There are very few directors who could potentially bring Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune to life on the big screen while doing it justice, and Denis Villeneuve is one of them. I’d actually be hard pressed to name others that I’d blindly trust with the task, so it may be factual to say there’s only one known director that should be trusted to adapt the novel, and Villeneuve is it. Luckily for fans of the novel, and for fans of science fiction films he’s done just that, and in true Villeneuve fashion, he’s done so spectacularly.
The story of Dune is complex, and one of the harder parts of telling the story is how much it feels as though the audience should just know the world, its politics and major houses (think Game of Thrones, to an extent, but on a galactic scale) before the movie even begins. A solid job is done by screenwriters Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth to make what’s going on as clear as they can, though it may take some a second or third viewing to take it all in. Luckily, Villeneuve’s vision for the film is just gorgeous, with jaw-dropping visuals, beautiful sets and absolutely breathtaking shots throughout, so repeat viewings will be less a chore and more a desire.
The film is star-studded, with Timothée Chalamet leading the way as Paul Atreides, son to Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica Atreides (Rebecca Ferguson) of House Atreides. Paul’s family and House is sent by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV to the harsh desert planet Arrakis to farm and protect the most valuable resource in the galaxy, known as ‘spice.’ It doesn’t take long for the planet’s formerly assigned inhabitants, House Horkonnen, to attack House Atreides and reclaim what was once theirs. Meanwhile, Paul has been having visions about a larger destiny that’s before him that could change the landscape of how things are in unknown ways. As I mentioned, it’s a lot right out of the gate without the seasons of introductions to various houses that Game of Thrones gave us, but it’s really not too much once you’re watching it play out. Would it be nice to know more about everyone prior to this? Sure, but that’s just not how things are set up and Villeneuve and company make it work.
While the film is called Dune, it’s actually Dune: Part One, and that’s actually how the title card reads at the start of the film. Villeneuve agreed to make the film only if he could do it his way, which was to break the film up into at least two to tell the story the proper way. Warner Bros. agreed, and after the success of this first part we now have a sequel greenlit to come out in 2023. I was somewhat surprised to find out that they didn’t film these Lord of the Rings style, and just do the pair side by side to save money, but Warner Bros. wanted to see how Dune performed as a whole before committing. I’m not going to complain, as they did give Villeneuve what he needed to deliver his vision, so if waiting an extra couple of years is what it takes to see the conclusion then so be it.
On that note, let it be known that this film does end on a cliffhanger, much like, say, Fellowship of the Ring did, where just as you feel you’re ready for the adventure to truly begin the screen fades to black and the movie is over. Dune succeeds in creating a wonderful world, and while we know so little about these characters it’s easy to become invested in their story simply because it’s such a joy to watch. Dune is two and a half hours in length, and when it was over I was ready for Part Two. So much so, in fact, that if Dune was simply a five hour film I’m pretty sure I would’ve been fine to just go through it all right then and there.
Villeneuve just does such fantastic work (which shouldn’t be surprising given his immaculate resume so far) and Cinematographer Greig Fraser helps capture it all flawlessly. Add on a magnificent score by Hans Zimmer and superb art direction across the board and you have all the ingredients for one of the most visually spectacular sci-fi epics in years. The action sequences are also intense, delivering blockbuster thrills in engrossing dramatic fashion. The acting is top tier across the board, with more of the all-star supporting cast that includes Jason Mamoa, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgård, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, and Dave Bautista.
There truly is so much to love here, as with Dune Villeneuve has created one of those masterpieces that you want to watch again as soon as it’s over. It’s just such a beautiful film, so exquisitely shot that words here just won’t do it the justice it deserves. So if you’ve yet to watch it then I highly recommend doing so at your earliest convenience, and if you have seen it and feel the same as me then I can’t recommend this 4K offering enough, as it showcases the movie in the best way possible outside of the silver screen.
4K Blu-ray Video and Audio Review:
The 2160p transfer of Dune allows those who may have missed it theatrically to get as close to Villeneuve’s vision as they can at home. Warner Bros. did a brilliant job here with the transfer, with a 2.39:1 delivery that showcases all aspects of the film in their best light for home viewing. There’s so much going on visually in the film, and every detail has its chance to shine here if you’re looking for it. The sets are massive, the action beautifully shot and it all comes to life so vividly in this 4K format. The colours are rich, and the effects look fantastic. For those looking to own Dune at home, this is the format to pick it up in.
On the audio side of things, the Dolby Atmos mix is on par with the visual transfer, allowing the film’s elaborate soundscape to hammer into your living room and accompany the picture as strongly as it was meant to. The score by Zimmer is found almost everywhere, and it elevates the film in all the right ways. The way it’s brought home, and works harmoniously with the dialogue, sound effects and everything else just shows how much care was given to this 4K transfer. Top tier on all fronts!
The special features below are a great source of information for those new to the universe of Dune, who may not have read the books or checked out any previous source material. You’ll be able to get the introduction (albeit brief, but better than nothing) to certain houses, backstories and the likes, which will help in future viewings of the film, or when heading into the sequel.
Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes – There are eight featurettes to be found here that range from 11-minutes to just under 3-minutes, with the average being around 6-minutes. In total this package of featurettes hits roughly 50-minutes, so fans will be happy to delve in and learn more about production, how the adapting process went early on, various interviews with cast and crew, as well as loads of on-set behind-the-scenes footage. They’re quick, but I do expect future anniversary releases to have heftier special feature content. They break down as follows:
The Royal Houses – This featurette is 8-minutes in length and focuses on the various houses, how they conduct themselves, their cultures and other things of note.
Building the Ancient Future – This featurette hits six and a half minutes and touches on the set design, props, building the world of Dune and so forth.
My Desert, My Dune – This featurette is just under five-minutes in length and sees Villeneuve talk about the themes of the film, how he approached making it, and others touching on the same.
Constructing the Ornithopters – This featurette is just under six-minutes in length and self-explanatorily talks about the creation of the film’s unique helicopters and how they came to be.
Designing the Sandworm – Again fairly self-explanatory, this featurette is again just under 6-minutes and focuses on the sandworm in the film. Needless to say, the sandworm looks insane and massive, so this was a fun thing to learn about.
Beware the Baron – This five-minute featurette focuses on Skarsgard and the make-up process for his character in the film.
Wardrobe From Another World – This is the shortest featurette at just under three minutes in length. It quickly touches on the wardrobe found within the film.
A New Soundscape – This is the longest featurette of the bunch coming it at just over 11-minutes in length. It focuses on the audio side of the film, with Zimmer and various other crew members talking about the task of doing the score and sound effects for such a massive project.
Filmbooks – This five-part set of featurettes gives a bit of an overview of the different Houses and groups that take center stage in the film’s plot. It’s a great, Coles Notes type source on various story elements people may want to learn a bit more about. The featurettes cover the following: House Atreides, House Harkonnen, The Bene Gesserit, The Fremen, and The Spice Melange.
Inside Dune – Here we have three featurettes that take a look at particular scenes within the film, their pre-production and storyboards, how they were shot, and rehearsals taking place. These are all intertwined with cast and crew interviews to get a better idea of how things were on specific days. The three scenes focused on are The Training Room, The Space Harvester, and finally the Sardaukar Battle. This feature adds up to twelve-and-a-half minutes, and is again a fun watch for fans of the film.
Disclaimer: A review copy of this Blu-ray was sent to me to cover in honest and truthful fashion.
Warner Bros. Pictures Presents Dune. Directed by: Denis Villeneuve. Written by: Denis Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts, Eric Roth. Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Mamoa, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgård, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista. Running time: 155 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Jan. 11, 2022.