I never thought I’d live to see the day but here we are, it’s 2021 and Jason Mamoa is clean shaven for his role of Duncan Idaho in the Dune adaptation by director Denis Villeneuve. Jason Mamoa with no beard is unnatural, unflattering, distracting and just plain wrong. Remember that one Superbowl commercial where Mamoa gets home and takes off his muscles, his hair and gets shorter? Watching him on screen is exactly like re-visiting that commercial for 2 and a half hours. It sends shivers up and down your spine – not the good kind either.
With that said and it was absolutely justified, Dune is an engrossing science fiction epic cinematic experience that will instantly draw you into the universe created by author Frank Herbert making you never want to leave because of the FOMO. It must be seen to be believed, otherwise, as a fan of the book and or cinema or not, this type of film was made for the biggest screen possible. And this is only part one of two. Dune coming in at 2 and a half hours represents half of Herbert’s 1965 novel. After leaving my Dolby theater reclined seat while the credits started to play and realizing the masterpiece, I just witnessed was over, I was reminded that this is only half, we as film lovers and appreciators get to revisit this universe brought to life by one of the best working directors today in the near future.
And if part two is as epic (a word I loathe using because it’s played out and associated with nearly every larger scaled film) in scope and scale as part one, then this film franchise has the potential for becoming the biggest franchise in cinematic history. Too bad we are still recovering from a global pandemic – pre-pandemic, no question Dune would make a billion – even with a story that may not be the easiest to follow if it’s your first time being introduced to the universe. Don’t take that the wrong way, it’s not difficult at all to follow, it’s more of the politics within the story that can appear muddied with how much is happening in each frame.
The basic premise is this – in the year 10191 Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) of House Atreides is given the desert planet of Arrakis to serve as fief from Emperor Shaddam IV from former steward Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) of house Harkonnen. Believing the Emperor wished house Atreides to fail and served as a coup, Duke Leto is first betrayed by Dr. Wellington Yueh (Chang Chen) while House Harkonnen strikes to take back Arrakis. The planet is crucial because it is the only planet that harvests Spice (their version of drugs) that is a substance in which it can extend human vitality and is critical for interstellar travel.
If you’re not familiar with the property and this film is the first introduction (like it is mine) than the names, locations, politics, religion can all feel overwhelming at times and quickly can take a viewer out of the moment at that. It takes a bit to become fully engrossed but when that moment hits (and it hit for me when the sandworm made its first appearance) and it absolutely will, watching this spectacle play out is unlike anything you’ll ever see on a movie screen.
Once house Atreides lands on Arrakis and is attacked by Glossu Rabban (Dave Bautista), nephew of Vladimir Harkonnen and their army, Duke’s heir Paul Atredis (Timothée Chalamet) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) escape with the aid of Dr. Liet-Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster), a Fremen and imperial ecologist that risks everything to save two off-worlders.
Led by Chalamet and Ferguson, Dune has one of the most impressive ensemble casts put together. And it is their movie as Chalamet, and Ferguson have the most screen time out of anyone – Villeneuve gets the most out of their chemistry together and performances. Rounding out the rest of this massive cast of characters is Gurney (Josh Brolin) (is it just me or can you only hear Thanos every time he speaks now), Piter De Vries (David Dastmalchain), Stigler (Javier Bardem), and Jamis (Babs Olusanmokun) among others.
Watching Dune, the influence this novel had on the science fiction genre is breath-taking. It inspired so much in the genre including Star Wars and I get it. From the politics to religion, Dune is packed with exposition, sometimes too much, in a slow burned pace that can be felt from time to time. And not being familiar with Dune – the worry lies in where this first part will leave off, after a big battle or a moment of personal growth that will then continue in part two (It’s inevitable that Warner will greenlight part two), it’s the latter.
A Villeneuve directed film almost always looks spectacular with the cinematography showing the potential of the adaptation. The planet of Arrakis is gorgeous for a dessert planet thanks to cinematographer Greig Fraser. Fraser frames each shot in the same sense that Roger Deakins would and for a moment, I thought it was Deakins behind the camera. Paired with Hans Zimmer’s score, Dune comes to life that easily made it the most anticipated film of the year with clear award season considerations.
Dune is bulletproof. It’s an ambitious masterpiece, though slightly flawed from arguably one of the best directors working today. With a scope that feels bigger than the solar system itself, Dune is beautifully constructed from top to bottom that’s anchored by its two lead performances and supporting ensemble cast. It’s a film that deserves to be viewed on the biggest screen possible (and not on HBO Max) and will leave your jaw firmly on the floor with how well it’s made. Some pacing issues and an overwhelming at times narrative are the only two criticisms and they’re a stretch.
Written By: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve & Eric Roth
Directed By: Denis Villeneuve
Music By: Hans Zimmer
Cinematography: Greig Fraser
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Jason Mamoa, Javier Bardem, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, David Dastmalchain, Chang Chen
Release Date: October 21, 2021
Running Time: 2 Hours, 35 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
My Score: 4.5 out of 5
Based On: Dune by Frank Herbert