Arts

Review: A Success in Spectacle—“Dune” is a Triumph in Worldbuilding

COURTESY OF MARIKA SAITO

“Dune” is a spectacle that excels in every technical aspect. Directed by Dennis Villeneuve and released on October 22, 2021, by Warner Bros. Pictures, the film transports viewers to its universe and immerses us in an unforgettable experience, while remaining faithful to Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel of the same name. The movie is set in an intergalactic empire intertwined in a political standoff between noble houses. In this, we follow Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), son of the Duke and heir to House Atreides, as he embarks on a journey of self-discovery when his family is assigned to rule the harsh desert planet of Arrakis, where the most important energy source in the empire, “spice,” is located. Caution: spoilers ahead. 

Villeneuve brings the world of “Dune” to life with such precision that his respect for the source material is abundantly clear. From the diverse aircrafts to the hunter-seekers that orchestrated the assassination attempt on Paul, to the Bene Gesserit (a group of witches) who plan behind the shadows, the beautiful costume and production design add to the sense that the world is not simply a movie set. From the architecture to the cogs in the machinery, the setting is specific to and immersed in this world. Many scenes indulge in showing the planets and how they work, in all their peculiarities and wonder. This careful attention to detail is what sets “Dune” apart from other movies of its kind; it does not cut corners in worldbuilding.  

The spectacle is “Dune”’s main focus. Explosions, fighting, and battles on an epic scale all glue us to our seat. The sound design was a notable standout, especially with the “voice” used by Paul and his mother. When the famous Arraki sandworms tower over the characters on the screen, we viewers feel their shaking roars. Combined with the breathtaking score by veteran composer Hans Zimmer, which weaves vocals with these extraterrestrial sounds, the film’s sound makes for an audial masterpiece and a captivating experience. 

“Dune” features a star-studded cast with Hollywood icons such as Jason Momoa, Oscar Isaac, Stellan Skarsgård, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, and Josh Brolin. Every cast member shines, and watching their performances, their effort and dedication is apparent. Rebecca Ferguson is a particular standout, embodying a passionate but courageous mother. Zendaya, on the other hand, generated much press buzz, but unfortunately did not have a major role in the film, being limited to Paul’s dreams and the very end of the movie. Ultimately, holding the film together is Chalamet, who makes a fantastic lead, with the range to both nail the action scenes and carry emotional moments.

With so much exposition, it would be easy for the viewer to feel overwhelmed and lost in the story. This is what occurred in David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Herbert’s novel. Denis Villeneuve, on the other hand, strikes a careful and effective balance. He simplifies the story enough that people who have never had any experience with the story can follow the narrative, while avid “Dune” readers can also bask in the movie’s detail and foreshadowing. 

A triumphant spectacle, “Dune” combines political intrigue with life-or-death stakes, from the death of Paul’s father halfway through the film to Paul and his mother’s many near-death experiences. Yet, despite its overwhelming successes, the movie suffered its biggest setback in its pacing. Being an adaptation of only the first half of the book, the story felt like a lot of set-ups to a disappointing amount of pay-off. Many of the ideas explored ended up unanswered, and as a result, the movie feels incomplete. Moreover, “Dune” lacked a defined climax—not a flaw in itself—but in this movie’s case, the ending felt like it came out of nowhere. There is no doubt that Villeneuve and his team will tie off all the loose ends in a potential sequel, but as it stands, “Dune” is certainly closer to its on-screen title: “Dune: Part One.”

“Dune” receives a 5/5 for not only being a thoroughly compelling story with political intrigue, mystical elements, and an interesting main character, but also detail-oriented directing and cohesive production.