Dune: a spoiler-free movie review

In the newest adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune, director Denis Villeneuve takes the reins in introducing a new generation of moviegoers to Herbert’s feudal space society of the future. Along with a star-studded cast, Villeneuve delivers the first instalment of the Dune film series. 

Set in the very distant future, the world of Dune is ruled by an emperor with houses, akin to dukes and lords in today’s world, scattered around different planets. The film follows the journey of young Paul Atreides, heir to House Atreides and brilliantly portrayed by Timothée Chalamet, as his family is invited to govern a desert planet, Arrakis. 

A quote that stands out from the film is “Who will our next oppressors be?”, delivered by Zendaya’s character who lives on Arrakis and has seen rulers come and go. There is a certain relevance to certain political situations that come to mind. The weight of objectifying an entire planet and its people as commodities by the authority is not lost among the stunning landscapes and novelty of the film’s lore.

Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson bask in the dazzling cinematography of Dune. Photo: Warner Bros

A superficial review of this film can be summed up in one sentence: The film is not without its flaws, but it is largely saved by its strengths. While the film is immensely enjoyable with stellar performances from Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Paul’s mother Lady Jessica, the film is simply too long. At 2 hours and 35 minutes, you soon would realise its lengthy runtime as the nth shot of the vast desert rolls across the screen. Granted, sometimes it does look like a National Geographic ad with Zendaya and Chalamet traipsing across the desert. As the first film in any franchise often is, Dune is heavy on the world-building, meaning that there are a lot of background stories being laid down and less plot development. 

Fortunately, its length and its lacking plot are offset by the actors’ performance and the impressive technical aspects of the film.  Following the successes of his previous films Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, it’s apparent that Villeneuve is no amateur when it comes to science fiction world-building and indulging the film’s massive run time, using it to his fullest advantage. He manages to bring across the sheer size of the desert on Arrakis and establishes the treacherous terrain as a character in the film, much like a constant ominous presence. The sets and environments are so big, they even dwarf musclemen Jason Momoa and Dave Bautista. 

Josh Brolin and Timothée Chalamet, usually known as rather imposing characters, are dwarfed by the vast universe in Dune. Photo: Warner Bros

This new iteration of Dune is very much a sci-fi film of its time. Gone are the days of the campy, shiny space movies that are cult classics in their own right, but undeniably cheesy and absurd. Dune joins a new era of gritty science fiction films that fully embrace the grim future scientists are predicting. It takes itself very seriously, a move that wouldn’t have been possible without the convincing performances of its actors. In the spirit of staying spoiler-free, the film’s ending won’t be discussed in detail, just that it leaves viewers wanting more in a retrospective way, rather than an anticipatory way.  

In short, watch it for Timothée Chalamet, avoid it if you would fall asleep in the middle of a long movie.

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