- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Do I guess right that Oscar Isaac will probably have the best male performance of 2021 (Card Counter) with a small mention of Dune? I think is a great double effort by him.
Also, how would you rank the performances in Dune? I would go something like this:
But I can be wrong.
Hey, RujK. You didn’t ask me, but I think I’d place Ferguson higher, probably at #1.
Weird. I commented on Dune review, maybe my phone is glitching.
@RujK- I like these five (though the entire ensemble deserves praise0- but Chalamet has to be #1 no?
Do you think this is a masterpiece if it’s shot by Roger Deakins?
It is a Masterpiece as it is, Greig Fraser nailed it 100%
Cannot wait to check this one out given that I’ve seen 5 of the 6 Villeneuve films you have in the archives in the past month (except for Arrival which I watched at the beginning of the year).
This may be a difficult question to answer but what is the ceiling for Villeneuve? Could you ever see him in your top 50? I know he still has a ways to go obviously since every director (I believe) has 2 or more MPs. Villeneuve also does not have anything close to a top 100 film
@Malith- thank you
You mention Hans Zimmer’s masterpiece of a score (few pieces of music are as utterly unique as this) which is basically synonymous with the sound in Dune since it is playing almost nonstop, but I’d hope for more discussion of the movie’s sound design. It is one of the very best works of cinematic sound of the 21st century, perhaps only contested by a very limited number of other films.
So, Drake, have you seen No Time to Die?
He has seen it and considers it worthy of the archives, last I heard.
Also I watched the Brazilian movie that is #9 of all-time on the Letterboxd Top 250 Films, A Dog’s Will and it was total shit. It’s pretty fun to open it up on YouTube and just click randomly around on its playbar and watch whatever horrible scene you find when you click.
Caught this twice in theatres last weekend and once again today in theatre as well, and over the week I’ve managed to read the first 300 pages of the novel (covering essentially everything that’s been adapted. I think you and Zane have pretty much covered all the film making aspects at show here so I don’t have much to say. I did spot today there are like 4-5 shots of the bull’s head mounted on the wall (establishing shot for the scene of the Duke and the Baron) and also the bull figurine that Chalamet looks at sometimes, the significance being the bull killed the Duke’s father, a nice motif. I think it could also be Zimmer’s best score, part of the reason I keep coming back to it so soon, love the use of bagpipes during the Harkonnen attack scene and the singing to ramp up intensity. There’s also a shot of Chalamet on a cliff with ocean hills in the background, with a transporter rising out of the ocean, that I think is stunning and could have been added to this page, a few shots later and there’s a gorgeous sunset – great work even without Deakins here.
I’m not sure how others feel but everytime those 150 minutes have swung by quickly.
It’s also almost a perfect adaptation I feel. Few things cut from the book including one of its best chapters which is a dinner scene, however that is written with a lot of inner thoughts so I see why they cut it. I have to give it even more credit for enhancing scenes from the book, especially Kyne’s and Oscar Isaac’s death scenes, among a few.
Fine with it being a MS but for me personally the rewatchability makes it a fringy MP. Love it.
@Drake- is this (for now) the best rated film of 2021 in the archives? Both Dune and The Card Counter are MSs, so does that mean that this is going to be the second year in row without a MP as the best film of the year?
@RujK- I should be getting to 2020 and 2021 shortly – anxious to get there. But certainly these feel like extremely weak years in comparison with 2019 for example.
Well I will say something that may not add anything of value to the archives but I just had my third viewing of Dune today went to the theater, and this has escalated for me to a Masterpiece status.
Dune Part Two trailer out today. The hype is incredible. If Villeneuve and team execute well on Part Two, could Part One be re-rated to a Masterpiece?
@Bullweather- I saw it- looks stunning. TBD on keeping it as two separate films or one film and the evaluation I guess