REVIEW / FILM OPINION – After “Premier contact” and “Blade Runner 2049”, Denis Villeneuve reaches a new height by signing a masterpiece of science fiction and a very great cinema film. If this first part leaves little room for emotion, it greatly exceeds its promises to offer a total spectacle.
Initially scheduled for fall 2020, Dune suffered from the health crisis and had a long postponement. Finally presented at the Venice Film Festival 2021, we understand from the first shots why Denis Villeneuve was so keen on going to the cinema, on the big screen. Dune is indeed a film made for the biggest screen possible, the most spectacular cinema production possible. It is also necessary to clarify an important point. This film Dune is the first part of the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s cult novel, and the project was conceived from its inception as a diptych. The big screen of the rooms therefore, for the show and for the admissions which should release a solid base of financing for the continuation. With a simultaneous release in theaters and on HBO Max in the US, this future is in jeopardy. But whatever happens Denis Villeneuve can have the feeling of a job well done, very well done even, since he signs with Dune his greatest film and a cinema monument.
Dune : a total show perfectly mastered
To have Dune, you might think that Denis Villeneuve and Christopher Nolan have made a deal to offer the public a cinema that pushes back the limits of audiovisual spectacle. In the manner of Tenet, Dune is indeed an expert and unprecedented demonstration of filmmaking techniques. To put in images the planet Arrakis and that of Caladan, Denis Villeneuve has seen very big.
For landscapes (images shot in the Jordanian desert and in Norway) as for interiors, the creation of sets is simply magnificent. Photography is provided by Greg Fraser, notably at work on Zero Dark Thirty and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. To ensure visual effects and production design, Villeneuve surrounds himself with loyal collaborators present at his side on First contact and Blade Runner 2049. There is therefore gigantism, magnified by a framing often at character level to fully feel the immensity of the structures, and colors exploring dark ranges in the play of cold lights. There is also, of course, movement, including perfectly choreographed fights, removed aerial courses and large-scale explosions.
All these great talents put together offer a total spectacle, of an epic dimension, where every detail is meticulously created and positioned in the image. Even better, Dune has a mature aesthetic, whether in the architecture and allure of the environment of the Atreides House or in the vibrations of the desert caused by the Sandworms. The science fiction of Dune has nothing family, and she rejects thehe genre of adventure to embrace rather that of drama. Fraser’s photography has a lot to do with it, and yet another masterful musical composition by Hans Zimmer completes this majestic team which is taken – rightly – very seriously. So, before knowing if this drama works on a human and psychological level, it appears that on the physical and material level this one touches perfection.
A monument whose shadow drowns its characters
It was mentioned above that Dune was a first part. For the unfolding of its plot, this implies that we necessarily go through an exhibition phase, where the characters are presented and led to the plot. This, logically, hardly takes place in this first part, and if the visual spectacle of 2:35 does not suffer any length, the time seems much longer as far as the characters are concerned. Indeed, one can have the impression that very little is happening concerning Paul (Timothée Chalamet), Leto (Oscar Isaac) and Dame Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and nothing at all for Chani (Zendaya) and Stilgar (Javier Bardem), since ‘We see very little of the latter two, representatives of the indigenous people of Arrakis, the Fremen.
This is the only complaint we can make Dune, that of a lack of empathy for these characters, that we see too little and really evolve in the magnificent environments they pass through. We also mentioned Tenet, this is still a point in common: in these monumental technical shows – let’s add for Dune unparalleled beauty – the characters end up only existing as living plastic insertions in a larger plastic. In this regard, Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya form a perfect cast as much the beauty of their eyes, their features , their silhouettes, magnified by photography and the sublime …