Director Denis Villeneuve
Screenpay Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth based on the novel by Frank Herbert
Starring Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem

There couldn’t have been a better director or a worse time to tackle a massive epic. The director, Denis Villeneuve has a distinctive style and absolutely no pretension in his approach to such work as Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. His clarity of vision helps push the tepid elements of Dune into something that has purpose. Unfortunately, for a film that requires a certain cinematic success in order to continue, its release during this prolongued pandemic makes its future in doubt even before the studio decided to release it simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. It needs an enthusiastically committed audience to give the studio impeteus to move forward, but this is hard to achieve when there is less of a drive to go to the theater.

This film, as directed by Villeneuve, is definitely something one needs to see in the theater to fully appreciate.

Let’s be clear, the Frank Herbert novel is not an easy adaptation. There’ve already been two spectacular failures thus far. Even as a book, it’s been hard for me to get through, reading and in listening to the audible version. It was my dad’s favorite book and the only book he ever gave me.

The story is of two houses, Atreides and Harkonnen. The former are loyal subject to the emporer and dutifully follow the ditctates laid before them. The latter has been in charge of spice mining for generations on the planet of Arrakis. This has made them richer even than the emporer. When Duke Leto Atreides (Isaac) is given the rights to take over the mining operation, he knows something is up, but he moves forward and takes his family with him to Arrakis. This includes his concubine Lady Jessica (Ferguson) and their son, Paul (Chalamet).

Lady Jessica is a member of the all female Bene Gesserit, who have influence in the government, but also have an astounding set of physical and mental skills. That she chose to give birth to a son puts her at odds with Gaius Helen Mohiam (Rampling). That he passes her test of humanity does not prevent her skepticism, but it buys them both grace that they will need.

The story from here will be left to the viewer. Suffice to say it is told with an plodding skill that permeates every second of screen time. There is not one moment of Dune that feels anything less than ominous. The tone would be necessary for the first, or possibly the second act of a story, which is exactly what this version of Dune feels like. The first part of Dune is a story well told and beautiful as anything we will see this year. It just feels like the story is just beginning when the credits start to roll.

Is this enough of an enticement to draw people into the theater in the numbers required to warrant a future for the franchise? That much remains to be seen.

(**** out of ******)

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