First Impression: Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ Promises To Be The Latest Decade-Defining Blockbuster
What is being posed as the film event of the year, Dune has had an incredible journey from script to screen. Adapted from Frank Herbert’s iconic novel, which is highly regarded as one of the most quintessential works of science-fiction, there couldn’t be a more steep uphill climb for an adaptation. It’s been tried before, by the maestro David Lynch himself, and even then the results were controversial, to say the least. Modern visionary Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049, Prisoners) is now throwing his hat into the ring and with a repertoire like his, combined with an incredible cast including Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Dave Bautista, and Jason Momoa, you can’t help but to really root for this project.
Hopefully, it won’t take much convincing for you because Dune truly looks like it can be the latest decade-defining blockbuster of our time (and those don’t come very often at all). Geeks of Color was fortunate enough to get an extensive preview of the film on behalf of the filmmakers and Warner Bros. Aside from a behind-the-scenes sneak peek, we were also given the first whole 10 minutes of the film and an additional high-stakes action scene – featuring the iconic sandworms no less. Without further ado, this is our first impression and what we think you’re going to take away the most from Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. Fret not, for this will be spoiler-free.
Timothée Chalamet & Zendaya
As already mentioned, the cast of Dune is jam-packed with fan-favourites. Through and through, Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya appear to be the driving force at the center of the film. Chalamet plays Paul Atreides, the son of a powerful Duke (Oscar Isaac) who serves under the all-seeing, galactic-wide Empire. The House of Atreides has just come under the control of the planet Arrakis, an unimaginable desert planet rich with “the spice” – the very element that fuels the Empire with unlimited power and abilities.
All seems well until Paul Atreides realizes that he has an inexplicable connection to a mysterious native from Arrakis, Chani (Zendaya). Chani has known the hardships of Arrakis all her life, fighting back against those who mine spice and threaten her way of life. This is just a small taste as the plot of Dune gets even more complex. It’s the kind of taste that you get from the very opening moments of the film, as it wastes no time in positioning Chani and Paul’s importance. Just from what we’ve seen, fans of both Chalamet and Zendaya are in for quite the surprise. Both actors have continuously proved to show more and more shades to their acting abilities, but with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like Dune, you get something on a totally different level.
Chalamet and Zendaya are both reserved yet bubbling so much underneath; the kind of performances that you can feel are going to speak for themselves with just the look of an eye. It’s really exciting to see two young, established faces at the center of an epic like this, as most blockbusters now only really feature these types in supporting roles. Suffice to say, if you’re a fan of these two names, might want to get your movie tickets early.
The Visual Scale
Denis Villeneuve is never known to disappoint with visuals, but Dune feels like him operating at his highest. Blade Runner 2049 is an incredibly gorgeous film just to look at, going as far as to finally win Roger Deakins his first Oscar for Best Cinematography. Perhaps this is us jumping the gun on an early prediction, but given his past success, we can see Dune going just as far in the awards season for just its visuals alone. Although the cinematography this time can be credited to Greig Fraser.
Fraser is most known for his work on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and The Mandalorian. It does feel a bit premature to already bring out the Star Wars comparisons with Dune. Yes, both feature galactic empires, imperial armies, and rebellions of sorts. However, the two couldn’t be more distinct from each other. Dune doesn’t entirely feel like Star Wars so to speak, but Fraser’s work brings faintly similar vibes. The most praise he’s received was for capturing the immense scale of the Death Star and space in Rogue One, and it looks like we’re going to be praising him once again for this here. The visual scale of Dune is as huge as you can imagine it would be, making it feel even more like a mythological epic. This could easily be the most stunning blockbuster of the year. Furthermore, the idea of streaming this movie at home (via HBO Max) feels off. Not to bring up the ongoing conversation of watching movies in theaters versus at home, but a lot of Dune was shot in IMAX, and believe us, the IMAX experience will leave you shook. And it’s not like other blockbusters that will only utilize IMAX for a few set pieces, Dune frequently utilizes the format right from the get-go. In a time when so many huge films try to make an “event” out of themselves for the sake of profit, Villeneuve and Fraser seem to have achieved this seamlessly.
Denis Villeneuve Loves His Lore
As mentioned before, the story of Dune can get quite complex, weaving numerous characters and factions together while introducing themes of culture clash and more. So basically, there’s a lot of ground to cover and Villeneuve wastes no time in diving us in. What could have easily been heavy-handed or just too overwhelming from the start instead comes off as simply immersive. Villeneuve doesn’t spoon-feed exposition but rather lets you slowly sink into this world at your own pace. Given the glorious visuals, it shouldn’t take too long. You still feel like Villeneuve’s narrative hands are full though.
The director has been outspoken in his admiration and love for the novel, citing it as one of his favourite works of fiction in his youth. As such, he seems to be tackling this story with every ounce of care he can allow of himself. Leading us to this major reveal, the film opens up with a title card reading Dune Part One, meaning that this is only just the beginning. Now, the film being split into parts is no secret, as Villeneuve has mentioned before that the movie only gets roughly through half of the book. Seeing Warner Bros. commit so much to this idea by immediately telling us that this is just “part one” of a grander story is exciting. Also, a sign that Villeneuve knows how much ground he has to cover while also cutting himself some slack.
Dune marks Villeneuve’s second collaboration with Hans Zimmer. The composer is famously known for creating a multitude of instantly recognizable themes, from The Lion King to Pirates of the Caribbean. He is also favoured for his collaborations with Christopher Nolan, and to go even further with his music for a slew of recent DC films. Zimmer has definitely shown range in the past, but the music of Dune feels like a new leap for him. He’s openly talked about it being his wildest project yet, and having heard the music, he might be right.
The music of Dune feels somewhat recognizable yet otherworldly in every sense of the word. Falling in line with Villeneuve’s vision for framing this an epic, Zimmer’s score feels as if it comes from the stuff of legends. Zimmer himself explained his process, taking tools found in ancient music (such as trumpets and horns) and finding a way to make them feel alien. This sense of familiarity is elevated by the use of operatic singers. We’re allowed to recognize it enough while still being swept away to a new place, one full of taboo. Frankly, it’s the most exciting work Zimmer has presented in a while, and could once again, see him as a major threat in the next awards season.
Blade Runner 2049 Comparisons
Finally, the question that any Villeneuve fan will be asking, “How does it compare to Blade Runner 2049?” Comparing such two projects is futile, but that won’t stop many from raising the conversation. To put it simply, it doesn’t feel like Blade Runner at all. The most you can really say is that it carries Villeneuve’s unique touch, it feels far out of this world yet somehow still palpable. It’s rooted in enough emotion that it carries that special weight, the kind that will make you believe in kaiju-sized sandworms. It’s the stuff of unlimited imagination, and what so many aspiring blockbusters hope to achieve yet are always limited in one unfortunate way or the other.
Warner Bros. seems to have given Denis Villeneuve as much freedom as he needs to make Dune a new house staple. Perhaps in that way, it’s similar to Blade Runner 2049, but here Villeneuve is shooting for beyond the stars. Without a doubt, Dune is shaping up to be the blockbuster event of 2021. Just based on what we saw, nothing has come close to capturing this much of a grand, pure imaginative scale since maybe Avatar. And, of course, we all know what success that leads to.