Film Review: Dune Delights Sci-Fi Fans, Disappoints Others

The 2021 film adaptation of Dune has been highly anticipated since it was announced in 2019, 54 years after it was originally written by Frank Herbert. Directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring two critically acclaimed actors, Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya, fans have been awaiting this film for years. Part one was released on Friday, October 22nd, and naturally, I was in the theater twenty minutes early on opening night. 

Dune, set 20,000 years in the future, tells the story of Paul Atreides, played by Timothee Chalamet, as he and his family must leave their planet to govern the most dangerous planet in the universe. This planet, Arrakis, is home to the most precious substance in the universe, and indigenous people known as Fremen. Fremen, like Chani who is played by Zendaya and narrates the film, are the only people who know how to survive in the harsh conditions of their planet. Arrakis, better known as Dune, was exploited for what seemed to be centuries for cultivation of its precious spices. When Paul’s family is ordered by the Emperor to govern the planet, Paul goes to Dune where he learns the extent of his powers and the purpose of his existence (and meets Chani, whom he frequently dreams of, or rather sees in visions).

Chalamet’s character was central to part one, while we will supposedly be seeing much more of Zendaya’s character in Part Two; her main screen time in this film was from Paul’s visions, paired with her narration of the opening scene. Both actors did phenomenally in my opinion, though most viewers agree that it is difficult to rate Zendaya’s performance with such a miniscule amount of screen time until this point. I also thought Oscar Isaac, who played Paul’s father, and Stephen McKinley Henderson, who played the right hand man of the Atreides family, performed exceptionally well.

Avid fans of the Science Fiction/Action genre are the perfect audience for a film like Dune. The plot and cinematic universe consist of a multitude of planets, insect-like aircrafts to travel around the galaxy, and a galactic Emperor. To the average viewer, Dune seems to very closely resemble Star Wars or Star Trek, or any other futuristic dystopian storyline, which may be somewhat difficult to follow. 

As Dune consists of two parts, some critics have been describing the first movie as slow. Personally, I thought the director and writer both successfully introduced viewers to the universe, though plot wise, I often found myself with questions. There are a multitude of factors that go into the creation of an entirely new universe, and fully understanding both the conflict of the story and the boundaries of the cinematic reality require the viewer’s full focus. If you are someone who enjoys giving these types of movies your undivided attention consistently throughout, this movie is for you.

I, along with other online reviews, found Dune to be curious because the film simultaneously has many layers and develops slowly. This combination made watching the movie a bit odd in nature, especially for those who are not familiar with the plot of the original novel (me). I do think that in Part Two, more questions will be answered and the main plot lines will pick up and show more consistency. It has already been announced to the public, about a week after opening night of part one, that the second part has been given the green light, with an October 2023 release date. 

I feel the need to touch on the set of the planet Dune; it was fantastic. Set designers and the director of the film agreed that it would be beneficial to try to film as much of  the set organically as possible, and keep away from special effects. This philosophy has reigned true, as Dune, the planet, closely resembles a real desert. Refreshing for a sci-fi futuristic movie, the aircrafts are mostly real props that don’t seem unrealistically and irritatingly advanced. Where the movie lacks in FX and impressive pyrotechnics, it makes up for in simple and convincing landscapes and props. 

All things considered, Dune may not be perfect for the casual watcher. If you like to ‘geek out’ and love learning about foreign universes or futuristic societies, there will definitely be an appeal, and if you’ve seen every Star Wars movie ever created you may be inclined to see what a film like  Dune may be all about. If you’ve never really cared for the genre, or only considered watching for Timothee Chalamet or Zendaya, I’d advise you to spend two hours watching a film like  Call Me By Your Name, the film for which Chalamet was nominated for his first grammy, or  The Greatest Showman, starring Zendaya.