The experience of Dune feels eerily similar to that of Avatar. Both are highly anticipated science-fiction films with impressive visuals centering on a story about an advanced human race taking a valuable resource away from a planet with a pre-existing native population. There’s nothing wrong with this and this isn’t to discredit Dune or imply that it is somehow living in Avatar’s shadow, but the similarity is too apparent not to point out. Dune is about a group of people living on the planet Caladan called the House of Atreides being summoned to take over the extraction of a valuable material called “spice” on the planet Arrakis which enables intergalactic space travel. The governing body and the military of the House of Atreides must mine this spice while also dealing with the native Fremen as well as a galactic emperor with secret plans.
In a big blockbuster science-fiction film like Dune, a lot of computer-generated imagery is to be expected. Luckily, Dune’s visuals feel realistic and futuristic at the same time. The planets shown in the film look realistic while also maintaining a spectacular aspect to them. The arid, desert climate of Arrakis is beautifully contrasted with the lush, green planet of Caladan. The vehicles impress as well. The main vehicle used for transportation on Arrakis is something called an ornithopter, a futuristic helicopter which is designed to look like a metallic dragonfly. The visuals of the ornithopter exterior look convincing and feel grounded. Using little to no CGI, the interior of the ornithopter feels like that of an actual modern-day helicopter. The ornithopters look futuristic while also feeling grounded to both invest the audience whenever they are used as well as impress the audience with the futuristic nature of it. With almost no contemporary clothes being worn in the year 10,191, all outfits feel like something from the distant future. From very ornate royal outfits to basic military gear, all of the costumes feel like they belong in the world that is created.
Timothée Chalamet is the star of Dune. He plays Paul, the son of Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) who is the head of House of Atreides. Chalamet creates a level-headed prince character who does all of his princely duties well and learns about who he is while he’s at it. Oscar Isaac portrays the Duke of House Atreides, Duke Leto. He is a kind, understanding, and thoughtful king. Isaac conveys this very well and invites the audience to cheer for him along the way. Unlike other royalty depicted in films and television, Leto is not vain or selfish. Isaac helps the audience to put aside these preconceived notions of royalty and gets the audience to appreciate the kind Duke. Rebecca Ferguson plays Leto’s concubine and Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica. She is much more involved in Paul’s life and has a stronger bond with him due to the lack of royal duties that Paul’s father has. Ferguson balances the emotions of Lady Jessica’s royal duties and her motherly duties. There is a sweet connection between Paul and his mother which shows that Ferguson can portray royalty while also being a good mother. In a film that is so grand as Dune, the world and the plot often seem to outshine the acting, but the acting is solid nonetheless.
Because Dune is based off of a book, it is paced like one. There’s no other way to say this, but Dune is fairly slow. Now, that’s not inherently a bad thing, but it is definitely something to be mindful of. Some would argue that the pacing in contemporary cinema has gotten too fast. The issue with slower films comes when the audience ever thinks “When is something going to happen?” or “Is this almost over?” This may happen a few times during the viewing of this film. However, this can be forgiven because Dune is based off of a book. One might even applaud the writers for making it so accurate to the source material even if the final product feels slow for a feature film. This can also be forgiven with the knowledge that this is the first of a possible trilogy. With a sequel already confirmed, the audience knows that there is more story to be told, but they also know that they’ll have to wait a couple of years to see that story told. Whether this kind pf pacing pays off because it stays accurate to the books or falls flat because it is used as an excuse for poor filmmaking is up to the viewer.
Dune is a solid film if the audience understands what they are watching. If one were shown this film in a vacuum with no knowledge of it being based on a book or knowing that there are sequels planned, that viewer might be very bored and very disappointed. It takes the consideration of these two aspects to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate it. Whether those are acceptable excuses for any issues with the film is up to the viewer. Issues aside, Dune is enjoyable to watch for the world-building, special effects, and scope alone. If the viewer can sit through two and a half hours of this, then it can be a really enjoyable experience.