Dune – engulfs the audience in a wave of sand, spice and sound

7th October 2021

Dune arrives in UK cinemas on October 21st 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

On December 3rd 1984, in Washington DC, director David Lynch was to premiere his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, Dune. The pre-release publicity for the Dino De Laurentiis production had been extensive, with paid-for reviews, publications, TV spots and a documentary. Therefore, to say the public appetite was wet would be an understatement; after all, the Star Wars trilogy had ended the year before, and the public was hungry for the next big sci-fi extravaganza. Lynch’s Dune cost around 40 million dollars, but the news wasn’t good as the first reviews rolled in. Dune would be panned by critics and fail to earn back its production costs despite its all-star cast and spectacular sets and effects. That left us with a question: What went wrong? The answer lay in several production challenges and creative clashes, and while visually stunning, the result was a film unable to condense the Herbert novel into a 130-minute runtime. Lynch’s Dune, unfortunately, felt like a chore, its characters lacking any emotional centre, as it quickly sank into cinematic quicksand. If nothing else, Dune (1984) demonstrated the importance of building a solid, engaging narrative among the beauty and the effects, demonstrating that good science fiction is about the characters as much as the visual splendour.

It is now thirty-seven years since Dune slipped into the sand, and under the creative stewardship of the visionary director Denis Villeneuve, it’s back on the big screen, despite being held hostage by COVID-19. But has this new version of Dune escaped the mistakes of its predecessor?

On the desert planet of Arrakis, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), his mother (Rebecca Ferguson), and his father (Oscar Isaac) rule the barren world, ensuring the production of Spice feeds the galaxy’s unquenchable thirst – Spice extends life and enhances an individual’s consciousness, enabling interstellar space travel. However, unknown to the Atreides family and their loyal subjects, a deadly plan is brewing in The Imperium.

Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action-adventure “DUNE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Over the years, many have praised Herbert’s novel for its groundbreaking place in science fiction history. Like Asimov’s, Foundation, Clarke’s, Childhood’s End and Dick’s, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Herbert’s novel inspired multiple filmmakers and writers, and without it, there may have never been droids on Tatooine in Star Wars, villainous bloody betrayal in Game of Thrones or a deadly ancient discovery in Alien. Villeneuve’s epic and world-building adaptation reminds us of the power held within Herbert’s story, and he clearly understands the critical place Dune has in the landscape of 20th Century science fiction.

It is clear from the outset that this is designed to be the first instalment of an epic science fiction journey, and epic is the only word that can describe Dune as it engulfs the audience in a wave of sand, Spice and sound. Villeneuve’s movie is a glorious visual and auditory experience built for the big screen in every possible way. However, despite its wonder, excitement and beauty, Dune suffers from a flaw that also haunted its 1984 cousin; a lack of character development and emotion. Despite all the visual effects and heart-thumping sound, you never feel fully attached to the characters on an emotional level. Like its predecessor, the focus remains on visual and auditory prowess rather than people. There is no doubt Villeneuve’s film is far superior to Lynch’s, yet it still feels hollow at times, especially between the significant action set pieces where the story should excel. As a result, Dune quickly slips from memory after you leave the cinema and recover from the massive headache its sound design gave you.

Dune is undoubtedly a cinematic spectacle, but it is debatable whether Villenauve’s film will live long in the memory due to its one-dimensional characters. Maybe this can be fixed in the second outing allowing Dune to finally take its rightful place in the science fiction movie Hall of Fame.


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