Denis Villeneuve is a madman.
What kind of director follows up the financial failure of Blade Runner 2049 by making his next project an adaptation of Dune? You’ve heard of Dune: the unadaptable space opera by Frank Herbert, the messy David Lynch attempt in the early eighties, or the Sci Fi Channel’s miniseries that you probably forgot about, I know I did. What was Denis Villeneuve thinking? If he couldn’t get butts in seats for a known cinematic quantity like Blade Runner, how the fuck did he think he could do it with Dune, and only half of it, at that?
Denis Villeneuve did the only thing he could do, and that is make his third miraculously brilliant science fiction film in a row. I can’t think of another director with a hit rate like this: first Arrival, that mixed hard sci-fi with perfectly placed emotion, the aforementioned Blade Runner sequel that I think is superior to the original (I include every cut in that), and now an adaptation of Dune that feels like both a celebration of the novel as well as being unmistakably the work of a filmmaker at the height of his powers.
Dune is an old-fashioned epic in the style of David Lean and Andre Tarkovsky, a detailed glimpse into the universe some 8000 years from now where grand houses fight and scheme for planets and resources. At the centre of this is Paul Atredies, played by Timothée Chalamet, as a young prince who could be the chosen one to either unite or destroy the universe.
It’s your standard chosen one narrative, but what makes Dune stand out from the hundreds of stories like this is literally everything else in the movie. From the abundance of acting talent – Rebecca Ferguson is the standout, but Stellan Skarsgård and Oscar Isaac are similarly brilliant – to the beautiful costuming (Jaqueline West and Bob Morgan have gold statues in their future) to the stunning cinematography of Grieg Fraser (so good I didn’t even miss Roger Deakins) to Hans Zimmer’s powerful score. It’s a movie that’s truly firing on all cylinders, a sumptuously rich adaptation of Herbet’s notoriously dense novel and universe, one that actually does it some admirable justice.
There are some films that are so good, that affect me so deeply, that I have an urge to make the review of said film as impressive as I found the film itself (for example, I definitely wouldn’t have used the word film that many times in quick succession if I was doing this) but Dune hits different. I don’t feel the need to do the normal thing of finding an angle, an interpretation, a deep analysis this time – I just want to tell you that Dune should be seen and enjoyed for all the reasons I’ve mentioned. This is cinema and especially science-fiction cinema at its finest, and that’s all I really need to say. Villeneuve might be a madman, but he’s a madman who made this work.
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By Kevin Boyle
(header image via Variety)