By JAVIER DOSAMONTES
In all honesty, I’m not a big fan of sci-fi movie franchises, but because of the people involved in this project, I was looking forward to the first installment of “Dune.”
Director Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario,” “Arrival”) is at the top of his game and his trajectory is beginning to feel a little Nolan-ish in the “Batman Begins”-slash-“The Prestige” era.
Everything he has done in terms of style and vision starts to come together in this movie, making it the perfect set up before he drops down the hammer in the second installment of the series à la “The Dark Knight.”
Nolan invented the blueprint on how to successfully attack these adaptations from larger-than-life materials, like the Batman comics and graphic novels. And Villeneuve looks to be following it.
When Villeneuve agreed to take on the massive challenge of making the legendary 1965 novel into a movie — even the iconic David Lynch denounced his own attempt in 1984 — it was under the agreement that it would have to be at least a two-parter.
The marketing department from the studios failed to make this clear, but this was known and reported and it’s important to keep in mind before watching.
To help him adapt the novel that inspired “Star Wars,” Villeneuve teamed up with Oscar-winner screenplay writer Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”) and Oscar-winner composer Hans Zimmer.
Zimmer’s fingerprints are all over the best movies of all time, including not coincidentally “The Dark Knight” and “Interstellar.”
But it was something Zimmer said in an interview with Indiewire that made me jump on the hype bandwagon for this movie:
“We both read it as teenagers, but we didn’t make the movie with hindsight of age and wisdom,” Zimmer said. “As soon as we started, we were transported back in time … and I did music with the recklessness and craziness that only a teenager has. Just whatever came to me. “
I followed Villeneuve’s and Zimmer’s lead and experienced the movie without hindsight.
I didn’t read the novel or anything about it, nor watched Lynch’s adaptation — I wanted the two auteurs to show me their vision of “Dune,” the novel that they worshiped since they were teenagers.
It was worth it.
The world created by Villeneuve paired with Zimmer’s score is stunning. It feels real, haunting, futuristic and mythological at the same time.
Visually and sonically, the film is so intoxicating that at the beginning I couldn’t follow the plot very well. But the quick breakdown is that the up and coming House of Atreides (Paul’s team) is appointed by the Emperor to replace the House of Harkonnen (villians), as the rulers of Arrakis (planet with “spice” and home of the oppressed Fremen).
As rulers of Arrakis, they are responsible for harvesting and industrializing the production of spice (interstellar version of oil needed for spaceships as fuel and such) for the empire … but everyone gets caught in a geopolitical space war.
Adding to the already complicated and precarious situation, Paul (Timothée Chalamet) might be the universe’s savior and there’s a shadow-ruling crew of intergalactic witches also involved.
Yup … not an easy story to make into a good screenplay. But Villeneuve, Roth and Jon Spaihts nailed it. The dialogue doesn’t feel corny or clichéd, and the story flows like a historic epic instead of a Marvel movie.
Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgård, Javier Bardem, Zendaya and all of the supporting cast played their parts perfectly.
There’s no overacting and no wasted screen time, everyone comes off the bench and lights it up like Ray Allen for the 2013 Miami Heat.
Chalamet (Paul) does an excellent job playing the rebellious yet coddled prince. But the success of the sequel and franchise hinders on his ability to portray the evolution of Paul from reluctant leader to destined savior and warrior of the universe.
Zendaya and Oscar-winning actor Bardem will also need to bring their A-games, as their roles become more prominent and crucial for the story arc of the upcoming sequel in 2023.
Of course, the largest share of responsibility falls squarely on Villeneuve’s shoulders. The director is knocking on the door and needs to break through with the sequel.
He has the metaphorical lead in the “Dune” movie-making game, and if he chokes it away in the sequel, people won’t look back kindly on this film either — especially Lynch’s cult-like following and the “books are better than their movies” crowd.
“Dune” was released on HBO Max and theaters, because movie studios have been forced to adapt and adjust to today’s viewing habits. But this movie deserves to be watched in a theater, instead of the first season of the series.
The cinematic world that Villeneuve is creating has to be experienced at its fullest, so allow yourself to be transported to it and enjoy the introduction to his vision of “Dune.”