Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård
Score: 4 stars
Frank Herbert's 'Dune' holds a special place in science fiction history, a place it has earned through years of fan following brought on by a powerful story and lore. It is no easy feat to replicate the book into a film, but Denis Villeneuve comes as close as possible to being as good as it can get.
Dune, clocking in at just over two and a half hours, does this by adapting just about half of the book. In doing so, it allows the story's intricate political manoeuvring of the cold war between the households of Atreides and Harkonnen to breathe and truly expand its legs, leaving nothing about what happens to viewer interpretation or noisy, distracting exposition like in the case of David Lynch's infamous attempt in 1984.
The other benefit of adapting just half of the source material is that it can let go of the campy feel that David Lynch's Dune had, where Baron Harkonnen was little more than a comic relief villain with few bits of true evil to him, and an equally comical Rabban. And though Kyle MacLachlan did his best in the shoes of Paul Atreides with what he had in the film, Timothée Chalamet holds far greater command and presents himself with more grit as his actions speak louder than his words (sometimes quite literally).
For a refresher on the story, Dune takes place on the desert planet Arrakis, which was formerly ruled by the Harkonnen family, but is replaced by the Atreides for the purpose of mining Spice, a drug that does far more things than just give a high - it literally powers the Empire. Unsurprisingly, the Atreides are backstabbed and Paul is left to find his own path in the desert with the Fremen.
And while humanity is powered by the drug Spice, Dune is powered by a different beast altogether - a harmonious mix of a strong cast, excellent direction and potent music, and a pace that leaves nary a tiring moment throughout its runtime.
Speaking of the cast, other than Chalamet's Paul, the key standout character is Skarsgård's Baron Harkonnen, an individual just as vile and cunning as the one in the books, and with none of the exaggeration of David Lynch's version. He is powerfully intimidating, even though he has very little relative screen time, and truly fits the bill for a shrewd political operator.
In terms of direction, Denis Villeneuve leaves nothing to chance, throwing every bit of experience he has built on the back of films like Sicario, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 to create a film that feels truly unique yet familiar to fans of the books. He has carefully stitched together a political conspiracy, an action thriller, and the soft science fiction that Dune exemplifies in its philosophy of human nature, crafting a masterpiece of an adaptation that holds true to the ambition of the original novel's expansive storytelling.
The cinematography is also an equal shareholder in Dune's power as a film, as it successfully presents the tension felt by all parties involved in the cold war for Arrakis. Though there are some bits in the film that feel a little too dark at times, from an overall perspective, it leaves almost nothing to question, either.
Overall, Dune is a true epic. It takes Frank Herbert's beloved novel, and in the process of taking its time adapting just the first half of the book, creates something almost magical, leaving just enough build-up to whet the appetite for fans' need to have the entire book turned into cinema worthy of it.