The mystery of life is not a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.
My perspective is solely cinematic. I haven’t even read the first page of Frank Herbert’s novel. I will not be able to assess if Denis Villeneuve’s work in the adaptation of Dune is worthy of admiration or if it fell short. But I can consider the film as an independent piece with value regardless of the material from which the scriptwriters were inspired. History tells us that adapting the Herbert saga has been a difficult task. The first attempt was by Chilean Alejandro Jodorowsky and could not be due to budget issues, then David Lynch in 1984 in a film that was very poorly received by critics.
Villeneuve arrives with his Blade Runner 2049 (2017) under his arm. A kind of guarantee that he could handle a project of great magnitude and of great relevance in popular culture. In the Dune universe, scale is everything, big screen transcendence had to be ally number one. The form was going to battle in a hand-to-hand to prevail, above all. Herbert’s planets and those Arrakis dunes required a big budget to be rendered on screen by today’s standards. The rest was to know if those big stages could be filled with something more than visual effects.
The world of Dune
Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica Atreides (Rebecca Ferguson). Paul has been educated and trained to be the successor in the duchy of House Atreides on the planet Caladan. An order reaches the Atreides family, and they must undertake a new mission on the desert planet Arrakis. This new adventure jeopardizes Duke Leto’s plans and Paul will have to confront his destiny. Dune’s script is set based on an intergalactic feudal feud as it tries to captivate us with the story of the hero’s journey. Each of those tiles that move on the board have thousands of pages that support it, but in their film version they must be condensed into 2 hours and 35 minutes.
The story flows smoothly and can be digested without having to possess in-depth knowledge of the source material. But that Paul, his family, his friends, and his enemies suffer to transcend the screen. We see them there in their battles or their existential dialogues and we feel that they are nothing more than puppets that go from here to there and we do not feel for them. We care little if those hideous worms that inhabit the dunes devour them. The music of Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, No Time To Die) and the cinematography of Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, Vice) save the day for Villeneuve who shows more creativity for his visual proposal than to express his speech. The film show of Dune crushes us, on the big screen it is an overdose of cinema, and it reminds us that the boys of Hollywood are masters and lords in the trade and that they master the technique to perfection.
Just like the contrasts of the planets that Dune makes us imagine, so is the divergence between form and substance. Villeneuve plays all his chips to fascinate the senses while leaving little to captivate reason. The great battles and the hero who conquers his purpose in the face of all adversity make us feel that we have seen a lot but that deep down nothing has transcended.