By Sam Acosta
Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the classic sci-fi epic “Dune” has been one of the most anticipated movies of the last decade. After the failure of the 1984 adaptation, many wondered whether Villeneuve would be able to redeem the story and create a movie adaptation with the same level of success as the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. While he does create a beautiful piece of cinema and world-building, it is yet to be seen if this film will find the same level of success.
“Dune” is a story of interstellar feudalism, with houses and dukes vying for power within an intergalactic empire. Within this web of politics, we find Paul Areides, heir to the dukeship of House Atreides. He and his House travel to the planet Arrakis to harvest a priceless resource called spice. Atreides is set up for failure, however, as enemy houses attack and kill most of his house, leaving Paul and his mother on the run on the desert planet.
Boasting a star-studded cast, “Dune” introduces us to a complex world of intergalactic politics populated by characters who feel real to life
Boasting a star-studded cast, “Dune” features some of Hollywood’s best talents, including Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, and Zendaya, among many others. Each character brings a new element to the world and helps fill out the vast universe in which the story takes place. All the performances are strong, with all the actors disappearing into their roles and helping the story come alive.
The cinematography alone is stunning; Villeneuve is a master of creating beautiful shots and delivering emotion through his camerawork. With Paul’s visions, for example, he shows us these visions in conjunction with the events of these visions occuring in real time, creating an effective parallel that drives home the inevitability of these visions.
The sprawling landscapes of Arrakis are also gorgeous; it was especially refreshing that the desert didn’t have an orange or yellow tint to it, as is a common practice in modern film. The bright blue skies in contrast with the golden sands created a real, grounded environment that truly helped to engage me with the world.
Thanks to Villeneuve’s deft direction, “Dune” is a visual masterpiece, boasting beautiful landscape and purposeful cinematography
The story itself is also intriguing. Many people have compared it to “Star Wars,” sometimes forgetting that “Dune” preceded and, in some ways, inspired it. There is also more depth and complexity to this world, reminding me of “Lord of the Rings” in the intricacy of its lore. This world is brimming with warring houses and intergalactic politics, all overseen by a mysterious emperor and his fiefs. Overall, it lends the sci-fi spectacle the groundedness and mythos of the medieval legend, and it makes me interested to see the next installment in 2023.
All that said, is “Dune” a good movie on its own merits? To be honest, I don’t know. In some ways, the film reminds me of “The Fellowship of the Ring” or “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Those are the starts of some of the most successful franchises in the world, yet they are sometimes viewed as the weakest entries in their respective series. They have the responsibility of setting up the story for the rest of the series, so they must build the world, give the necessary exposition, and generally create a foundation for the franchise to build on.
Luckily, the rest of those films in those franchises ended up being incredible, which makes those starter movies great for what they were. If those sequels had flopped, those movies would probably not be held in such high regard.
The ultimate success of “Dune” depends on whether its follow-ups can build on the foundation it has laid
“Dune” is currently sitting in this same limbo. The movie is basically two and a half hours of exposition and world-building. While the world is very intriguing and the story is unique, it can feel tedious at times, and I found myself wondering at what point the movie would end. While I enjoyed what it was doing, I can’t be sure if that tediousness will be worthwhile in the end.
Much like the films I previously mentioned, the fate of “Dune” lies in the ability of its upcoming sequel to build upon the foundation laid here. If it does that, I will look back on “Dune” as a great first movie. If it doesn’t, I probably won’t feel like it was worth the time.
The answer to whether Villeneuve is able to do justice to this novel is still a couple years away. The stage has been set, and so far, he is on the right trajectory for success. Now all that is left for him to do is follow through on that trajectory.
“Dune” is now in theaters and available to stream on HBO Max through November 21.
Sam Acosta is a Junior Theatre Comprehensive Major and an A&E writer for Cedars. He likes spending his time watching movies, drinking Dr. Pepper and writing plays.