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December 8, 2021

Film review: ‘Dune’ aims to please moviegoers longing for an epic story

Adaptation of Herbert novel excels in visuals, special effects

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After more than a year of hunkering down because of the pandemic, it’s safe to say that moviegoers are ready for a big sci-fi blockbuster reminiscent of the “Star Wars” saga. The first part of “Dune,” which opens Oct. 22, will probably fulfill that longing.

Directed by Denis Villenueve, it has all the elements of a blockbuster: relatable story lines about fathers and sons and mothers and sons; incredible scenery of foreign worlds; fantastic-looking, other-worldly characters; and a lot of rip-snorting action.

In short, fans of the 1965 novel by Frank Herbert will find this movie version more than satisfying.

As those fans know, “Dune” follows the epic journey of Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), son of the embattled ruler Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) and warrior princess Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson).

After a bit of too much background on the home planet of the Atreides family, screenwriters Villenueve, Eric Roth and John Spaihts take us to the forbidding and desert planet of Arrakis, or Dune, home of the fierce fighters known as Fremen, who have been mistreated for centuries because their planet is a great source of Spice — a rare, mind-expanding natural resource upon which space travel and knowledge rely. This Spice must be mined amid harrowing conditions that include sandstorms, heat and huge sandworms that can swallow you whole.



Paul and his family have been ordered by the universe’s top powers to control the harvesting of the Spice, but as readers well know, lots of trouble awaits them, including a rival race known as the Harkonnen, who are sort of like the Empire in the “Star Wars” saga.

The movie’s technical achievements are significant. Villenueve decided to shoot on location in Hungary, Jordan, Abu Dhabi and Norway, with director of photography Greig Fraser and production designer Patrice Vermette creating the look and feel of remote planets. Each character gets a distinctive costume, from designers Jacqueline West and Robert Morgan. And Paul Lambert and Gerd Nefzer handle the visual and special effects — and there are many.

But the movie’s success will hinge on the acceptance of Paul (Chalamet) as the hero. Villenueve says he thinks Chalamet was the best choice. “First of all is that Timothee is very thoughtful and that is something that reflects in the eyes,” he says in press notes. “It’s something that you feel. Paul is an intellectual, and we need to feel that throughout the movie, that he is someone that has doubt, that will reimagine the world around him and embrace a different reality and adapt to a new reality.”
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Much of Paul’s journey involves a conquering of fear, as well as a quest to see a woman who keeps appearing in his night visions — a Fremen woman named Chani (played by Zendaya).

Along the way, many characters crop up — and the ever-expanding number of them can be confusing for those not familiar with the intricacies of the “Dune” plot.

Among the characters are Gurney Halleck, played by Josh Brolin; Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard, looking really creepy); Dave Bautista as Beast Rabban Harkonnen; Stephen McKinley Henderson as Thufir Hawat; Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho; Javier Bardem as Stiglar; and Charlotte Rampling as Reverend Mother Mohiam.

And that’s just a few of the characters.

With all that being said, “Dune” aims to be epic storytelling. So see it on the biggest screen possible. It was filmed for IMAX. And it looks fantastic.

 


Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy is a former movies editor for The Dallas Morning News and Austin American-Statesman.

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