Dune (2021): Stellar Score and Cinematography Outweigh Disappointing Narrative

Dune (2021): Stellar Score and Cinematography Outweigh Disappointing Narrative

Nathanael Langley, Staff Writer

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is easily the biggest movie of the year, in terms of both story and ambition. From the mountainous landscapes to the massive sandworms, it’s a spectacle to look at. Despite it being an immersive and beautiful take on the science fiction masterpiece novel of the same name, its biggest problem lies in the lack of direction: the plot is going somewhere, but it is unclear where. 

The story starts with a group of people, House of Harkonnen, mysteriously leaving the planet Arrakis. When the Empire offers another group, House Atreides, a chance to take their place, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) takes it as great news, though his fellow council members (Jason Mamoa and Josh Brolin) believe the news is too good to be true and suspect it could be a trap. Timothée Chalamet plays the duke’s son, Paul Atreides, the royal heir and “Kwisatz Haderach” (another word for the Messiah). Next to Paul is Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica, his mother, who is also a space witch. Following their arrival on Arrakis, the Harkonnens attack and retake their claim over the planet. Together, Jessica and Paul escape into the desert on a mission to survive and find the Fremen, the natives of Arrakis played by Javier Bardem and Zendaya.

It’s important to state that Dune has had a troubled past when it comes to adaptations, which likely had an effect on the storyline for this reboot. David Lynch’s film adaptation from 1984 was filled to the brim with an overwhelming amount of lore and information, which made it almost impossible for anyone who hadn’t read the book to enjoy it. Villeneuve’s take on Dune is only part one of two movies, something the marketing team failed to advertise. Because of this, the movie only covers the first half of the book, which introduces the audience to the world, but not enough to tell an effective story. This actually leads into arguably one of the biggest problems with the movie: the narrative.

Everything in the movie feels inexplicably hollow. No matter how impressive the visuals are, the actual world itself is self-contained and empty. To add insult to injury, the story barely works because it’s overly dependent on the dreams and visions of Paul, which only exist to set up a sequel. Because the movie is only part one of two, it is burdened by an exposition-filled 1st act and abrupt ending.

However, not all of the movie was a disappointment. Hans Zimmer’s score, Greig Fraser’s cinematography and Denis Villeneuve’s direction exceeded expectations and were the highlight of the film for me. Shots are framed in a way to showcase the majesty of ships and planets while Zimmer’s score featuring horns and alien chants transported the viewer to its mysterious universe. Set and costume design is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a movie, which helped aid the planets and Houses feel real. After watching the first few minutes, I fell in love with the atmosphere and world that they had crafted.

In the end, Villeneuve’s Dune is unfinished which can leave many audience members walking from the theater with an empty feeling. Even after watching the film three times, I’m still confused if the rushed ending and unfulfilling character beats were intentionally included to be resolved in later installments or not, but that all depends on the sequel. Dune is missing something integral that makes a story good, but that aside, I wouldn’t mind a return to Arrakis and I’m hopeful that the sequel will conclude the journey in a memorable way.

I would give this film 7 out of 10 stars.