The parallels are striking. It’s about humans at some distant future and on planets not our own. And yet, the themes revolve around the same problems—political consolidation, personal freedom, religion, and ultimately, the meaning of life. Where the Star Wars trilogy of trilogies treated all that with a certain lightheartedness, Dune gets right to the point, and doesn’t let up in the intensity. Director and screenplay co-writer Denis Villeneuve said that he wanted to create an “adult Star Wars” and he has succeeded admirably.
This magnum opus is an epic story encompassing most of the big themes that science fiction might cover. And yet, this film is not nearly as confusing as something like last year’s Tenet. The story carries you all the way through its two-and-a-half hours. And the characters are compelling, if not always original. There’s an emperor, of course, who seems to rule the universe. But there are so many interesting cultures inhabiting that universe. Seemingly, they are all derivatives of different earthly traditions.
The main characters, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) seem to come from a Greek tradition. Another influence populates the imagery with references to bulls and seems to extend a Minoan influence. Yet another culture is derived from Japanese Samurai traditions. There is an obese person who mirrors an image from Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, or could easily be a counterpart to Star Wars’ Jabba the Hutt. The references abound, and yet, they don’t overwhelm; they seem to make what might otherwise be a rather complex plot a little more grounded.
The film received ten Oscar nominations (behind only The Power of the Dog, with 12). But what makes Dune unique is that it received nominations in all below-the-line (i.e. technical) categories, except Original Song (which in my opinion is a nonsense category anyway). So, what the Academy is saying is that this movie excels in every single technical aspect that makes for a good film.
The technical team is fully seasoned and more than competent. Hans Zimmer, composer, spent a week in the Utah desert trying to determine what the desert sounds like and then came back and created brand new instruments to match the movie’s imagery. The audio team put together sounds from the various cultures referenced and then managed ways to electronically modify them.
The design team not only located places in Jordan, Abu Dhabi, and Norway to reflect the different planetary settings, but also populated each set with intriguing details. The Make-up, Hairstyling and Costume teams came up with designs that fit with each of the cultures they were trying to portray and then super-modernized the effect. Among many things, the Visual Effects team spent a year perfecting the computer graphic imagery (CGI) to create the iconic sandworms, including getting sand to move in waves as if it were water. Many of the team members also worked on Villenueve’s earlier science fiction movies, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049, and many of them consider the earlier films as just practice sessions for Dune.
The result of their work is this year’s sight and sound spectacle. If you can’t watch it in an IMAX theater, then watch it on the largest screen possible and crank up the volume on the speakers to the loudest setting you and your neighbors can stand. This is a movie to immerse yourself in.
However you cut it, this is a “don’t miss” film, if you haven’t already seen this movie. I don’t think you will regret the experience. (5 stars!)
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