In the latest adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) takes command of the planet Arrakis with his Bene Gesserit concubine (Rebecca Ferguson), weapons master Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and son Timothée Chalamet (Paul) – hang on, that one is actually the other way round.
If that sounds confusing, it is, but not as much as you might think. Compared to the David Lynch version, this new Dune is remarkably coherent, in that there is a plot that the cast at least appear to understand (and at no point does Sting show up wearing a space nappy). Denis Villeneuve achieves this without sacrificing the source’s eccentricity, filling every scene with detail in a way that never overwhelms the narrative. Only the stupid names really stand in the way of comprehension, but Herbert avoids any blame by dying shortly after seeing Lynch’s interpretation.
What is most striking about Dune is its scale, not just in the perfectly photorealistic vistas, vehicles and vermin, but the awe-inspiring manner in which they are presented. Villeneuve’s approach is more David Lean than David Lynch, taking time to capture the grandiosity of every moment, making the picture epic in the truest sense of the word. And after a decade dominated by the fast-paced quippy action of the MCU, there is something bold about its uncompromising, deliberate production, almost a return to The Lord of the Rings‘ holistic world-building.
Similarly the 2.5-hour runtime does leave you waiting for it to end, without Tolkien’s loveable characters to guide us through the more space-sluggish stretches. As the son of a Duke and a messianic figure of local prophecy, Paul is an heiry-fairy protagonist, hardly an underdog like Luke Skywalker or Frodo Baggins – though the upshot is that he’s nowhere near as annoying as either. Chalamet is watchable as ever, alongside stellar performances from Stellan Skarsgård, Rebecca Ferguson and Charlotte Rampling, who brings a touch of Zardoz to proceedings.
From the expansive production design to the epic score by Hans Zimmer, Dune is an incredible accomplishment worth seeing on as big a screen as possible, the kind of breathtaking spectacle that makes Star Wars look like Origin Wars.