“Dune” is larger than life


Art by Thea Barrows

Hannah Owens Pierre, Section Editor

Zephyrus Arts and Entertainment Editor Hannah Owens Pierre examines each Oscar Best Picture nominee in a countdown to the awards ceremony on March 27

Though “Dune” wasn’t the biggest blockbuster of the year, it sure was the grandest. The movie is the second feature-length adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science-fiction epic, this time directed under the thoughtful, visionary hand of mastermind Dennis Villeneuve. 

With an intricate plotline and a fervently dedicated fanbase, “Dune” is a difficult story to adapt Set in a futuristic world of warring planets, the story follows Paul Atreides’s (Timothee Chalamet) ascent to the throne after his family is given control of the desert land Arakkis, containing spice, the galaxy’s most coveted resource. What sets Herbet’s book apart from other science fiction tales is the expensive lore surrounding the fictional world. “Dune” explores not only global politics and empire-building, but also invented technologies and religions. It would require a college course to unpack half of the material jam-packed into the series, which spans over 22 books in total written by both Herbert and his eldest son Brian Herbert. 

Amazingly, though, Villeneuve succeeds at making the story palpable and engrossing even for a general audience unfamiliar with Herbert’s work. The film is truly a master-class in world-building, as Villeneuve captures the futuristic setting with stunning, otherworldly visuals; the likes of which are only outdone in his previous film “Blade Runner 2049.” Awe-inspiring, wide landscapes look completely realistic. It is hard to believe that there was CGI involved in the making of the movie. I wouldn’t be shocked if Villeneuve flew outside the planet to film a documentary. 

The visuals are aided by fantastic depth. Villeneuve is careful to keep things in perspective. A scene of the sandworm is shot from above, with Paul looking down at it to convey its monumental size, and his comparative insignificance. 

The audio component of “Dune” is equally immersive. The sound designers have a tough job. They are tasked with bringing the concept of the “Voice” to screen, an advanced form of speaking that enables telepathic control over another. In theaters, the unexpected power of the distorted, echoing voice is so strong that it causes everything around you to tremble. Hans Zimmer’s score is equally powerful, a mix of eerie made-up language and otherworldly electronic textures. 

Still, “Dune” isn’t just a magical audio-visual experience. Villeneuve’s direction only enhances the emotional depth of the story. “Dune” is full of conflicting tensions, politically, spiritually, and interpersonally. It explores the way cultures, like the indigenous Fremen, are exploited by dominant religions and the morality of doing so. It is also a contemplation on the nature of vulnerability and sacrifice. 

Timothee Chalamet is the best he has ever been as Paul Atreides, which is saying something. Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica is another standout performance. “Dune” does a good job of keeping the story centered on the development of one central family so as not to get lost in the weeds. 

There are a lot of things going for “Dune” on a technical and emotional level. The one critique is its incomplete storytelling. “Dune” only tells half the story of Herbert’s original novel, with the second part in production for 2023. Though the characters complete what feels like a full story arc and the film closes at a natural ending point, it leaves you wanting more. Luckily, Villeneuve will surely deliver.