The Problem With Dune

click to enlarge WARNER BROS. PICTURES
Warner Bros. Pictures
There is no problem with Dune.

It's amazing. Go see it. Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner: 2049) has crafted a big, fat, nerdy sci-fi epic that's worth viewing in theaters. It opens simultaneously (today) on HBO Max, but the massive scope of the film and its attention to visual detail reward viewings in premium formats.

It's true that this is not your garden variety Fast and the Furious. This is not your breezy, family-friendly Shang-Chi. It's a heady, dense, sometimes disorienting adaptation of a sci-fi masterpiece so heady, dense and disorienting that it was long thought to be unadaptable. There are confusing words, titles, trinkets.

Furthermore, it's far more political than the average space opera in the sense that its plot has everything to do with politics. "Dune" is another name for the planet Arrakis, and the story is all about leadership there and the production of its bountiful natural resource, called "spice." At the outset, the planet has been granted, via an emperor's decree, to Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and his family, including his son Paul (Timothee Chalamet), a messianic figure who's greeted with hope and longing by the people of Dune.

The Atreides clan and their lieutenants (Josh Brolin and a clean-shaven Jason Momoa among them) shuttle from their home planet to take command, but do so with caution. They are aware that the imperial gift is tied up in grander political disputes, and the Duke recognizes the profit in forging an alliance with the planet's indigenous population.

Palace intrigue dominates, though be advised that there's far less sex and violence than a typical episode of Game of Thrones. The biggest thrill in seeing Dune is watching Frank Herbert's original vision come to life in Villeneuve's capable hands. Like all very good sci-fi, there's an almost academic thrill in learning about new, imagined worlds: their laws, legends, geographies, weaponry, etc. The costumes, production design and special effects — to say nothing of the score by Hans Zimmer — enhance a script that remains true to both the spirit and text of Herbert's seminal 1965 novel, and does its best not to alienate audiences with a flood of information out of the gate. 

Dune may not rake in huge profits at the box office this weekend, at least not relative to its $116 million budget, but that's only a "problem" if you're a soulless studio hack. Villeneuve is prepared to begin shooting the second half of his epic (conceived as a two-parter), as soon as possible, and Warner Brothers would be foolish not to give this king a greenlight.

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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