of a huge adventure with parts two and three, creating a sort of mature Star Wars mythology for the artsy, film-loving crowd. With any luck, we’ll get that much needed dose of heart too - but in the meantime, if you’re looking for your next big fantasy franchise obsession, the spice is right with Dune.
Dune is released nationwide on Thursday October 21.
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