The film only tackles the first half of Frank Herbert’s original Dune novel and the sequel is still potentially dependant on its box office performance. Consequently, much of Part One is a slow burn build setting the scene for a spectacular climax we may never see (although increasing rumours from Hollywood seem to confirm that Warner Bros will complete the saga). Worldwide box office returns have been encouraging so far, the most notable part being the unusually high revenue from IMAX screenings. In fact, it was completely filmed in IMAX and this is director Denis Villeneuve’s preferred format to screen his spectacular vision. If you are going to see a film on such an epic scale, this is the time to do so on the biggest screen possible. It will blow you away.
The classic Messianic plot follows Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), heir to Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) who rules planet Caladan. Leto’s power and influence threaten an unseen emperor who instructs him to take over the desert planet Arrakis, also known as Dune.
It might seem an honour, as Arrakis is the sole source of Spice in the universe – a psychotropic substance which enables the Space Guild navigators to fold space. Without Spice there can be no interstellar travel and its mining made House Harkonnen, the previous rulers of Arrakis, unimaginably wealthy. Leto senses a trap, but is unable to deny the Emperor’s wishes.
The stage is set for a conflict that will tear the entire galaxy apart and the scale and scope of the cinematography, sets and action scenes are suitably staggering throughout.
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Dune 2021 IMAX review
Dune 2021 IMAX review: Timothee Chalamet heads the cast
The film delivers utterly beautiful images of stormy ocean planet Caladan and the dunes of Arrakis. Unimaginably huge space portals spew out spaceships like gnats, which, in turn, are revealed to be skyscraper-massive themselves.
Every detail delights and dazzles the eyes from smaller craft with buzzing wings like dragonflies to the opulent costumes as the imperial Herald and court visit Caladan in a ritualised display of power. The sands of Arrakis ripple like the waves of Caladan, while the unimaginably enormous sand worms swim below their surface.
This film is truly gorgeous from top to toe – Chalamet’s gloriously tousled locks and Isaac’s sumptuous facial topiary alone have launched adoring odes online.
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Dune 2021 IMAX review: Oscar Isaac and Josh Brolin
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Hairography aside, the cast is uniformly excellent. Chalamet delivers another coltish hero on the cusp of manhood, nervous ticks and boyish exuberance slowly erased as he faces his fate.
Isaac is the noble heroic perfect father, with Jason Momoa radiating charisma as the ebullient warrior Duncan, Josh Brolin drily stoic as warrior-poet Gurney and Stellan Skarsgard sinisterly monstrous as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.
In a future where X and Y chromosomes are the key to everything (although that has to wait for Part Two) Rebecca Ferguson excels as Paul’s mother Jessica. She’s an acolyte of the mysterious Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, who wield prescient powers and have been splicing gene pools for thousands of years to create a perfect being, the Kwisatz Haderach. It’s a mind-bending concept as hard to comprehend as it is to pronounce.
Meanwhile, Zendaya mysteriously appears in dream sequences as the mysterious Arrakis native Chani, one of the equally mysterious Fremen, who will play a (mysteriously important) role in Part Two. Yup, these desert sands run deep, man.
Dune 2021 IMAX review: Rebecca Ferguso
It is storytelling on an epic scale, but then Frank Herbert’s iconic space opera paved the way for all modern sci-fi epics, including ones set in a certain galaxy far, far away. His vision of vast galactic empire ruled by a despotic emperor and feudal noble houses also cleverly sidestepped computers by having a long-past AI uprising leading to the outlawing of any such technology.
It’s a brilliant idea, utterly unexplained by Villeneuve, who continuously presents audiences with an immersive artistic torrent and lets us sink or swim. The film shows two mentats (this universe’s human computers), who roll their eyes back when performing complex calculations, but never gives any context.
This approach will thrill and entrance some and undoubtedly alienate and confuse (or bore) others.
Dune 2021 IMAX review: Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson
There are few easy thrills for a popcorn-munching multiplex audience. If you loved his previous masterpieces Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival, you will be happy to be swept along by a languorous layered plot which constantly hints at further unseen depths.
I found it exhilarating, exquisite and emotionally stirring, but even I found myself wishing for a little more clarity at times – including during a couple of muffled (and plot-crucial) scenes where dialogue was tough to follow.
However, the minute the credits rolled I was desperate to get back to Villeneuve’s dreamscape and even more desperate for Part Two. Go and see it because it is magnificent and majestic and, most of all, because we need to make sure the damned sequel gets made.
DUNE IS OUT NOW IN UK CINEMAS: SEE IT ON IMAX HERE
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