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Dune (2021): A Movie Too Big to Fail

Safe to say the anticipation for this movie was high, like in the stratosphere high. After the disaster that was Dune (1984), many had deemed Frank Hubert’s vast source material to be unfilmable. With its rich characters and tremendous world building, it is not an easy feat. But director Denis Villenueve did just that with this 2021 remake.

Paul Atreides (played by Timothee Chalamet) is the son of Duke Leto Atreides I (played by Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (played by Rebecca Ferguson). Paul and his entire family travel to the desert planet of Arrakis, which is home to the most precious mineral in the universe, Spice. Once arrived on the planet, they are bombarded by an enemy force known as the Harkonnen, which are led by Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (played by Stellan Skarsgard). Paul and Lady Jessica must find the Arrakis natives known as the Fremon in order to stand a chance against the Harkonnen and take back the dune planet.

The plot I described in the paragraph above is just a loose summary of what the film is about. The actual overarching plot is far more complex than that, with themes of “the one”, destiny, and other socio-political themes. There are so many subplots set up within the first act, it is pretty difficult to follow the film. However, during the 2nd act, they either sidelined or killed off most of these subplots and characters to focus on Paul’s journey surrounding his destiny and an impending intergalactic war. This was smart, as it allows the viewer to feel less confused and bored for the remainder of the runtime. What many people may not know is that Dune (2021) is only based on the first half of the first book; so there is much more world building and epic stories coming from this series. Even though the first act was slow moving and hard to follow at times, the rest of the film more than recovers from it.

Epic storytelling requires epic actors to portray the characters within that story. A movie cast does not get more epic than this. Besides Timothee Chalamet and Oscar Isaac, this movie has a stacked cast of more than capable actors; such as Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Zendaya, and Javier Bardem just to name a few. You would figure with a cast as talented and charismatic as this one someone would outside the rest, but no. Not a single character steals the spotlight nor overstays their welcome. Even if I would’ve loved to see more of Momoa or Zendaya in this film, I am not complaining with the screen time they got.

Each actor gives layers and gravitas to their performances as well. With Oscar Isaac acting as both a leader and father to Paul. Leto Atreides I is not a greedy leader but a compassionate one as he wishes to ally himself with the Fremon rather than rule them, comparable to Ned Stark in Game of Thrones (2011-2019). He also is smarter than he looks too; once arriving on Arrakis, he can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong. Telling Lady Jessica to protect Paul as if he knows he is going to die. Another I have to give credit to is Momoa’s Duncan Idaho, who is arguably everyone’s favorite, as he acts as the best friend and older brother to Paul. Being a counsel to him when he is having dreams of the future, and being the badass he truly is by going out in a blaze of glory in order to protect Paul from enemy forces.

I loved the visuals and cinematography, it was both stunning yet realistic in its world. Some of my favorite scenes where the visuals truly shine are in the dream sequences Paul has. The lighting and reflections all give off an ethereal feel to the visions. Additionally, I really appreciated the different set pieces between the different peoples. House Atreides, for example, combines East Asian and European elements in their interior design, weapons, and armor. The swords that Duncan and the rest of the House of Atreides soldiers carry are two swords: katana and wakizashi-type swords worn in the same manner that they’re real-world counterparts are typically worn. Their armor, on the other hand, seems to be more influenced by European plate armor. This all makes sense, since House Atreides are human after all. House Harkonnen, on the other hand, seems to have a more minimalistic, yet futuristic interior design, fitting for their more alien nature. The CGI was some of the best I’ve seen in modern cinema, the giant sandworms looked so realistic that I thought they were practical! With all the breathtaking visuals, this film will possibly take home awards for visuals, costumes, production design, and cinematography.

The music is composed by Hans Zimmer and while I’ve criticized Zimmer before for having tracks that sound too similar to one another, his work on 2021’s Dune is unlike anything that I’ve heard in a sci-fi film. Typically in sci-fi, you tend to get lots of scores with an abundance of ambient tracks. However, Zimmer brings a new light to 2021’s Dune score, combining African singing and a variety of drums and other instruments. He claimed that he was inspired to create the soundtrack after spending a week in a desert. The soundtrack doesn’t have many, if any, similarities to the 1984 Dune film and does a great job at standing on its own.

Without a doubt, this was one of the most anticipated films of the year. A star-studded cast, fantastic story, complex characters, and stunning visuals it was hard not to get excited. While yes, the pacing was a bit off in the first act, they recovered well at the start of the 2nd. Seeing this story unfold with many badass character moments along with some visceral fight choreography. This film wouldn’t be what it is without director Denis Villenueve and his precise vision for Dune (2021). It also helps having award worthy visuals, production, makeup, and costume design behind you. Enriching those that may not have even read the epic novel to its vast and diverse world. They better make a sequel, I am invested in Paul’s journey towards his destiny!

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