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An "Excellent Feeling of Grandness" - A Dune (2021) Review

Though a film adaptation of Dune has existed since the novel’s first iteration in 1984, the old version took notorious liberties with the source material. As a longstanding fan of the books, the commercial success of the 2021 film interested me, so I decided to watch Dune for myself before it was removed from streaming services. Now, I can confidently say that Dune (2021) is a faithful recreation of the critically acclaimed classic, and Denis Villeneuve's vision for Dune acts to make the story more accessible and bring the world of Arrakis to life.

Dune takes place in the distant future, in which space travel has unified the known universe and a feudal empire controls human settlements through various subordinate houses. However, due to a mechanical revolution that ruined Earth centuries ago, AI has been banned. Thus, people have been engineered to act as living computers, obtaining their advanced mental function from a drug called spice. This drug allows almost inhuman pilots to navigate the stars and seers to witness the future and control politics from the shadows via the tactical creation of superstition and religion. The planet of Dune, being the greatest refinery of this vital substance in the known universe, has brought great wealth to the Harkonnens, a royal house that rules with an iron fist. Fearing their growing power, the Emperor decrees that House Atreides, the enemy of the Harkonnens and another powerful political force, will take over. The Emperor intends that a war will break out and weaken both backs to controllable positions, though despite this the House accepts his offer, traveling to the desert planet to face their enemy in battle. However, the duke's heir, Paul, has been having visions of the planet, seeing a life among the native Fremen following unforeseeable disaster.

There were many times throughout the film in which I recognized direct quotes and scenes from the novel. Attention to detail is remarkable, and no nook or cranny of the setting lacks its proper realization. As I expected, some scenes from the book had to be removed due to time constraints, though this movie is still only one-half of the tale. The source material is nearly 900 pages, so this is more than reasonable, but the editing was done so well that it seems as if nothing was taken out in the first place. Some context to scenes in the movie were lost in editing, but the trippy and alien heart of Dune beats strongly despite cuts and alterations. All aspects of the composition show that a great amount of care and love went into its creation. The sound design sets the alien tone with masterful precision, and the sets are sprawling expanses that capture the intended feel of the whole piece. The dramatic scale of the gorgeously designed machines and cities juxtaposed with the comparatively tiny leading characters creates a feeling of grandness and hammers in the idea that this is an advanced and distant civilization. The dramatic and swelling compositions are simply alien, going well with the concept of religion on a foreign planet and the overarching theme of good and evil characterized in the dispute between the two houses. The major action scenes follow this template of grandeur, with the one that first comes to mind being an assault on a shipyard. Watching descending bombs slow and crack forcefields before caving grand structures in was visually stunning. Fight scenes are well choreographed too, and nuances of emotion displayed by the actors are not spared in the slightest as warriors make their final stands. To see such a great book recreated in such a stunning way had me enamored during the entire movie. The whole film feels as the book did, now brought to life on screen, creating a fantastic experience for viewers regardless of their history with the books.

The sole failing of the film is the fact that, as I said earlier, we only have half of the plot. As such, the ending feels sudden, with the final cut occurring at the book's halfway point. While the sudden cut doesn't devalue the narrative up to the final scene, it is a bit of a letdown to have the credits roll after a couple of hours of buildup. It also raises the question of how the sequel will be implemented. Will it pick up right where Dune left off, or will it create some sort of transition that fast-forwards further into the story in hopes of making the two feel separate? Beyond this, some fear that, due to contract disputes, the sequel will be canceled mid-development, leaving the plot unfinished. Dune was intended to remain in the movie theaters until its debut as a purchasable film, so when it dropped on HBO Max a day before its first theater showing, complaints among the staff arose. Though the sequel is in production under the same cast and crew, this does not confirm that the conclusion will reach the same heights that this movie did, if it ever comes out in the first place. We can all think of sequels to movies that weren't as good as the initial release, and given that this is a two-parter, such would be catastrophic for the plot as a whole. At the very least, being forced to watch the plot come to a close in a second film that has yet to come out is rather annoying, though it is nice that we didn't have to wait for the entire movie to be finished to watch it.

Though a faithful representation of the historical novel through its mastery of world design and atmosphere, the plot of Dune relies heavily on a conclusion that will likely not come out for years to come. Still, its sudden ending does not subtract from the excellent feeling of grandness that the film radiates from start to finish. Thus, while Dune was a fantastic movie in itself, both veteran fans of Frank Herbert’s tale and newer fans of the film will have to wait and see if Part Two will live up to the hype and success of its counterpart.

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