Director Denis Villeneuve is a special kind of filmmaker. He regularly pushes the theatrical experience to new heights with high concept blockbusters that attempt to combine the spectacle of blockbusters with higher artistic qualities. With Dune (2021), Villeneuve solidifies himself as the only true approximate to Christopher Nolan, but that is not exactly a compliment.
Nolan is famous for the same high concept, blockbuster-style films meant to be viewed in theaters. But both Nolan and Villeneuve regularly sacrifice the quality of the story for the theatrical experience, which ironically gives their films the same inherent problems as many generic blockbusters. Villeneuve is generally good at picking interesting concepts to explore, but he falls short in making those concepts accessible for the audience.
To boil down to its core problem, films like Dune expect audiences to do homework.
Now, that is not to say that Villeneuve is a bad filmmaker by any means. He contributes a lot to the elevation of cinema and the preservation of blockbusters as an artistic medium. But if a film has a point to make, all of the pieces to reach that point have to be included in the film. Dune intentionally leaves a lot of questions unanswered in hopes that a sequel will one day tell us what the point is.
Fans of the book or the original movie will surely enjoy the film a bit more because of its abstract nature. I have never seen the original film or read the book, but I saw the movie with someone who had. I leaned on them to fill in some of the blanks, and once those blanks were filled, the film became infinitely more enjoyable.
The concept of Dune boils down to Game of Thrones meets Star Wars, which as a fan of both, makes me really intrigued by this franchise. However, this movie only covers half of the first book and is intentionally left incomplete. It’s hard to determine the quality of a story from only the first half, so inevitably hardcore fans of the source material will enjoy the film more than general audiences.
The cast is very well-rounded and devoted to bringing the world of Dune to life. Timothée Chalamet does a great job leading the ensemble, but his character is hard to judge this early in the story. Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Issac, Jason Mamoa, Stellan Skarsgaard, and Zendaya all shine in their respective roles, and I am intrigued to see the future direction of each character (only because I now know their arc from the original book).
Despite his consistent accessibility issues, Villeneuve is a world-class filmmaker. His devotion to the technical aspects of cinema (particularly cinematography, VFX, and score) set the bar for other blockbusters in terms of production quality. Dune may have its fair share of story issues, but the film is a must-see in theaters.
Ironically, even though Villeneuve’s created this movie solely for the theatrical experience, the source material of Dune is better-suited as a streaming show on par with Game of Thrones. The story is too expansive to explore adequately in a two-and-a-half-hour movie unless the sequels were guaranteed and planned from the beginning. I would be extremely happy to see a Dune sequel be made and see a cohesive ending to this story. Still, this first film does not even feel like an entire first season of a television show; it only feels like half of the first season.
Dune is not a bad film by any measure. It’s just an incomplete film. It is hard to make a final judgment on its quality because there is so much left to explore. If you are at all interested in Dune, just prepare to leave the theater unresolved.
Filmnetic Grade: B+