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With: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Chang Chen, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Zendaya, Charlotte Rampling, Babs Olusanmokun, Benjamin Clémentine, Souad Faress, Golda Rosheuvel, Roger Yuan
Written by: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth, based on a novel by Frank Herbert
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing images and suggestive material
Running Time: 155
Date: 10/22/2021

Dune (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Spice Squad

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

With this, the first of two chapters, director Denis Villeneuve smooths out the most cumbersome parts of Frank Herbert's original tale, providing enough ravishing spectacle to overcome the dull bits.

The plot is the same, but this film only covers about half of the novel. The desert planet Arrakis is the source of a valuable drug, called "spice," that allows users to travel vast distances. Spice mining and distribution is controlled by the evil Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), whose armies also oppress the native Fremen people.

Under orders from the emperor, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) takes over the stewardship of Arrakis, and moves there with his wife Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and son Paul (Timothée Chalamet). Lady Jessica has been teaching Paul in the ways of the Bene Gesserit, and, once on Arrakis, some of the Fremen begin to suspect that Paul may be a prophesied "chosen one." But after a betrayal, Lady Jessica and Paul find themselves in the desert, hunted by giant sandworms, and the mysterious Fremen are their only chance of survival.

Echoing his Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve brings a languid moodiness to the storytelling of Dune, slowing things down and allowing time to take in the vast sets (built broad and low to fit the widescreen frame), and devices — like the amazing, if impractical, ships modeled after dragonflies — and to keep track of the innumerable characters. This rhythm builds to the story's memorable, invigorating highlights — such as Paul dodging a life-threatening hunter-seeker, enduring the painful gom jabbar test, or the first appearance of the massive sandworms — and makes them feel extra vivid.

The movie even manages to soften the old, tired "chosen one" device, as well as the simplistic plot strands that are covered up by heaps of sci-fi names (how does one pronounce "Thufir Hawat" anyway?), places, and devices, making things flow more organically. It's even possible to remember that the novel, published in 1965, actually inspired much that came after it, including Star Wars and The Matrix. (See the great documentary Jodorowsky's Dune for more details.)

Villeneuve can't quite downplay the source material's choking seriousness, but there are moments. Stellan Skarsgard's grotesque Baron is a highlight; he's so disgusting that you can't look away, and then there's a cocksure, swaggering Jason Momoa, as swordmaster Duncan, who seems to be the only one having any fun. As with Blade Runner 2049, Dune goes on too long (and will be longer still), with too many scenes of fighting; it lacks the weird, quirky personality of the 1984 David Lynch version, but it succeeds far more rousingly.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment offers a two-disc set, with a Blu-ray and a DVD, as well as a digital copy. The Blu-ray offers superb image and sound, as well as well over an hour's worth of behind-the-scenes featurettes; it's a huge package that fans will want to devour. Recommended.

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