Dune delivers on style but lacks on substance

This article contains spoilers for the film “Dune” (2021)

Warner Bros. releases their new space-opera titled “Dune” this Friday. The film is directed by Denis Villeneuve,  who previously helmed “Sicario,” “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049.” “Dune” stars Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac and many other Hollywood A-listers. The film is based on the massively influential book “Dune” written by Frank Herbert.

The film introduces audiences to the “Dune” universe where the Fremen of planet Arrakis are at war with the colonizers of House Harkonnen. Planet Arrakis has spice — the most valuable asset in their universe — which is an element that provides numerous health benefits and allows for the possibility of interstellar space travel. House Atreides led by Duke Leto Atreides is one of the most powerful Houses in the galaxy — from the planet Caladan. House Atreides — looking to gain power — negotiates for the ownership of spice mining operations on Arrakis.

The introduction of the film is a cinematic wonder as it drops the audience midway through a  battle between the Fremen and an unknown group. The fast-paced action sequence using explosions, combat scenes and intense sound is reminiscent of a movie trailer. As you stare curiously at the intense battle — the voice of Zendaya’s character Chani — provides some insight into this universe and the scarcity of spice. The narrator sequence ends as the screen introduces the title declaring  “Dune Part One.”

With beautiful naturally lit scenery,  the audience sees Chalamet’s character Paul Atreides stirred from his sleep after witnessing the frightening nightmare. As the character is introduced it is seen that he contains gifts from both of his parents, a powerful authoritarian lifestyle from his father, emperor of the House Atreides and these intriguing powers from his mother.    

The powers are what bring life to the film as Paul has an undeveloped ability of “the voice” and prescient visions, allowing him to see into the future. The voice is similar to the Jedi mind trick from “Star Wars” — where the pitch of one’s voice allows for complete control over someone. When Paul uses this new-found power, all background noise is suppressed followed by a loud vibration that makes the viewer feel as if they are being controlled by the voice. 

The prescient visions are an important element to move the storyline forward.  Paul sees a vision of an event that later occurs in a more detailed version. Every vision is spectacular with its heightened use of bright colors. The glowing orange from the sun as it hovers over the dessert and the shining red used for moments of blood create beautiful scenes. Sadly enough when it returns to the present it does not bring this cinematic effect. The majority of film uses neutral tones of colors — grey, black and white. Although it’s clear the switch of color is used to differentiate the visions and present, the monotone colors become dull.

Expected by its name, the majority of the film takes place in the sand dunes of Planet Arrakis. The setting is home to a range of characters, technology and terrifying creatures. Each one of these elements are done very well. The unique and stylish costume design accompanies the quality acting in each group that is introduced — expanding the universe of “Dune.”

The locations shine throughout the film as it was shot on location in various places — Hungary, Austria, Jordan and more. The $165 million budget is utilized excellently as every scene looked of high production value with little to no lazy CGI. 

Bringing together a cast of some of the greatest actors of this generation has its benefits and misfires in this film. Chalamet, Isaac and Josh Brolin do a wonderful job bringing gravitas and realism to their roles. Chalamet is able to expertly convey the human element of his character. Even though Paul is a royal with supernatural powers. The audience is still aware Paul is questioning the actions of his family and his destiny. Which is something all young people go through. Chalamet clearly took note of this important aspect of Paul’s character. In a Q&A for college students reviewing the film Timothée Chalamet stated “I think Paul’s circumstance within House Atreides. Within the prophecy that happens in the movie, without giving anything away, would be other worldly. But I think the character we meet at the beginning of the movie, a young man who is struggling with his identity, struggling with the way he is. How he is in the world. Who he is, not only to himself but to his loved ones, to the people of planet Calidan, and after that planet Arrakis. I think those are the things that all of us struggle with when we’re at that age. And we don’t know who we are and we try to find ourselves. Trying to find our voice, trying to find our identity.” 

Unfortunately the script does not allow for all of these amazing actors to fully flesh out their roles. Quite a bit of the film focuses on Chalamet’s character Paul Atreides. Due to this, the other characters are not given enough screen time to connect with the audience brought to screen by this amazing cast.

The actor and character that evokes this problem most prominently is Zendaya and her character Chani. Chani is a native of  Arrakis. For two-thirds of the film, Paul has numerous prescient visions of Chani. These visions emphasize the idea that she is an important character to the film. In reality — Paul doesn’t meet Chani until the last 30 to 45 minutes of the film. We never learn why she is important to the storyline. The movie hints that she is the love interest of Paul — but their love story is a plot line set up for the next film in the “Dune” universe. Having such a large cast of characters — while also focusing heavily on the main character of Paul Atreides — unfortunately leaves many characters underdeveloped. 

Even though the previously mentioned prescient visions bring life to the film, the screenplay relies too heavily on them. The visions tease to the audience what could happen later in the film. It sparks interest as you wait to see if the vision will occur or not — however at times it’s the only factor that extends the plot. Ultimately, some of Paul’s visions never occur — leaving viewers to wonder if it will be addressed in another film. 

Two of these visions included the deaths of Leto Atreides and Duncan Idaho,  portrayed by Jason Momoa and Oscar Isaac, respectively. Due to the fact that the script spends a lot of time focusing on visions — the character of Paul Atreides and these characters are killed only halfway through the film. The audience doesn’t feel the emotional impact of these deaths as very little time is spent understanding how these deaths affect the characters. 

Although it’s expected for more “Dune” projects to be released as indicated from the title sequence, the film leaves viewers frustrated because of its intense focus on future storylines. “Dune” ends with many plot lines unresolved. Within the final few minutes of the film the character Chani says, “This is only the beginning.”

“Dune” is set up as an introduction chapter to an intended movie-television franchise. However, the plot is not fully developed for this film to stand on its own, leaving the audience feeling unfulfilled with “Dune” and unsure if they want more.

Reference: https://www.cavalierdaily.com/article/2021/10/dune-delivers-on-style-but-lacks-on-substance

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