The anticipation is over and Dune has finally landed. The 2 and 1/2 hour epic was released on HBO Max and in theaters around the globe two weeks ago holding steady to the #1 spot in the boxoffice. If there’s one movie this year to get you off your couch and into a cineplex, it’s hard to imagine a better choice than Dune
Covid-19 took its toll so hard on the film business, some wondered if movie theaters were soon to be dinosaurs? A once-beloved place to gather together as the only option for seeing new cinema has certainly seen its value compromised with the age of the internet. While I think most of us enjoy the option to stream because of its convenience and affordability, Dune reminds me of the sacredness that is the theater.
Dune is a grandiose Sci-Fi adventure originally written as a novel by Frank Herbert in 1965. One of my most admired directors today, Denis Villeneuve leads the film with unequivocal scope, and has made his opinion very clear on the choice to watch Dune at home, saying that’s like “driving a speedboat in your bathtub.” While I’m not here to make such drastic distinctions, Dune makes full use of the scale of a theater, in particular IMAX which the movie was intentionally designed for. The larger-than-life shots of dream-like faces and sand-driven atmosphere make full use of the 70mm film, but maybe more immersing is the incredible audio design. I could see someone making an argument for watching at home with a beautiful television, but it is almost impossible to recreate the effect of the sometimes deafening IMAX audio, as the drone-like score, pounds at your blood. Not only do the images and sounds meet the director’s vision, but it’s the mindset one has in a theater that allows one to be fully present. Phones are silent, distractions are paused, and a full house is giving their entire energy to the same source. Like a group meditation or some kind of satanic ritual, there is a communal power that can not be conjured at home.
I would encourage one to manage expectations in terms of story and pace. The drama is extremely heightened, the story burns slowly, and as a stand-alone film, there isn’t the type of satisfaction one might seek from such a long movie. Clearly, this is a setup for two parts. While the seriousness is elongated, it is thankfully not done so with an abundance of cliche dialogue, rushed plot points, or fruitless special effects. Timmothee Chalamet (Paul) continues to showcase his versatility and cement his stardom, while Zendaya (Chani) lures us through the dreamscape with striking command. Their relationship at odds, but destined. Paul’s dreams tend to become reality, which makes for a predictable, yet engaging narrative at the possibility for choice and what is to change.
The tone is incredibly consistent, and it is the world that is the absolute strength and beauty of this film. Shot in many real locations such as Abu Dhabi and Budapest, the landscapes of the frighteningly plausible futuristic desert are simply gorgeous. Sand soaked halls of stone, tower about, housing many on the planet of Arrakis who are in the midst of war. Old world weaponry, aesthetics, and hierarchy meet futuristic technologies like digitally armored suits, magnificent flying vessels, and the infamous box of pain. The art design is masterful, and its involvement is less of a backdrop than a direct conduit for the storytelling itself. There’s something so striking and coherent about the style, that the film elevates itself beyond a normal blockbuster movie.
While I was never bored, or bothered by the moony pace, I also never reaped the rewards of any character arcs like one would hope for. Perhaps this has always been the constraint of Dune as a story? Maybe it is the fault in only getting through what feels like part one? A tantalizing prophecy unfolds with great mystery, but it’s stoic journey is flat. By the end I felt as if the story was just beginning, but wanted it to continue. The wait for a sequel may be equally as epic, so if you can, sink in and enjoy this one on the big screen for all its grandeur.