Villeneuve’s Dune: review

Image: Peter Lik

Dune was first labelled “unfilmable” in the age of the Hollywood blockbuster.

It’s too sprawling and detailed to ever fit inside 121 minutes run time.

As Dennis Villeneuve’s well-meaning new version demonstrates, its narrative is also too carefully structured to split down the middle.

A “good” Dune adaptation has been a long time coming.

Arthouse director Alejandro Jodorowsky first planned to make it in the 70’s. His version would have been 14 hours long.

David Lynch finally got a production to the box office in 1984. His painfully kitsch version just felt 14 hours long.

A 2000’s miniseries has so far been the closest thing to a faithful screen adaptation. But twenty years on, in a post Game of Thrones world, its effects look tacky and its cast looks d-list.

Every streaming service on earth is selling its shirt to try and find the next big fantasy epic. How did Dune end up in Hollywood?

Villeneuve’s Dune is beautiful. Big. Long. Overwrought. Pretty stoked on itself. And… what’s the word?

Dull. It’s dull.

The Avengers-esque drama (without the pithy, self-deprecation) and the sweeping shots of fireballs engulfing spaceships are fun.

The masculine tropes of heroes and villains do land, but more with a wheeze than a thud. This has all been done elsewhere and better, with stories more suited to the medium.

The stunt casting does its job and grabs your attention.

It then renders itself pointless when you figure out (quickly) only Timothee Chalamet’s character is interesting. The script then works against his decent performance, pointing out he’s just a scrawny kid every 5 minutes.

In the next movie is his physique to be suddenly rendered a-la Hemsworth? Otherwise, what was the point exactly?

The colour palette doesn’t help. Everything is a sandy grey-beige. The art department clearly didn’t spend much time in a dessert.

They might have taken a trip on the Ghan for inspiration. Desserts are amongst the most colourful places to greet the human eye.

The soundtrack heaves and thumps pregnantly in the background. Big important movie music, it slows the tempo.

But the main issue for this production is: it’s just part one. All the cool things in the source novel by Frank Herbert happen in the first and last 50 pages. The rest is slow-burn world-building.

The movie is stuck shoe-horning as much of it in around the action as it can. It’s an awkward fit, but as Dune adaptations go, it’s far from a disaster. It just isn’t terribly engaging.

All the while we’re passively reminded with every frame, this much money and talent have never been thrown at Dune before.

Pity they weren’t thrown at a tv screen.

Imax has its uses. But none that suit Dune.

Well, maybe the next adaptation? Set your alarms for 2035. The way Dune projects have developed thus far, that should be about to schedule.