In an era of Hollywood defined by bombastic superhero movies, car chases, and explosions, “Dune” stands out for having the courage to take its time. The film is made memorable with solid performances, striking visuals, and a menacing yet beautiful score by Hans Zimmer. However, the movie is held back from being truly incredible by pacing issues and a painfully abrupt ending. One that leaves viewers waiting for the 2023 sequel to give the plot any sort of resolution.
“Dune” is not defined by its action or set pieces, but rather by its world-building. And director Denis Villeneuve has built quite a world. In the far far future humanity has spread across the galaxy, inhabiting hundreds of planets under the banner of a galactic emperor. Worlds are controlled by feudal families, and these families answer to both the emperor and an ancient order of witches. This whole empire is powered by Spice, an incredibly rare fuel that can only be found on one hostile desert planet. Wars are fought with swords, as new shielding technology has made projectile weapons all but useless. If this sounds hard to show in a 2-hour movie it’s because it is. The early parts of the story are stretched thin, as Villeneuve attempts to naturally introduce viewers to a novel’s worth of exposition. While he largely succeeds, it leaves the first parts of “Dune” feeling bloated.
Visually the world is beautifully realized, with gorgeous shots of alien vistas, massive spaceships, and giant cities. “Dune” is best experienced in a movie theater, as a screen any smaller has no chance of capturing the incredible amount of work that went into making the movie look as real as it does. There were several scenes where the visuals themselves took my breath away, and when combined with a Hans Zimmer score, the effect is stunning.
The movie’s story centers around Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), as he is groomed to take his father’s place as the head of the powerful Atreides family and trained in the Voice (a superpower from the previously mentioned order of ancient witches). For the first hour of the movie, Paul feels like a passenger in his own story. He is herded from one scene to another by his caretakers and has very little agency of his own. Luckily outside of our main character, the story gains momentum as the Atreides struggle over control of the Spice with the comically evil Harkonnen. This power struggle is the primary driving force of the story and Villeneuve gives it room to breathe, focusing on the politics and economics of the conflict in a way that you wouldn’t expect from a blockbuster.
All of this comes together to make “Dune” a remarkably slow burn. Frustratingly for the next 2 years, “Dune” will be a slow burn without a satisfying conclusion. Ten minutes after meeting a character prominently featured in trailers and marketing, the movie just ends. It’s clear that this movie exists primarily to set up its own sequel.
“Dune” is a remarkably well-made movie and an enjoyable watch. However, it will be best enjoyed in 2 years, when its sec
ond part completes the story.