Venice 2021: Villeneuve's 'Dune' is THE Blockbuster Event of the Year
by Alex Billington
September 3, 2021
DUNE! Shout it from the rooftops!! The time has finally arrived. After years of waiting, years of attempted adaptations, years of anticipation, Denis Villeneuve's contemporary version of Frank Hebert's seminal sci-fi classic Dune has finally landed. And it is glorious. It is everything I was hoping for and more. The Matrix sequels premiered at film festivals (Cannes 2003), Star Wars movies premiered at film festivals (Cannes 2002 / Cannes 2018), Lord of the Rings premiered at a film festivals (Cannes 2001), now it's Dune's turn. Dune unquestionably deserves to be at the Venice Film Festival, where the movie is world premiering before launching in theaters (and on HBO Max) this October. Film festivals are a part of cinema history, and Dune is about to make history once again. Denis Villeneuve's Dune is jaw-dropping incredible, a blow-you-away experience that truly captures the inter-planetary scale & splendor of the epic story of Atreides and Arrakis.
Villeneuve's adaptation opens with title card Dune: Part One, and the story sticks to the original book for the most part. Which means it is only half of the story, and we damn well better get the second half after this first part because I NEED it to continue. This better not be it. They haven't even started filming Part Two yet, but I am sure they've already got plans in place. Dune takes us through an immersive introduction to House Atreides and the brutal House Harkonnen, then to the golden desert planet of Arrakis, then follows Paul Atreides' story as the vindictive Emperor rains hell down upon the spice planet. The Lord of the Rings comparisons are spot on – this movie is as grand and spectacular as Fellowship of the Ring, a breathtaking and exhilarating cinematic experience. It turns out that Villeneuve is the perfect filmmaker to finally bring this contemporary adaptation to the big screen (see: Jodorowsky's Dune), appropriately making the scale as immense as it should be - this is a massive war between multiple planets, all ruled by an interstellar empire.
Before I go on any further, let me state that Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is one of my all-time favorite movies, if not my eternal #1. It was a life-affirming, unforgettable event watching it at midnight on opening weekend. Then it went on to win all the Oscars and the rest is history. You know that feeling you get when you're watching a movie and your heart starts racing, and your breathing gets faster, because what you're watching is so incredible, so awesome, that it's a totally visceral experience. Almost an out-of-body, I'm-right-there-in-the-story, living-it experience. Yeah, I really missed that feeling… It's the first time I've felt that watching a movie in years. I am so glad I could watch this in a cinema – with the volume turned WAY UP, the score literally pounding on my chest, totally lost in the screen. This is the kind of cinematic experience I live for. This is everything that I love about movies. Watching Dune took me right back to that midnight showing of Return of the King. I couldn't move at the end, sitting in awe watching the credits roll.
Villeneuve nailed it – he got everything right. The scope, the scale, the storytelling, the cast, the score, the set pieces, the visuals, the atmosphere, the mood, the intensity, the grandeur. Timothée Chalamet is near perfect as Paul Atreides, completely committed to the role, and captivating to watch as he struggles with his emotions and the call to lead the revolution with the Fremen of Arrakis. The rest of the cast – including Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Zendaya, Javier Bardem, and Babs Olusanmokun – are just as good, none of them overplaying their roles or overshadowing anyone else. This is where the Lord of the Rings comparison comes in again, as the ensemble cast is as lovable and admirable in Dune as with the LOTR trilogy. In fact, so many of them barely get any time in this movie, because we'll be seeing them more in the next movie. And even that is exciting, because the story is setup so perfectly in this Part One that I couldn't be more excited to see it continue. Remember that anxiousness at the end of Fellowship of the Ring? Remember how much we couldn't wait for it to keep going? It's that all over again…
Finally, I can't end this without highlighting the incredible score by Hans Zimmer, which I might already state is one of Zimmer's all-timers. It fits so intricately within the movie and all the visuals, it's instantly iconic, and it adds another aural dimension to the cinematic experience of watching Dune on the big screen. Of course, this is the usual for Zimmer, but this score is as out-of-this-world as any can be. I want to go on and on about Dune and how much I loved it. Even though it doesn't necessarily tell a story we've never seen before, that's not the point. We know Sam and Frodo will take the ring to Mordor at the end of it all, but it's about following them on this journey. Watching them as they learn about Middle Earth and fight off all that darkness on their journey, making friends along the way. In Dune, it's the same kind of exhilarating journey - it's about following Paul on this adventure to discover his destiny. It's about seeing the sandworms and cheering when they appear, learning about Arrakis and its importance, discovering how badass the Fremen are. It's everything we go to the movies for, it's a Hollywood spectacle in every possible sense. Don't miss it.
There's so much more to say about Dune, so much more to talk about. Drop me line and I will rave about for hours on end, geeking out about every little detail and every last character. But we'll save these discussions for later, once everyone else has had the chance to watch it. If all goes well, this movie is going to be THE blockbuster event of the summer. It's the must-see-on-the-big-screen epic experience of 2021, the massive movie you will go watch over and over in theaters. This is what I've been missing for years – awe-inspiring movie magnificence. Dune launches us into a whole new era of sci-fi cinema, onward to Arrakis and beyond.