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Timothée Chalamet in Dune.
Timothée Chalamet in Dune.
Photo: Warner Bros.




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5/5 Stars


Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man, born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As evil forces explode into conflict over the planet's exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence, only those who can conquer their own fear will survive.


My first experience with Dune was the mini-series version that was always on re-runs on SABC - the spice-blue eyes of Alec Newman and the giant teethy worms that roam the sandy wastelands of Arrakis. Being a massive sci-fi/fantasy geek, the show has always stuck with me, and I'd always yearned for a bigger-budget reimagining of that dreamy desert planet.

Finally, Dune is getting the treatment it deserves, but it's not an exact recreation of its source material. Instead, it updates a 60s-era tale that slots into the world of the 21st Century - and closer to what modern society imagines its future to be, where we've become all too aware of the resource-hungry drain we've inflicted on our planet.

The core of the story remains, however. The noble House Atreides has been tasked by the Emperor with taking over the coveted planet Arrakis and its spice-mining riches - a resource that makes deep space exploration possible. The son and heir to the family - Paul - is plagued by ominous visions and tries to unravel the secrets of his birthright. However, a war is brewing, and the fate of civilisation itself has reached a crucial turning point.

While that might sound like the machinations of your typical 'big-explosions-in-space' movie, Dune is a different kind of sci-fi beast, and one should understand that before walking into the cinema. When it first premiered at the 78th Venice International Film Festival, some critics were quick to bemoan the film's pacing and its convoluted plot. I, however, see that as a major plus-point of director Denis Villeneuve's vision. You will still get your grand space battles, but the story is more of a philosophical and religious journey as Paul grapples with accepting his fate or choosing a different path. The slow pace allows the audience to soak into not just the character's reactions but also the sublime visuals that pleasantly assault almost all of your senses at once. One scene that particularly stands out is when Paul sees a sandworm for the first time dangling from a uniquely designed aircraft - your jaw will drop at the sheer scale and artistry of the special effects. It's similar to that of Villeneuve's Bladerunner 2049, where sci-fi meets arthouse illusions, and the slow pace is dearly needed when you're building a cinematic reality that's as expansive as an empire that dominates the known universe. If you walk in with that mindset, then you won't even notice the passing of time.

But how does the cast live up to this colossal film? It's easy to guess how actors could get lost in such a visual masterpiece, and sometimes you do forget that there are people doing and saying things in this giant artwork. Our Jesus-like protagonist is played by sad-boy extraordinaire Timothée Chalamet - an actor I am still unsure if I actually like or not. There's no denying that the man has an almost limitless well of talent, but the jury is still out whether or not he's actually likeable. In Dune, he nails the intensity of the drama with just a hint of a Skywalker complex, but when it comes to some of the physical stunts, it's a bit disconnecting when his muscle-less frame takes down men twice his size. I almost laughed a little when a fighter ballet-rolls over an enemy, and his mask reveals it to be Chalamet. However, It might be a more personal bias than a critical one - he's far closer to the book in terms of looks, and perhaps someone who would grow on me with another viewing of the film.

As for the rest of the cast - Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Fergusson, as Paul's parents could do no wrong and perfectly encapsulates their roles as a stern yet kind duke and a secretive warrior priestess. Rebecca's character has especially seen a few changes from the source material, as Villeneuve justifiably felt that the women in Dune needed better arcs and characterisations not steeped in 60s writing.

Jason Mamoa and Dave Bautista at first seemed a little out of place in such a dramatic film, but they held their own and showed some range. One surprise favourite was Stellan Skarsgård as the vile Baron of House Harkonnen. Not only was his special effects features something truly horrifying, Skarsgård embodied everything foul that he could muster into this role, standing out despite being in few scenes. Although, we see him way more than Zendaya - Paul's mysterious dreamgirl - who'll only be more of a solid feature in part two.

Yet, for the love of cinema, do not watch Dune in any format other than Imax, which it was also shot in. You will absolutely regret missing out on a uniquely unreal cinematic experience. A rich tapestry of landscapes, intricately designed costumes and Hans Zimmer's fascinatingly unique score (despite the random bagpipes) is a stark reminder that the magic of cinema isn't dead - something we have unduly lost to streaming and the rising costs of a movie ticket. The magnitude of the sandworms alone will never be fully captured on even the dimensions of a standard cinema screen. No other platform will do justice to Villeneuve's vision, so if you choose one film to spend extra cash on this year, make it Dune.


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