Photo via rogerebert.com.

4.5/5 Stars

The new silver screen adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi epic “Dune” has finally been released in theaters and for television screens to much success. The star studded affair features performances from Timothee Chalamet, Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista and Zendaya. 

The production is helmed by acclaimed director Denis Villanueve, and like his previous projects, this latest outing is cinema gold. Villanueve’s take on “Dune” has been several years in the making. Originally slated for release in 2020, the film suffered lengthy delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite it having been given a rather odd, stunted release via traditional box office and HBO Max same-day streaming, the film has accrued a formidable $300 million dollars domestically and abroad. 

The movie centers around a young Paul Atriedes, played by Chalamet, who is the heir to the throne of one of the most powerful galactic dynasties space has known. Atreides’ father, the stoic Duke Leto, portrayed by Oscar Isaac, is tasked by the Emperor of the universe to take over critical mining operations on the dreaded desert planet Arrakis. The goal of these operations is to acquire spice, the drug on which the machinations of the universe depend. This is both a gift and a curse for the Atreides house. “He who controls the spice, controls the universe,” said the vile Baron Harkonen, the mortal enemy of house Atreides, who upon being forced to leave the desert planet has left many a trap in his wake. 

The movie nimbly navigates the complex relationships, political plots, mysticism and exhilarating action sequences with a surprising grace. Chalamet’s performance as Atriedes can feel a bit strained at times, but it’s never so bad as to elicit unnecessary laughter. Despite the leading man’s inability to truly convince, he avoids the pitfall of pulling the audience out of the experience. 

The supporting cast, on the other hand, do an amazing job. Notable mentions are Momoa’s portrayal of the gregarious Duncan Idaho, best friend to Paul, as well as a Isacc’s portrayal of Leto. A real standout performance presents itself later in the film with the smaller role of Jamis, a feisty Fremen native to Arrakis, played by Babs Olusanmokur. 

There isn’t much to talk about when it comes to the film’s villains. Dave Bautista and Stellan Skarsgard do a good job of playing henchman and master Baron, respectively, but their scenes are limited and the audience never fully grasps the full scope of their vile complexion. 

The film does an outstanding job when it comes to sound design, employing the legendary Hans Zimmer who created some of the most simultaneously guttural and beautiful alien sounds he could for the film. 

The film is shot on digital and the colors pop, despite the desert palette. The shooting locations, such as Jordan, Abu Dhabi and Budapest for the desert scenes and Norway for the Atreides homeworld, showcase gorgeous landscapes with striking geological features. In terms of technicals, Villanueve doesn’t rely too heavily on CGI which is refreshing, although there is a particular dream sequence wherein it looks terrible. 

The worldbuilding done within the scope of the film feels a little lacking, but Villanueve has left that open-ended. It’s possible with the second movie in the “Dune” franchise being greenlit, audiences could see more of the detail-oriented storytelling Frank Herbert’s original novel is known for. 

The world of “Dune” was originally created back in 1965 by science fiction writer Frank Herbert. The success of his book, whose impact on sci-fi is comparable to Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, has had a lasting impact on both readers and theater audiences. The last celluloid rendition of Herbert’s “Dune” was released back in 1984, and is an abject failure despite its many quirks and potent source material. Flashy eighties action movie pomp, a droning guitar soundtrack and all around bad acting drag the David Lynch piece mercilessly through the scorching sands of Arrakis. 

Perhaps seeing how bad things can get is what has made the “Dune” 2021 release that much sweeter. Sure, it suffers from a rather flat Chalamet performance, but few other flaws present themselves. The supporting cast give top notch performances. The set pieces, locations, wardrobe, lore and sound design all create an immersive foreign world that beckons to be explored in the series’ next iteration. “Dune” this time around has got it right, thank you Muad’Dib.

You can find the Maine Campus’ film review of Frank Herbert’s 1984 “Dune” at https://mainecampus.com/2020/09/preparing-for-an-upcoming-december-adaptation-frank-herberts-1984-dune-calls-for-a-modern-refresh/.