Dune ★★★★

I am a huge Denis Villeneuve fan. I think he is one of the best filmmakers working today, especially among those who direct within the studio system and DEFINITELY considering the scale of most of his films. He has never made a movie bigger than Dune. Few directors have. The movie is just a beast. I NEED to see all of the behind-the-scenes footage for this thing. The production seems unfathomable.

Now, I do need to reveal a disclaimer before I give my thoughts: I watched the film on HBO Max. I have already reserved my seats for a visit to see it in theaters this weekend, but circumstances simply did not allow me to see the film any other way and be on the InSession Film Podcast for a long review. That said, a film should be able to stand on its own no matter where you watch it, even if watching it at home is not the ideal viewing experience. A few nitpicks aside, it is incredibly engrossing at home. An achievement in large-scale filmmaking. The attention to detail that is packed into this film is astounding. Rarely do you see things in blockbuster films that you have never seen before, but that happens at so many turns in this film.

Interestingly, we have gotten two great blockbusters in the last two years that revel in the brutalist aesthetic (the last one being my favorite film of 2020, Tenet). I will certainly listen to complaints that the look of the film is drab and monochromatic, but there is no doubt that is the point. Arrakis is a land where things go to die. Riches are acquired through hallucinogens and blood. The only appeal of the wasteland is power. You should feel like it would be an awful place to live. You should be put off by much of its design. Do I wish Roger Deakins re-teamed with Villeneuve? Yes, but I wish Roger Deakins was the DP on most movies. Dune does not reach the visual heights of Blade Runner 2049 or Sicario, but what it lacks in the breathtaking subtleties of storytelling that Roger Deakins brings to the table, it makes up for with mind-blowing spectacle. The design, the costumes, the ships, the SANDWORMS- it’s all incredibly compelling.

All of that said- and this may be as much a product of modern Hollywood more than the intent of the film, itself- this is not a full movie and I do not think the ending is terribly satisfying. The film really has no final act. I’m not even sure that it has a climax. This is not to say that serialized storytelling can’t have great endings: look at The Empire Strikes Back, perhaps the most famous ending in movie history, or The Silence of the Lambs’ wink at things to come, or at Pirates of the Caribbean, or countless others. Most similarly, perhaps, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 has a fantastic finale that says so much about the characters and leaves you salivating for the next installment. And, to be clear, I am so pumped for Dune Part Two, but Part One, out of necessity I suppose, knows it has to end, picks a bit of a turning point with little conflict or character development (I think there are actually some important things in the scene that are communicated poorly), and just… ends. We are told, “This is just the beginning,” but our excitement should come more organically and end on an event of greater significance. That said, I really liked the movie and there is a chance I like it much more when Part Two comes out. Villeneuve and company are off to a great start.

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