Opinion—Review of Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’

Andie Balenger, contributing writer

As Duncan Idaho (as played by Jason Mamoa) said, “Dreams make good stories. But everything important happens when we’re awake. Because that’s when we make things happen.”

I’m an avid-theater goer and film fanatic, so Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” has been on my radar for quite some time. Despite this awareness, I was unfamiliar with the plot, let alone the six-book series written by Frank Herbert, that this 155-minute film was based upon. But walking into my local theater oblivious is my favorite thing to do, so I got my popcorn and soda in peace and made my way to the back row on opening night.

Set in the year 10191, “Dune” tells the story of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the gifted son of the Duke of Caladan (Oscar Isaac), as he and his people move to the dangerous and near uninhabitable planet of Arrakis. While there, House Atreides are bound by royal decree to harvest the most precious substance in the universe: Spice mélange. 

But I knew none of that. As the previews began to roll, there were only a few things I knew for certain: “Dune” would contain a lot of sand, a painful box and a blue-eyed Zendaya.

The first thing that caught my attention was the beautiful score that seamlessly laced itself throughout the entirety of the film. One of the great things about theaters is the quality of sound, which allowed for the celestial music of Hans Zimmer’s creation to wrap itself around me. Zimmer expertly chose his timing in comparison to the film’s events, using a chorus of female cries and yells that sent chills down my spine at every twist and turn.

Villeneuve did a brilliant job of transporting audience members to a totally foreign universe. Taking concepts developed by Herbert’s mind that are incredibly unrealistic, like 450 meter-long sandworms or “stillsuits” that recycle sweat and tears for water-intake, and not having me bat an eye at the absurdity, is a talent that most science-fiction filmmakers lack. The unfamiliarity of everything in frame kept me engaged, unable to peel my eyes from the blindingly-bright light that accompanied any desert scene. Even the 70mm screen I viewed this on could not contain the scope of Arrakis, which was seemingly endless.

However, the film felt as if it contained so little and so much at the same time. Maybe it was due to my infatuation with the cinematography, but I found myself struggling to keep up with the multitude of what appeared to be valuable information in terms of storyline. Considering that this film, labeled as “Part One,” contains information only from the first half of Herbert’s 1965 novel, I figured I would need a better understanding if I wanted to stay invested in the future of the franchise. 

So I went and saw it again.

Upon a second viewing, I can confidently say that I experienced the same overwhelmed feelings again. Able to recognize names this time, I came to realize that the entirety of this film, all two hours and thirty-five minutes, acted as just the exposition to the future sequels. While some people may enjoy having plate-loads of information fed to them over and over, I found it to be incredibly boring the second time around. Unlike other multi-million dollar space franchises of our time, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the “Star Wars” film series, “Dune” lacked any form of comedic relief. The most Villeneuve grants us is a quick jab from Jason Mamoa’s character within the first ten minutes. The rest, unfortunately, is incredibly dry.

Despite this flaw, I still enjoyed the film. Chalamet does an excellent job portraying the growth of Paul Atreides, who conquers fear, anger and grief in order to transform from boy to Duke by the end of the film. Momoa’s performance is incredible as well, his being one of the only characters to express the same fascination with and bewilderment about Arrakis that viewers experience when watching. If I could change one thing about the film, I would utilize more of Zendaya’s acting skills, rather than just having her look pretty and move in slow-motion, which constituted a majority of her screen-time (she killed it nonetheless).

If you are a fan of anything science fiction, especially that of the “Star Wars” universe, I would recommend you see this film while it is still in theaters, for watching it at home would be a disservice to its magnitude. 

Just as Zendaya’s character states, “this is only the beginning.”