Joe B’s review published on Letterboxd:
If anyone needed a reminder that cinema is truly back, Dune provides that and so much more to cinephiles and regular viewers alike. I have been laughed at and labelled a ‘nerd’ all year by my friends for calling Dune my most anticipated film of the year, it gives me an immense amount of pleasure to tell them that I was right all along, it is the best film of the year, and the decade so far. Denis Villenueve has done what many called impossible in making a film that fulfilled Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel to its fullest potential - giving modern audiences a look into his sci-fi vision.
There have been other adaptations, David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation and a 2000 mini-series, but neither of them come anywhere near to the quality of Villenueve’s work. This film deserves to be watched in cinemas, with IMAX, I know its available to watch on HBO Max in the States - please don’t do that to yourself, Dune is the ultimate cinematic experience.
Set far off in the distant future, we meet our main protagonist Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), a boy destined with great purpose, not only as the heir to the noble Atreides family but also from his mother’s background. Paul has been having visions of a girl on a far off desert land called Akkaris, a planet which has been ruled by the empire for many years who want to farm the land for its spice, in effect its oil. The empire has been in conflict with the local Fremen people for a millennia, however when the Atreides household is placed in charge of overseeing the planet, they intend to do things differently, cooperating with the Fremen. What the Atreides household, led by Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) don’t know is that all this is part of a power play from the Harkonnen’s to cement their power under the emperor. This is just Part One of this spectacular story (my words truly do not do it justice), and Dune is a film that desperately needs a Part Two. Many have said that the ending is incomplete, well pay attention to the beginning and you’ll see Part One on the title cards. In this regard the film is similar to ‘Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ and epic film of magnificent grandeur that cannot stand on its own without the remaining pieces of the puzzle. It baffles me that Warner Bros had not already signed off for the inevitable part two, did anyone really doubt that the film would be a success?
Villenueve has worked on many great films over the past ten or so years - from ‘Incendies’ to ‘Prisoners’ to ‘Sicario - but Dune stand tall over them all. He has said many times that making a film adaptation of Dune was his childhood dream, even using his previous sci-fi epics ‘Arrival’ and ‘Blade Runner 2049’ as something of a warm up for this. It shows, everything is controlled masterfully by the director, from the gorgeous visual shots of the desert, to the beautifully coordinated action sequences and the delicately laid out story. Villenueve hasn’t rushed to make this film and he hasn’t rushed the plot, he takes time to lay out every detail so that you can understand what’s going on whether or not you’ve read the book. A lot of this is done in glorious exposition that doesn’t even feel like exposition, it is world-building at its finest.
The score from Hans Zimmer is magnetic, some of his finest work to date, its gripping, edge-of-your-seat stuff which complements what we see on the screen beautifully. The cinematography from Greig Fraser is, as is always the case with a Villenueve film, glorious, I sense an Oscar on the way in that department. Also, production designer Patrice Vermette manages to create such a sense of grandeur and pomposity that you will drool at what he, Fraser and Villenueve have created for your eyes. I don’t normally go this far into the technicians behind a film but the Costume Designers Bob Morgan and Jacqueline West also deserve huge amounts of credit, as do the entire crew behind the film. Together with the cast they have all contributed to one of the finest films in cinematic history.
Now, onto the cast, they are all incredible, every last one of them. I remember when I first saw the cast announced I was shocked that so many well-known actors would fill out minor roles and worried that it may become crowded. I was so wrong. Timothee Chalamet is outstanding as Paul Atreides, at first he is callow and I was uncertain whether or not he’d work in the role but he grows into it so well that I believe his slightly shaky beginning was a reflection of the character. As the story develops he becomes so much more compelling as Paul realises his destiny so that by the end you are prepared to back him all the way. However, the standout performance for me was Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica Atreides, I have not seen anything from her aside from the Mission Impossible films, however here she is enigmatic and takes over every scene she’s in with an understated ferocity. Elsewhere, you have a brilliant Oscar Isaac display as Duke Leto Atreides, he conveys a sense of authority mixed with weakness so well. Jason Momoa’s character is one of the most likeable put to screen in a long while and Momoa proves that he is a brilliant action star. Zendaya is beautiful as ever, we get to see a lot of shots of her, although she has little speaking time she is perfect the moment we hear her speak as Chani - we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in Part 2. Stellan Skarsgard is formidable as the grotesque Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and I can’t wait to see more of him, whilst Sharon Duncan Brewster holds herself admirably with the big names around her. Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem are also very good (they always are) in relatively minor roles and I’d like to mention Stephen McKinley Henderson as Thufir Hawat - he’s a very underrated actor and a lovely man.
Overall, could Dune be anymore perfect - no I don’t think so. This is only the beginning of the story and if you take it as that it is immaculate. The story is well explained, the acting is great, the visuals are staggering, the list could go on and on. On top of that we now have a world which has been perfectly set out for us to explore further in Part Two, which I have no doubt will only be bigger and better than Part One. Now I ask you a favour, not just for me, not just for cinema but for yourself, watch Dune on the big screen - where it truly belongs, trust me, you won’t regret it.