Dune Part One
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
I remember when Denis Villeneuve was first announced as the director of yet another adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune. I said at the time that if anyone was going to be able to capture the inherent beauty of a sand planet then, given his track record it was Denis Villeneuve. Even though, at the time, I was still angry at him for attempting to make a sequel to the greatest movie ever made (aka Blade Runner reviewed here) and then making a great looking film which was absolutely unlike the spirit of the original in any way, shape or form (which you can find reviewed by me here).
That being said, I was surprisingly uninterested when this film finally got released and it took some hefty recommendations from my friends to actually bother sitting down and watching this one... despite wanting to hear what Hans Zimmer did with the score. I remember seeing the David Lynch version in the cinemas back in 1984 and being similarly disappointed in it, especially since I knew Lynch was capable of making something as brilliant as Eraserhead. I think I also read the book around a similar time frame and... yeah, I liked the novel well enough but wasn’t a huge fan like my father was. I never got around to reading any of Herbert’s sequels and I still don’t feel the pull of it, to be honest.
However, I did sit down to watch the new version, eventually and... yeah, it’s okay. Not too terrible. Better than Lynch was allowed to get away with at any rate. It’s influences on film properties such as Star Wars are certainly apparent and the special effects departments are good enough now to render the necessary nuts and bolts workings of the universe which the characters inhabit as something fairly credible, it has to be said. It also should be mentioned that the personal shields used by the various fighters in the field are in no way an improvement over the big, blocky, Tron-like effects in the 1984 version (I haven’t bothered watching any of the TV shows of the various novels) and I think they still look a bit lame, to be honest.
We’ve got a star studded cast on this one, of course, including Timothée Chalamet as main protagonist Paul Atriedes, Rebecca Ferguson as his mum, Oscar Isaac as his dad, Zendaya as his Freman love interest (seen mostly in visions with a small amount of running time in this version, since this film only covers roughly the first half of the first novel), Jason Momoa as Duncan (although why there are bagpipes on the score because he’s called Duncan is beyond me), Dave Bautista, Stellan Skarsgård, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Charlotte Rampling. They’re all as solid as you’d expect from them and help carry the story along at a leisurely pace. There have been comments made that Chalamet is a bit wooden in this... well I don’t know the actor at all but I think he actually plays the role with the suitable amount of gravitas and royal burden a role like that should be played so, yeah, I’ve got no complaints and I think much more emotion might have killed his credibility a little, to be honest. I seem to remember that Kyle MacLachlan was accused of something similar back in the day so, yeah, I think this is the right approach to take with the character.
The film is exquisite to look at, as you would expect from a director like Villeneuve and this gives it a kind of epic feel, like a lot of his movies have, even though it’s obviously been truncated to fit the pacing of his take on the story. There are some nice moments and some suspenseful scenes (such as when the remote, silent assassin comes for Paul) and although it is appropriately slow for the source material, it never gets boring... although I’m not sure I could sit through it again anytime soon.
I should shout out that the ornithopters, machines I’ve been reading about for years in various science fiction and fantasy tales (especially some of those by Moorcock), are beautifully rendered on screen and the absolute impossibility of their movement within the confines of a man made object is neatly transcended by the special effects people at least rendering their mechanics in a visually appealing way. I’m not sure the same can be said of the sand worms though and I think I could have done with seeing them a little bit more... Villeneuve tends to hide them in the sand like they’re on an episode of Michael Bentine’s Potty Time and save the full look at one for the last part of the movie.
Zimmer’s score is absolutely fine and, sounding like a lot of his other scores of late... and that’s not meant to be a slight, I actually like this composer a lot and I think that’s just the power of his personal, musical voice coming out. That being said, the Arabian flavour of some of the score did, at times, sound almost like it was tracked in from the 1982 Vangelis score to Blade Runner, to my ears. Again, though, I think I’m just picking up on the distinctive style of the music in certain parts of the Blade Runner score which obviously shares the same inspirational source.
And that’s really all I’ve got to say about this new version of Dune, in all honesty. It was not as boring or as terrible as I was expecting and, all in all (and without having seen the TV version), I’d say it’s certainly the best cinema release version we’ve had of the story thus far. If you’re a fan of the novel... or even of David Lynch’s neutered version of it... then you’ll probably get a kick out of this version so, yeah, don’t sit on the fence on this one like I did. It’s really, as I said, not too terrible.