Dune (2021) Part 1: Movie Review

I must admit that I’ve been waiting for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune remake since last year after I saw the epic trailer, which actually made me check out the original film. Unfortunately, because the first movie was so dated, I couldn’t really take it seriously. It did give me an idea about what I was in for, though.

Synopsis: After 80 years of harvesting the most powerful element called Spice from the desert planet Arakis, the Emperor commanded House Harkonnen to cede the fief to the Leto, the Duke of Atreides (Oscar Isaac) in what was expected to be a power move to weaken both houses. A good man, the Duke tries to make peace with the natives of the planet called Fremen and seek an alliance to harness desert power. He takes his son Paul, and his concubine, the Bene Gesserit Jessica to help with the mission.

I was both impressed and disappointed with the Dune. I was impressed because it was generally a well made movie, well deserving of praise — but disappointed because for over two hours of waiting, nothing really happens except to establish the major players in the story.

True, the film constantly reminded viewers that it only covered the first half of the book (something the original was widely panned for was trying to squeeze in an entire book in one movie). Unfortunately, with the way the remake was presented, it didn’t quite work as a standalone movie.

The pacing was slow — perhaps to allow viewers some moments to grasp the magnitude of the cinematography and the world that Villeneuve created. For fans of the book, this was definitely something awe inspiring but for casual viewers, it got tedious after several wide shots. Don’t get me wrong. The set was magnificent but the movie had to be more than a good set.

It was a good thing though, that the film also landed a solid cast.

Unfortunately, I felt that the prolonged pauses to establish shots took away the momentum to maximize the impact of the characters to the story.

Timothee Chalamet fully committed to his role and lent an emotional nuance to his character Paul, who may or may not be the prophecised savior of the Empire. He pulled off the part of being skilled because of his training, curious because of his youth, and uncertain of his role in the politics being played out. I felt for Paul, who lost the most out of the events that took place. Yet at the end of the day, I felt he was still an underwhelming main character because for the most part, he was running around with more questions than answers because nobody would actually tell him anything of import. Also, even though he had the ability to dream about future events, he did very little with what knowledge he gleaned.

I loved the Duke Atreides but from the get go, there was already a shadow cast over his character. As a good father and leader, he did a good job getting viewers invested in his success, which made his scenes more impactful.

I think characters like Gurney (Josh Brolin) and Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) were underutilized. Both Brolin and Momoa were compelling actors but they generally faded into the background with the distance between their scenes.

As was Zendaya’s character which only actually appeared towards the final minutes of the movie. I was a bit confused about Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) though. With all the talk of being one of the most powerful Bene Gesserit disciples, she seemed always shocked and unsure about what to do when she was the one who defied the plan of the Order in the first place when she fell in love with the Duke and bore him a son.

Another underutilized character? Dave Bautista’s Rabba. He looked the part of a powerful villain but he was relegated to henchman status in his dealings with the Baron Harraken (Stellan Skarsgaard). Instead of going for sheer numbers and a massive ambush alone, Villeneuve should have had a highlight scene of Bautista on a slaughter spree to establish that he was a a ruthless, brutal SOB, just as Gurney stated in the beginning.

Dune had the perfect recipe for an epic, but overall the film felt hollow. We were left as confused as Paul was about the future of the movie. All in all, Dune Part 1 felt more like a massive flex from director Villeneuve, showcasing his confidence that Part 2 will be greenlit by Warner Bros, just like he wanted. With an ending like that, who would sit still without seeing how it ends? It also seemed like the movie was intended to correct everything that director David Lynch did wrong in the controversial 1984 classic.

Personally though, I felt that there will be too much jammed into the second movie. Since Timothee and Zendaya were the main selling points of the movie, filmmakers should have at least established the relationship of Paul and Chani, the girl in his dreams in this first salvo.