The latest interpretation of the massive Frank Herbert novel, Dune, is a sprawling epic about greed, ambition and the cruelty of destiny.
While the film is beautiful and the acting impeccable, it is hampered by a ponderous first act that weighs down the entire film.
Director Denis Villeneuve (Bladerunner 2049 and Arrival) tried mightily to bring the novel to the screen and succeed where director David Lynch failed in his 1984 film. While Villeneuve succeeds in making the complex work understandable, he fails to move the film along at an enjoyable pace. He spends a great deal of time slowly setting up the premise of the film, with much hushed dialogue between the noble Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and his son, the young hero Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) or the boy’s mother, Lady Jessica Atreides (Rebecca Ferguson, who seems a bit young for the role.)
By the time he gets to the meat of the film, it’s half over. Granted, once the action starts it’s dramatic and engaging, but did he have to take such a long way around?
Duke Atreides unwittingly gets caught up in an interstellar war among the ruling families of the Empire over the desert planet, Arrakis. The inhospitable planet is nothing but sand dunes and skyscraper-sized monsters that live beneath the surface. The so-called “worms” have an insatiable appetite for anything that is not sand. The rest of the galaxy would ignore the planet and its nomadic inhabitants, except that it is the only place in the universe where the mysterious “spice” is created, which extends life, alters perceptions, allows glimpses into the future and has become vital for pilots navigating through the galaxy.
The natives of the planet, called Fremen, have adapted to the world, and managed to create a thriving, if barbaric, culture. They even tolerated the presence of the spice-hungry miners and their massive machines.
But, much like the inevitable clash of the American settlers and native Americans, the Fremen know their way of life could only continue if they drive the imperial forces away.
The last half of the film is exciting and thrilling, but must overcome audience fatigue from the grim first half.
One of the bright lights of the movie is Jason Momoa as the military leader, Duncan Idaho, even though his larger-than-life personality is stunted. If anyone could have given the film a glimmer of lightness, it would have been Momoa. Unfortunately, his role as the dedicated, fearless warrior allowed only the barest hint of such relief.
Another standout is Stellan Skarsgard, who plays Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, the Jabba-The-Hut-like bad guy seeking to control the planet. Skarsgård is barely recognizable as the vile, cringeworthy villain that we will see more of in the sequel.
We will have to wait for Dune, Part Two to really get into the meat of the story, as young Chalamet steps into the role of messiah and connects with the enigmatic Chani, played by Zendaya.
Dune is worth seeing, but be prepared for a lot of mansplaining in the first hour before getting to the desert.
Dune is 2hours and 35 minutes and rated PG-13. It opens Oct. 22.