'Dune' review: The spice flows well with this one

A masterclass in world-building and with a strong performance by Timothée Chalamet, 'Dune' is the adaptation that all fans of Frank Herbert's novel have dreamed of. – Photos: Warner Bros Malaysia

Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem
Director: Denis Villeneuve

The first thing you should know is that Dune is no Star Wars. So, if you were expecting a fast-paced space opera with lots of catchy quips and laser sword fights, this is not the film for you.

The best way to describe Dune to a non-fan is "Game Of Thrones meets Star Trek". But even that is an oversimplification of the true scope of Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 novel.

As far as classic science-fiction literature goes, Herbert’s novel is considered one of the greatest ever written. With its giant sandworms, spice harvesters, richly developed cultures and remarkable world-building, it is also a story that seemed perfect for a feature film adaptation.

Time to 'ramp' up the action, guys.Time to 'ramp' up the action, guys.

However, the scale of his vision and the extreme attention to detail that Herbert pours into his world also means that it can be extremely hard to get it right. Acclaimed director David Lynch tried it back in 1984 and while his film has garnered a cult following since then, it flopped at the box office and was derided by critics. Lynch himself famously disowned the film, citing studio interference for the failure of the movie.

Fast forward to 2021, and we finally have a Dune movie that is worthy of its source material, and by a director, Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049, Arrival), who does justice not only to Herbert’s tome, but also the far-reaching mythology of the world.

Hey Josh, I can see my House from here. Geddit?Hey Josh, I can see my House from here. Geddit?

In case your only recollection of Dune is the classic real-time strategy video game Dune II with its non-canon House Ordos, here is a brief summary of what it is all about.

Dune is set in the far, far future, where humanity has formed a large interstellar empire known as the Imperium, ruled by an Emperor and run by Great Houses that oversee the planets under him.

The story itself revolves around House Atreides, specifically Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), sole heir of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), who has been assigned to take over management of the notoriously dangerous yet highly desirable desert planet Arrakis from the insidious House Harkonnen.

Arrakis is home to the fierce Fremen people, but more importantly, it is also the only planet that produces melange, or Spice, which is essential to interstellar space travel, among other uses, and thus, the most desired commodity in the known universe.

As House Atreides prepares for the harsh realities of Arrakis and also potential war with the Harkonnens, Paul also finds himself the subject of a prophecy that predicts the rise of a powerful man who could change the course of humanity’s path.

I'm no Spider-Man, but I can be Willy Wonka if you want, Zendaya.I'm no Spider-Man, but I can be Willy Wonka if you want, Zendaya.

"Immense" is perhaps the most apt word one can use to describe Villeneuve’s film. Everything about the film seems immense – the gigantic space vehicles, the massive sand dunes of Arakkis, even the huge weight of politics and religion weighing down on the shoulders of every member of House Atreides. And we haven’t even mentioned the immeasurable size of the sandworms yet.

All that immense-ness serves to convey an epic sense of scale to Dune, but personally, I found its power lies in the smallest of elements. From the tiny yet scary hunter-seeker assassination tool to the haunting blue eyes of the Fremen; it is the tiny details that stand out the most for me in this film.

Villeneuve himself has mentioned the "power of details" in Herbert’s novel, and he has meticulously made sure that same power is present in his film. It’s a good thing he does too, because at times the plot moves along so slowly that those details are all that stop it from descending into a depressing bore.

Jason Momoa does an Ip Man, taking on 10 Sardaukar at once.Jason Momoa does an Ip Man, taking on 10 Sardaukar at once.

That’s not to say Dune is dull. On the contrary, it is a masterclass in world-building, taking its time to immerse the audience in its cultures, philosophies and technologies, while providing an intriguing political thriller at the same time. And the action, when it comes, ain't bad either.

And then there’s the megawatt A-list power of the cast, which also includes Josh Brolin, Zendaya, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Ferguson, Dave Bautista, and Jason Momoa.

While that cast alone is worth the ticket price, Chalamet is the one that really commands attention with his unassuming yet quietly powerful portrayal of Paul Atreides. The growth of his character is compelling enough that you really do long to see more of him by the end of this "Part One" of a planned two-movie franchise.

That brings us neatly to probably the only downside of this movie – the fact that it is only half a movie, and that the sequel has yet to be officially greenlit. After all the love and attention Villeneuve puts into Part One, and all the emotion the fans have invested into it, it would be a shame if Part Two wasn’t forthcoming.

For now at least, us Dune fans can final revel in the fact that the "unfilmable" book has finally been filmed.

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