The year 10191, Planet Arrakis: in an intergalactic universe where a dark emperor supports the more evil world rulers (hello Star Wars – though this was actually written over a decade before George Lucas came up with the Skywalker saga), the houses of Atreides and Harkonnen contend the right to harvest the precious spice of Arrakis. When the powerful emperor decides the former – led by the wise Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) – should take on the task, and not the Harkonnens (headed up by Baron Vladimir – Stellan Skarsgård), tensions arise.
It goes without saying that Dune is the most anticipated film at the 78th edition of the Venice Film Festival. Edgar Wright fans may claim otherwise but the excitement for the latest adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel is on another scale. It’s also the first screening (in recent history) that hasn’t gone on sale to the public, which is actually a bit of a mystery because the festival claimed it sold out quickly, but everyone knows it still doesn’t have a page on the ticketing website where all the other sold-out films are listed.
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s cinematic trademark for major productions is in clear evidence: showing big things moving slowly – possibly flying – in a wide shot. With bass-heavy sombre music. This trick, with Dune, is more evident than ever before.
Timothée Chalamet is Paul Atreides, the protagonist of the story, the young heir who many consider to be a messiah. He’s constantly disturbed by bad dreams, which at times turn out to be premonitions. His mother (Rebecca Ferguson) belongs to a religious force, who play a fundamental role in this interstellar war.
It’s an epic desert movie, with a gargantuan score from Hans Zimmer that mixes chants, tribal sounds, synthesised horns and female voices to create an immersive, suffocating experience. The film is the first from Warner that doesn’t adhere to the studio’s plan to show every new release on their online platform first – or that was their intention initially. Now it’s scheduled to be released simultaneously. As Villeneuve said, Dune was “dreamed, designed, shot and made for IMAX theatres, with IMAX cameras”, and that’s where it should be seen.
The stylish presence of Chalamet will help attract a younger audience, but the actor still lacks the gravitas necessary to carry the magnitude of the picture. But maybe it’s not necessary: after all, didn’t Elijah Wood manage to pull it off with the Lord of the Rings? In fact, the production has several things in common with Peter Jackson’s trilogy. Some would be a spoiler to reveal, but it should be said that the continuous use of whispering angelic voices won’t go unnoticed.
The cast matches the size of the production. Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Charlotte Rampling and Zendaya have key roles. Themes like the consequences of colonialism and preserving the resources of a planet were ahead of their time (Dune was written in the 60s) and will easily resonate with today’s audiences. Even the role of religion in the wars between populations, despite being always part of the history of earth, will feel very current.
Dune is actually Dune: Part One, and if this film reignites the appetite for sitting in a movie theatre, surely the second chapter will follow.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Dune is released nationwide on 22nd October 2021.
Read more reviews from our Venice Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Dune here: