DUNE Review: Denis Villeneuve's Otherworldly Tour De Force Is Jaw-Dropping Cinema

DUNE Review: Denis Villeneuve's Otherworldly Tour De Force Is Jaw-Dropping Cinema

Dune will finally release in US theaters and on HBO Max this week, and trust us when we tell you that Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi epic is a true masterclass in filmmaking. Find our verdict right here...

Before the Warner Bros. logo even appears on the screen, a booming, synthesized voice echoes out in an alien language while the subtitles read: "Dreams are messages from the deep." Who this is supposed to be and what their words signify is debatable (if you're familiar with the source novels, you might have a pretty good idea), but this surreal, slightly creepy moment is designed to take you out of your comfort zone and set the tone for what's to come: a genuinely otherworldly experience.

Dune begins with a dream, as Fremen warrior Chani (Zendaya) recounts her people's oppression at the hands of Arrakis' brutal occupiers, the Harkonnens, who mine the desert planet for its valuable natural resource, the spice Melange. The dreamer is Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the son of Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) and his concubine, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). Paul's abilities, passed down from his Bene Gesserit  - a powerful order of sorceresses - mother, include prescient visions, and when his father is tasked with taking over from the Harkonnens on Arrakis, the young man must decide which path he wants to follow.

Upon arriving to Arrakis with his father's army, Paul begins to comprehend the grave danger his family has been placed in, as he experiences increasingly disturbing glimpses into his violent future as both a fabled Fremen Mahdi (messiah) and the Bene Gesserit's all-powerful "Kwisatz Haderach."

If that sounds like a lot to take in, it really only scratches the surface! This is a dense, layered and complex story, and although Villeneuve does an admirable job of streamlining the more abstruse aspects of the tale, you'll find no hand-holding or jarring exposition dumps here. As a result, those unfamiliar with Frank Herbert's classic novel might struggle somewhat, but others will no doubt appreciate a rare blockbuster that doesn't condescend to its audience.

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Even if you don't happen to grasp every little facet of the mythology or the potentially confusing prophesies, chances are you'll be swept along by the sheer scope of Villeneuve's vision. The filmmaker has always excelled at creating a near palpable tone through sound and visuals, but he outdoes himself here, with each meticulously realized moment providing a veritable feast for the senses. Hans Zimmer deserves just as much credit. The legendary composer rarely disappoints, but Dune might be his most accomplished work of bravura to date. Zimmer's score is, frankly, awe-inspiring, working in unison with Theo Green's unique sound design to evoke a spine-tingling, ethereal atmosphere.

The cast is also excellent across the board, with Chalamet and Fergusson doing most of the heavy lifting. Fine support is on hand from the likes of Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa, with Stellan Skarsgård making the most of his scant screen time as the grotesquely evil Baron Harkonnen. Unfortunately, the (wise) decision to expand certain roles means other characters are given short-shrift, and fans might be disappointed to see greatly reduced parts for Thufir Hawat, Piter De Vries and Dr. Yueh, in particular, while Chani and Javier Bardem's Stilgar only receive relatively brief introductions to set up more significant roles in the sequel.

Yes, Dune is very much a "Part 1," and even if you know that going in, the point at which Villeneuve chooses to conclude this first film may prove to be divisive. There's no big climactic battle, and no real resolution to any of the main plot threads, but a character does make a decision that will echo through the rest of this saga - even if it doesn't seem particularly important at the time.

Whether we'll actually get to see Part 2 is obviously up in the air (though the movie has been performing very well overseas), but even if the sequel is never greenlit, it's hard to fault Villeneuve - and Warner Bros., for that matter - for taking a chance and committing to adapting this seminal sci-fi story for the screen in a way that does the novel justice.

Dune is not your typical studio "blockbuster" by any means, and is all the better for it. Villeneuve has crafted an ambitious, contemplative sci-fi epic which could end up being regarded as his most monumental accomplishment. It may not be for everyone, but for those who do find themselves fully immersed in this world, a sublime cinematic experience awaits.

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