Fitzmartin’s review published on Letterboxd:
The key ingredient in a cinematic epic, is weight. In a true massive epic, the likes of Laurence of Arabia, The Lord of the Rings, Malcolm X, The Longest Day, we have to feel that the events are witnessing are of great importance, with implications that will have massive ramifications for generations. An attempted that either undersells the importance and feels false, (Midway) or oversells it (Exodus: Gods and Kings) and feels silly, will not succeed.
Denis Villeneuve and his team have landed the weight of Dune absolutely perfectly. Watching the clash between House Atreides and House Harkonnen on Arrakis felt like history being written in front me of me. The scale is both astonishingly massive but also intimate. Villeneuve understands that the war is about spice, space, and armies but also most importantly about people. Like Peter Jackson did with LOTR, he is able to distill a complex and huge story into easy to follow characters and basic concepts.
The details of the empire and its various intricacies and politics are there for those who want to follow, but the stakes are made clear and simple. Arrakis has spice, and the spice is valuable. House Atreides is good, House Harkonnen is bad. There's a lot more to it than that of course, but so many massive sci-fi epics get caught up on world-building and lose sight of the stakes. Villeneuve keeps them in sharp focus. Yes, he paints the Houses and Fremen with a broad brush to do so, but it works.
It helps to have a ridiculously stacked and talented cast for even the most minor roles. Everyone is really really good here, but Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, and Stellan Skaarsgard are superb. Oscar Isaac is written with more character depth in one scene of Dune than he had in three Star Wars films. Ferguson, often cast as a villain, shines as a mother with complex loyalties. Skaarsgard conversely has been playing Hollywood bad guys for thirty years, and is skin-crawlingly creepy here. Chalamet, as the lead, carries the heaviest parts of the film on his shoulders. He was excellent in as Henry V in David Michod's The King (one of those attempted epics that lacked weight), and understands how to play a young royal. Paul Atreides is not an easy character, but Chalament covers his emotional rollercoaster with grace and believability.
I seriously loved Dune, and I think it goes without saying that the cinematography, production design and music were all top notch. I was surprised how deft the editing was, and Dune moved faster than most Villeneuve films. I've always appreciated Villeneuve's technical style, but I've never been a devotee (I didn't like Blade Runner and was underwhelmed by Arrival and Prisoners). Until now, I though Sicario was his best film, but Dune really won me over.
Dune is not only the best Villeneuve film I've seen, it's the best film I've seen all year.