As a sci-fi writer and fan, director Denis Villeneuve’s take on the science fiction classic novel Dune was one of my most anticipated movies of 2021. So it should be no surprise I went to see it opening weekend. It’s one of those tent-pole films that demands to be seen on the big screen whether you have HBOMax or not. Is it a masterpiece? No. But it kept me thoroughly entertained for the entire 2 hour 35 minute run time. Here’s my take on what it does well and where it might come up a little short.
First off, anyone who hasn’t read the book but did see David Lynch’s attempt in 1984 and walked out saying “huh?” will be happy to know Villeneuve does a much better job of setting up this complex tale so it makes sense. My wife, by no means a sci-fi fan, enjoyed the movie too and only whispered a question once or twice which I consider a huge endorsement. Dune avoids long speeches and exposition, but still throws in enough hints to keep you aware of who the players are and what their agendas might be.
Next, the visuals are amazing. The ship landings, the sandworms, the costumes, the ornithopters flying over the desert, there are so many beautiful shots that I feel like anyone who watches this on television or a mobile screen on first viewing is cheating themselves. If Villeneuve didn’t already prove it with his films Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival, he does here. The man knows how to wow.
Casting is also a major strength in this version of Dune, fixing several mistakes made by David Lynch in his earlier attempt. Timothy Chalamet is a much better match for the teenaged Paul Atriedes than Kyle McLachlan was in the mid-80s. Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac are excellent as his royal parents and Jason Momoa is a much more convincing warrior than the terribly miscast Richard Jordan. Several other actors shine as well including Stellan Skarsgard, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, and Dave Bautista.
Where does the 2021 version of Dune come up short? For starters, the book is so complex and multi-layered it probably should have been made into a mini-series rather than a feature film. Dune could easily fill 10 hours of runtime. This film only covers the first half (or less) of the original story. This means we only get the introduction of the characters, world, and dilemma. There isn’t a great deal of character development and there is little to no resolution, just a cliffhanger leaving us to wait on the recently greenlit sequel.
Perhaps less egregious, but still disappointing is the tiny amount of screen time actress Zendaya receives as Paul’s love interest, Chani. Based on how Villeneuve broke the story into two films, she appears in this one, but has almost nothing to do. I assume she’ll be a major part of the planned sequel, but for now, her fans are probably a little bummed at her lack of dialogue.
All in all, Dune is well worth the price of admission and one of my favorite films of 2021. I’m just eagerly awaiting the rest of the story scheduled to reach theatres in October 2023.