TIFF 21: Ambitious And Visually Stunning, ‘Dune’ Is Not Without Its Flaws – Review
“An animal caught in a trap will gnaw off its own leg to escape. What will you do?”
It’s 10191 and Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is the heir to the throne that rules the most important planet in the universe, Arrakis (a.k.a Dune). The most important resource found on Arrakis is a drug known as the spice which gives users superhuman capabilities. Of course, in true colonizer fashion, the sought-after spice has been the catalyst for many invasions and violent wars throughout the years.
Lord Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) want what is best for their son, Paul, and while they know they have a political obligation to learn the ways of Arrakis and govern it, there are snakes within the House of Atreides. Even with all political treachery and mayhem afoot, this is not the most dangerous thing in the desert.
Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel of the same name, Dune, is very much huge on spectacle (as one would expect). Visually, Dune is one of the best-looking films that I’ve seen in recent memory. Whether it was the depictions of the various places and people or the costumes, it was clear that no expense was spared in putting together the world that many experienced in their mind’s eye when reading Herbert’s novel. Kudos to all who were part of the production, costuming and visual effects teams because everything that was created was truly beautiful to look at. The action scenes, in particular, were very well done and everything just reached an even higher level with the addition of the star-studded cast.
The star power in this movie is astronomical, however, I do not necessarily think it was required. In fact, some of the characters aren’t fleshed out nearly enough and have little to no dialogue, despite their faces being heavily used for marketing purposes surrounding the film. Many of the characters were great or could have been if they had the necessary dialogue, but for most of them, unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The biggest stand-out in the cast was Ferguson as Lady Jessica. Of course, Ferguson has a commanding screen presence and it is always one of the best (if not the best) part of whatever film she’s in. However, in Dune, you couldn’t take your eyes off her (yes, I think I am now a Rebecca Ferguson stan).
Jason Momoa (who I will forever be a stan of) as the warrior Duncan Idaho is also a thrilling part of the movie. While he doesn’t have as much screen time as some of his counterparts, he does great things with what he is given. Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Liet-Kynes is very much in the same boat as Momoa; not as much screentime, but very impactful. Honestly, if the film was only Momoa, Duncan-Brewster and Ferguson’s characters, I probably would have liked it a lot more than I did. There was something very compelling about their trio of characters and I felt invested in their stories, even if we did not get to see the full potential of each of their stories for some of them (at least in this film).
In terms of story, this is ultimately where Dune falls short. It is not that the story is bad by any means, it’s just that most of the film only serves to set up the franchise’s future. Many characters are not fully fleshed, and by the time you perhaps might be able to learn more about them, the story shifts focus and those characters are left pulling a disappearing act as if they’ve been sucked into the quicksand. In addition to this, with many of the themes based on elements rooted in various Middle Eastern cultures, it was certainly odd that the only person in the cast who represents that area of the world in any way is David Dastmalchian. And while I do understand that it is a fictional world set far in the future and on another planet, that still doesn’t excuse the filmmaker and casting directors to leave out the very people that much of the source material was taken from. To put it mildly, the short-sightedness is baffling.
In essence, Dune relies heavily on its sensory elements, which isn’t a bad thing. As it pertains to this film, it’s a great thing and something the majority of audiences are likely hoping for. However, in doing so it seems as though many other important parts were pushed to the wayside or perhaps, not particularly thought through. Somewhat fortunately for Dune, the good – thanks to the actors mentioned above, splendid set pieces and costuming, world-building and some great action sequences- marginally outweighs the film being incomplete and hollow. At the very least, you will hopefully find yourself entertained.