• Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is yet another feather in the cap for the director who amassed one of the strongest resumes of the 2010s (works include Enemy, Sicario, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049).
  • The sheer size of the project impresses. But, Villeneuve’s ability to tell this story may even surpass the visual ambition. It is difficult to be awed by storytelling—and after David Lynch’s troubled 1984 version and the sheer complexities of Frank Herbert’s novel, I guess I just assumed this material was unadaptable—but with this effort Denis would provide one heck of a laser show. Neither of these expectations really came true. The film is not as painterly as Villeneuve’s previous effort (few films are), but Dune draws comparisons to such titans of narrative as The Godfather and Star Wars.
  • “Dreams are messages from the deep” from the prologue (even before the Warner Brothers emblem) – the stage is set for the dream splices (there’s a little Ridley Scott’s Gladiator here) that would be a big part of Villeneuve’s picture and Paul Atreides’ (Timothée Chalamet- a young actor more than up for the challenge of leading the way) head space- the elliptical surrealism. The scene where Chalamet is getting tortured by Charlotte Ramplings’ character is just ridiculously good acting.
  • Spice as oil would make the film a powerful contemporary allegory with political implications- but spice also harkens back to Christopher Columbus’ sort of symbol of imperialism searching for the coveted substance.
  • The ensemble of actors recruited by Villeneuve here all do top work. Stellan Skarsgård, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin and others all have moments where they shine- though after Chalamet- it is Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac (having quite the 2021) that stand out as the Lady Jessica Atreides and Duke Leto Atreides respectively.
  • Hans Zimmer passed on working on Christopher Nolan’s Tenet to reteam with Villeneuve for Dune and this will be discussed amongst his best works. It is a big score—and Zimmer is at his best when he is jamming away with the attack of House Harkonnen upon the house of Atreides.
  • It is all rooted in Greek mythology (certainly Francis Ford Coppola always was) with narrative aplomb (“When is a gift not a gift” is writing good enough to give one shivers) but there are many comparisons that fit with the 1972 gangster film masterpiece. Like Michael Corleone, Paul does not want to take over the family business so to speak. Vito and Michael talking warmly together in the garden comes to mind again in the scene where Isaac’s Duke Leto tells Paul that “you’ll still be the only thing I’ve ever needed you to be- my son”. Broslin’s Gurney Halleck and Momoa’s Duncan Idaho could be Clemenza and Tessio (or Tom Hagen). There are power plays, a coup d’état, and warfare strategy. The brooding Skarsgård (playing the Baron) emerges from his oil bath looking like Marlon Brando (even has the weight and bald head) but reenacting the move and famous shot of Martin Sheen’s character emerging from the river in the Jungle in Apocalypse Now. Certainly, Paul as the sort of Messiah—using the force to control people is Star Wars. It is not worth worrying about who influenced who- it is more than a little pointless (both The Godfather and Star Wars were written after Herbert’s novel in 1965)-as it all can be traced back further- and it is a compliment to all of these films to be in the company with the others.
  • A standout sequence (used twice actually) is the Conrad Hall In Cold Blood-like rain as teardrops on the face of Chalamet as he wakes from one of his visions.

Villeneuve’s trademark silhouette (dispelling any notion that he is just supremely gifted caretaker) compositions could be from Enemy, Arrival or Blade Runner 2049. There is one early with Chalamet’s Paul talking with Duncan. There is an even finer one when the entire House of Atreides lands in Arrakis for the first time (here).

  • A sublime medium long shot capturing the Skarsgård’s Baron across from Isaac’s Leto at the extremely long dining table. And Villeneuve gifts Leto a splendid death scene as Isaac’s lone hand falls off the chair.

Another standout is the frame of Chalamet’s Paul and Ferguson’s Lady Jessica looking out over the sand dunes just after the thopter crash—a similar composition opens George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (one of the best frames of the 2010s).

  • If there are any reservations about the genius of Villeneuve’s Dune – it may be because there are a few longer cinematically quiet stretches while Villeneuve just has us in the grip of such an engaging narrative with terrific acting. Perhaps this is because of Villeneuve’s great reverence for the source material (it does feel like he gets to “play jazz” a little more in Blade Runner 2049).
  • A Must-See film- top five of the year quality