Masterfully crafted, spectacularly realized, but woefully incomplete, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is a visionary spectacle with everyone at the top of the their craft. As long as the film gets its complimentary sequel, the film should be seen as a massive success.
Timothee Chalamet stars as Paul Atreides, the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), ruler of the ocean planet Caladan. Per an imperial decree, House Atreides has been tasked with taking over as the ruler of the planet Arrakis, a harsh desert planet where “spice” is mined. Spice is critical for interstellar travel and is the most valuable substance in the universe. House Harkonnen and their leader Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), the former rulers of Arrakis, leave the planet and its locals, called the Fremen, but seek to destroy House Atredies.
Paul has been trained in combat by a pair of weapons masters (Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa), trained in politics by his father and his political advisor (Stephen McKinley Henderson), and trained in advanced psychic and physical abilities of the Bene Gesserit, an exclusive order of which Paul’s mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) belongs. Paul continually has dreams of the future where he sees himself on Arrakis alongside a Fremen girl Chani (Zendaya).
Villeneuve delivers spectacle with every scene. The cinematography from Greig Fraser is top notch as well as the sweeping music from Hans Zimmer. The story is thick with intrigue and storylines, but the clean editing from Joe Walker never gets you out of sorts. Boring never enters the conversation.
Chalamet turns what on paper is a mopey, rudderless character and imbues him with a full characterization. Paul is sometimes brash and impulsive, while other times is unsure and apprehensive. The bulk of the story rests on his shoulders and he delivers in a big way. Ferguson plays the emotional center of the film and gets to swing the most emotionally. Bound by her duty and her family, she seems to be playing all sides while being firmly on the side of right.
Isaac doesn’t overplay his hand as the benevolent ruler, but keeps a sturdy masculinity and never is anything less than the hero we would expect. Momoa is the charisma machine you would expect him to be. He provides some of the most fun and memorable moments of the film. Surprisingly, Sharon Duncan-Brewster gets the most story of any woman apart from Ferguson and she makes the absolute most of it. Many of the other supporting characters like Brolin, Bardem, and Zendaya get little screentime, but still deliver when asked to step up.
Visually, the film looks like every bit of its $165 million budget was utilized correctly. Ships are believably piloted, explosions feel real and every piece of scenery feels like a real-world place. Nothing looks cheap, from the palaces to the costumes. Every craft feels like they each stepped up to the top of the game with every individual element.
The issue is not with the film, but the entire story. The title card is stated as “Dune Part One” and the film has yet to announce a sequel. Despite a 156 minute runtime, the film is mostly foundation on this world and environment. The table is set, the pieces are in place, and the film just ends. The source material certainly contains enough substance for another long feature, but without the commitment of another film, this picture doesn’t have any sort of finality.
Dune is a massive undertaking and a showcase of craftsmanship. I just wish it felt in anyway complete as a self-encapsulated story. Will we ever get a part two to this story and if we do, how long will that be?