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Dune

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Stars: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Stellan Skarsgaard, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Javier Bardem

Part one of Dennis Villeneuve’s long-anticipated adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi opus Dune, the second version of the ‘unfilmable’ book to make it to the screen, doesn’t quite do justice to the classic novel, but it comes pretty close, and unlike David Lynch’s 1984 intermittently bonkers, occasionally visionary take, it’s coherent.

An impressively-staged prologue sets the scene and lays out right away the novel’s prescient ecological message, as a voiceover from Zendaya’s Chani describes how, Arrakis, the desert home planet of her people the Fremen, has been ravaged by the wicked Harkonnen dynasty to procure the spice Melange, the most precious substance in the galaxy.

Shift to the planet Caladan where teen scion Paul Atreides (Chalamet), son of the world’s ruler, Duke Leto Atreides (Isaac) is visited with visions of Chani. The next morning during breakfast with his mother Lady Jessica (Ferguson), an acolyte of the Bene Gesserit set, a nun-like order of females whose genetic lineage has imbued them with formidable mental abilities, Paul is tested on his ability to wield the hypnotic ‘voice’.

The Galactic Emperor has decreed that the Harkonnen family – personified by the Baron (Skarsgaard) and his nephew Raban (Batista) - are to leave Arrakis and relinquish control to their hated enemies the Atreides. When the Atreides arrive and set up base on Arrakis however, they must contend with Harkonnen agents, the suspicions of the indigenous Fremen people, and gargantuan spice-guarding sandworms.

The film broadly mirrors the aesthetic of Villeneuve’s recent work with vast landscapes, rendered in his trademark slightly oppressive, desaturated monochromatic colour scheme of grey, pale blues and (this time around) sandy golds. The future technology is an impressively-realised cross between iPad sleekness and retro switches and dials, all very utilitarian unlike the imperial baroque of Lynch’s version or Mexican visionary director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s (unrealised) psychedelic vision. Particularly impressive is the rendering of the ornithopters, the dragonfly-like flying machines used to traverse Arrakis, which manage to look fantastical but clunkily, palpably real.

The casting is spot-on with Chalamet ably conveying Paul’s shift from callow youth to destiny-embracing leader, while Rebecca Ferguson locates the sweet spot between ethereal and gutsily practical as Lady Jessica. A just so cameo too from Charlotte Rampling as the chillily enigmatic leader of the Bene Gesserit, Gaius Helen Mohiam, whose testing of Paul provides one of the picture’s highlights. Jason Momoa brings a touch of levity to the portentous proceedings as Duncan Idaho, Paul’s warrior mentor and friend, although thankfully Villeneuve ensures that the Marvel-style bantz mooted in the trailer is kept on a rein.

A sequence in which Paul and his Leto and the Duke’s right-hand man Gurney (Brolin) stage a daring rescue of the crew of a tank-like spice harvester from giant Sandworms in their ornithopter provides the requisite thrills and awe. Occasionally though, the people-dwarfing spectacle, accomplished world building, along with the over-fidelity to the source material and the decision to cut the film in half means the human drama struggles to register, particularly in the latter scenes in which Paul and Jessica wander the Arrakis desert. And the ending, perhaps inevitably for a story that has been split in half, is very abrupt.

Dune is released on 21st October

David Willoughby

Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm

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