DUNE is as majestic as the maker Shai-Hulud - 8/10

by Jad Sammour

DUNE, one of the most anticipated films of the year has finally been released in Lebanese theaters. I watched it on the 24th in IMAX and it was quite the unique experience. DUNE is unlike anything you have ever watched on the big screen, an experience that stimulates the senses and leaves you pumped up for what’s to come.

Before you keep on reading, many of my notes will be negative and may outweigh the positive ones but I am very orthodox in terms of book-to-film adaptions which is something I advice you not to do because it ruined my experience of DUNE. I will try to review it as objectively as I can. As a fan of the book, the adaptation fell short of capturing the beauty, tension, and complexity of the book. Now does that mean it is bad? NO. Simply, no! As its own entity, DUNE (2021) takes the source material and translates it to the big screen by taking half a book with a structure that is a causal chain of events and tries to morph it into a three-act structure narrative that ticks the boxes of necessary scriptwriting elements. So, independently viewed, DUNE is an excellent cinematic spectacle. Even though this adaptation was generally faithful to the book and included the most necessary scenes, and being a half a book, it failed on expanding or at least properly developing many elements in the story and underutilized many characters. And this was my beef with this adaption, in addition to moments that felt so small when in the book they were much bigger or at least with a larger scope.

I will try to disassociate between book and film as much as possible going further.

In terms of technicalities, Denis Villeneuve is an excellent director. The way he films non-human elements (cities, landscapes…) makes them feel like they have their own personality, breathing with vividness and humanity. The director really knows hot to make the human element active in stories that are de-humanizing or rely on other scopes. Villeneuve’s biggest weakness is action scenes. They’re not bad, but just not the best. I expected better. However, the man is a king in building tension and thrills. Some moments left me with an open jaw for minutes. It’s truly a unique cinematic experience formed by a very original story, amazing world-building elements, and production design. Villeneuve could use a lot less cutting and leave a few shots some room to properly breathe because, for 2h 35m that are felt, you would expect a more developed story and not a somewhat rushed one, and really, slowing down some shots and scenes would have helped the film a lot more. The simplest example is the prologue montage which was extremely rushed. And kudos to Villeneuve for properly explaining the complex world of DUNE without making the exposition feel out of place.

Denis Villeneuve couldn’t have achieved this visual beauty without the Director of Photography Greig Fraser. In terms of visuals, It’s not as good as Villeneuve’s previous film Blade Runner 2049. Nevertheless, DUNE remains a visual spectacle with truly amazing shots.

DUNE’s heart is Timothee Chalamet’s Paul Atreides. The film revolves around him even when the scenes are not about him, and this is genius because every single thing in the film serves a purpose in Paul’s journey in both Part One and Part Two (as you will see later on). So many small moments were very intimate and precious for our protagonist that will not be fully appreciated until Part Two is released. The story focuses on Paul’s Journey and breaks the balance between Politics and the Characters that the novel properly maintained which leaves the politics and the “events” of DUNE rather underdeveloped with just barely enough information to understand them and not feel confused.  

DUNE Part One feels like a Part One. It’s not a movie that will have a sequel. This film is like the first two acts of a story, with Part Two being the third. Nevertheless, DUNE leaves you satisfied and wanting more, not disappointed or cheated. I could compare it to The Fellowship of the Ring but with a few more unresolved plot points.

The film is perfectly cast, which makes me sad to see many characters being under-used or not properly developed. For example, Dr Yueh was barely developed or explored. Baron Vladimir Harkonnen portrayed by the spectacular Stellan Skarsgaard did not get enough time to shine as the rutheless baron he is (in the books). I would’ve loved to see more of him and many characters like (Gurney Hallec, Piter De Vries, Thufir Hawat, and Beast Rabban). Even Duke Leto, played to perfection by Oscar Isaac could have used more screentime than the time he gets. Now, the existence of a potential Part Two comforts me as we will get to see some of thes characters in more scenes. One of my favorite characters was Liet Kynes portrayed by Sharon Duncan Brewster. Jason Momoa's Duncan Idaho is fun. Rebecca Ferguson as the Lady Jessica is just perfection. I will say the same to all of the cast members. 

The visual effects in this film are really well-done, something you would expect in big-budgeted films. They successfully realized the world of DUNE, showed scale, and brought to life the Shai-Hulud.

The ship design is unlike anything seen in other sci-fi films. I loved the ornithopters, an idea that seems weird on paper but translated beautifully on screen. The entire film has a distinct look that is so alien and futuristic yet grounded in a logical historical progression of humanity’s architecture and fashion. The costume design and character's looks are excellent and I would really love to see more of them. I also have to note that DUNE’s approach to futurism is considerably more realistic and logical than many films’ attempts at it. The production design team nailed it.

And last, but not least, Hans Zimmer. I should’ve talked about the music earlier but oh dear oh dear, the music. It’s a perfect musical score. Please watch DUNE in IMAX or Dolby Atmos. Hans Zimmer is about to grace your ears with glorious music.

Overall, DUNE was a very good experience that everyone should witness in theaters. I cannot wait for Part Two! And hopefully they get to make the rest of the book series. 

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