Dune crash-landed at the Venice Film Festival last week, which means we now have a stack of first reviews to digest.
Arguably 2021’s most mouthwatering cinematic release, this sci-fi remake is directed by Arrival and Prisoners genius Denis Villeneuve, who’s managed to lasso the likes of Timothée Chalamet, Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Stellan Skarsgård and Dave Bautista for his journey to Arrakis.
That’s the planet Arrakis, by the way, which becomes the new home of House Atreides in the story – a scorching desert landscape known for its ‘spice melange’, the natural resource mined specifically in aid of interstellar travel and guarded by monolithic sandworms.
“There’s a lot to admire in Dune: Part One, especially in terms of the impressive world-building and the excellent cast. However, you’re left thinking about how good the second part will be, rather than being totally fulfilled with this movie. Let’s hope this isn’t our only visit to Arrakis.”
“Good heavens, what a film. The drama is played out with relish by an ensemble cast (Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa) and Villeneuve is confident enough to let the temperature slowly build before the big operatic set-pieces eventually break cover. He has constructed an entire world for us here, thick with myth and mystery, stripped of narrative signposts or even much in the way of handy exposition.
“He has handed us a movie to map out at our leisure and figure out on the run: apparently spitting on someone is an gesture of respect, while walking sideways like a crab is the safest way to proceed. After that we’re on our own, wandering in the desert, wonderfully immersed. It’s a film of discovery; an invitation to get lost.”
Den of Geek
“The spice melange is a psychotropic substance that floats across the surface of planet Arrakis like puffs of dandelions. This seems right since Denis Villeneuve’s interpretation of that world in Dune is similarly all-enveloping for any who lay eyes on it.
“The film is, indeed, very heavy on atmosphere and self-importance. And with its ponderous amount of characters and plot threads, it will undoubtedly overwhelm more than a few viewers. Much like the source material, this desert is dripping in high-minded pretensions. Villeneuve attempts to offset that with a lot more expository handholding than his previous sci-fi epics, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, which bordered on tone poems. But that mostly makes the first act particularly top-heavy and perhaps clear to a fault. There’s a lot more prose here, yet I wonder if Villeneuve and his studio should’ve simply fully embraced the director’s abstract poetry.”
“Villeneuve presents this tale as an unapologetically poker-faced futuristic parable. There are characters with names like Duncan Idaho (who happens to be played, charmingly, by Jason Momoa), and everyone is waiting for someone known as the Kwisatz Haderach to show up. Villeneuve lays it out before us without smirking or winking; his go-for-broke earnestness feels honest and clean. And the effects, while lavish, also have a tasteful, polished quality.
“The sandworm is the stuff of nightmares, but Villeneuve’s vision of it has a shivery elegance. Dune is sluggish in places—my eyes glazed over during one or two or maybe three of the battle scenes—but Villeneuve’s conviction counts for a lot.”
“This is blockbuster filmmaking in the Christopher Nolan mould — smart, propulsive, and really big. But more than any one Nolan film in particular, Dune feels most reminiscent of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring. Like Fellowship, it’s merely the opening part of a story, but manages to feel like a masterwork in its own right.
“Like Fellowship, it establishes a sprawling and complex world that feels both familiar and utterly new with the lightest of touches. And like Fellowship, its biggest set-piece comes just after the midway point — after 90 minutes of setting up dominos, Villeneuve finally lets them clatter into one another in spectacular style, scattering the characters to the winds as the final hour becomes an all-out survival movie.”
“Dune is a complicated book. It’s also a complicated film. There’s a real question as to why the Fremen – whose language, dress, and culture are so directly inspired by the nomadic, Arabic Bedouin tribes – don’t feature any Middle Eastern and North African (Mena) actors in speaking roles, their leader instead played by Javier Bardem in a shemagh-inspired headscarf.
“The casting choice is poor, and will only cause further problems if Villeneuve is able to make the second part of this story. It’s a small, but noticeable chip in the paint when it comes to Dune – a work that’s otherwise of such intimidating grandeur that it’s hard to believe it even exists in the first place.”