‘Dune’ isn’t your average Hollywood blockbuster

Jane McGill, Staff Writer

On October 22nd, I was among the millions that filled theaters to see the new event movie “Dune”. In the months prior, the film was the subject of a tremendous amount of anticipation due to its all-star cast. However, unlike many of the moviegoers that went to see “Dune” on opening night, I was totally uninterested in Timothee Chalamet or Zendaya. That’s not to say that I dislike either of these actors, on the contrary I have greatly enjoyed both of them in several films, but there was only one name that lured me to the theater that night: Denis Villeneuve. Villeneuve is perhaps the greatest filmmaker working in Hollywood today. Every time I have gone to see a Denis Villeneuve movie, I have left the theater completely blown away. This was no exception.

Villeneuve’s films set themselves apart from Hollywood’s glut of other blockbusters by their ability to combine the best aspects of arthouse and blockbuster movies, and that is on full display here. What Villeneuve accomplishes visually with “Dune” is nothing short of breathtaking. If each frame in the movie was a painting nearly every one would be deserving of its own place at a museum. More than anything else, “Dune” feels otherworldly. Rarely in recent memory have I felt so completely transported as I felt when watching this film. A lot of this is attributable to film’s dazzling production design, which created sets so beautiful and yet so realistic, that the environments of the film did not feel like sets, but like a tangible, lived-in world. As with any modern blockbuster, visual effects are a major component of the film and “Dune” incorporates its effects more flawlessly than any other movie in years. The computer generated elements of the film are grounded through being composited into shots with practical elements that ground the effects and give these shots a layer depth and realism absent from its big budget contemporaries.

Concerning the film’s main draw, it’s cast, this yet another area where the film not only succeeds, but delights. The cast brings more than star power to the film, they bring incredible performances. Timothee Chalamet delivers what may be the greatest performance of his career thus far as Paul Atreides. Oscar Isaac embodies the character of the Duke of House of Atreides with an appropriate amount of intensity, and just enough heart to endear the character to viewers, while Rebecca Ferguson gives us the film’s best performance as Lady Jessica. In anyone else’s hands the character may have ended up lifeless, but Ferguson makes you care about Lady Jessica just as Chalamet makes you care about Paul. Stellan Skarsgard is absolutely chilling as the main antagonist, Baron Harkonnen, making your skin crawl with every moment he’s onscreen. I do not consider this to be a flaw of the film, but I feel that the manner in which the marketing department promoted Zendaya’s role in the film could leave some viewers disappointed, as she occupies a very minor role.

A major potential pitfall that the filmmakers could have fallen into is weighing the film down by loading the first act with lore and backstory from the infamously complex novel. Instead, the film wisely only includes information necessary to understanding characters and plot events prior to their relevance to the narrative, and leaving many of the most nebulous aspects of the worldbuilding to context clues. And while some of the exposition scenes are a bit clunky, overall they remain engaging. The primary aspect of the film that held it back from receiving an A+ is the story, which is great, but incomplete. The film definitely feels like a part one, and despite the masterful directing, amazing visuals, marvelous acting, the ending sets up the potential for a fantastic sequel more than it provides a satisfying conclusion to the film that preceded it. If this movie does not make enough money to justify a sequel, that will truly be a shame.