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REVIEW: ‘Dune’ a slow-simmering but epic and visually stunning movie adaptation of classic sci-fi novel

SALT LAKE CITY — Many filmmakers have desired to make a definitive movie adaptation of 1965’s classic science fiction novel “Dune” by Frank Herbert.  Most famous is the version made by David Lynch in the 1980s, but there have also been a couple of adaptations into miniseries.  Heck, there’s even a movie about one filmmaker’s PLANS to make a movie about Dune (Jodorowsky’s “Dune”).  It is credited with being at least a part-inspiration for some of the greatest films of all time.

But I think after watching this new version of DUNE by director Denis Villaneuve, this is about as good an adaptation as you could hope for.  Villeneuve was approached by producers to make the movie in part because he had said in an interview at one point of his career that his dream was to make Dune and they knew he’d give it the respect they wanted it to receive.

That combination of desire and talent was certainly on display in the final product, as well as in the care he appears to have taken to make his version.

The latest adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel “Dune” comes to theaters & HBO Max on Oct. 22, 2021

THE STORY

DUNE the movie mostly takes place on Arrakis, a nearly-uninhabitable desert planet that also produces Spice, a rare, highly valued, mind-expanding natural resource.  Space travel, knowledge, commerce and human existence all rely on spice, making it the most valuable commodity in the galaxy.

For years the House Harkkonen harvested spice from Arrakis and made themselves rich.  But that all changes when the Emperor orders the Harkkonens to leave Arrakis and to let House Atreides take over the job of harvesting spice, led by noble Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), and his son Paul (Timothée Chalamet).  Paul has been training his whole life to one day be ready to lead his people, but his destiny may be even greater than that, thanks to the heritage from his mother, warrior priestess Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson).  Plus, he keeps having dreams about this girl (Zendaya) who lives among the desert people, and he isn’t sure what it all means.

That’s just barely scratching the surface of everything going on in this densely plotted space adventure.  DUNE is an epic movie, and you can feel it as you watch.  There’s a reason that the book on which it’s based has such a loyal following.

LIKES

I personally love an epic story and to be honest, I haven’t felt like I was watching something like this since “Lord of the Rings”.  The story is not spoon-fed to you, but you’ll be able to follow it if you’re paying attention, and I think it’ll be something that you’ll get even more out of on subsequent viewings.

One of the biggest challenges those in the past have faced when desiring to adapt DUNE for the screen has been the ability to visually create what was described in the novel.  On this, Villeneuve nailed it.

It should be no surprise that the visual look of the movie might be its most impressive trait.  Production design, visual effects, special effects, costumes, sound editing all appear to have spared no expense.

The large scope of the movie and the amazing visuals are also helped by a large and talented cast.  Chalamet, Isaac and Ferguson impressed me the most, but there were some other notable performances, particularly Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho.  Momoa has never looked as cool as he did here–even in Aquaman.

JASON MOMOA as Duncan Idaho in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action-adventure “DUNE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary release.

Along with those previously mentioned, you’ll also see Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian (he seems to be in EVERYTHING these days), Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Charlotte Rampling.

Finally, no epic movie is complete without an epic musical score, and Dune has composer Hans Zimmer. His trademarks are all over the soundtrack and is a great match of talent to a movie worthy of it.

WARNINGS

DUNE is rated PG-13 for some strong violence, disturbing images and some suggestive material.  Most of the violence is science fiction-type, but there are some bloody moments of hand-to-hand combat as well.

But there are two potentially big drawbacks: The length of the movie (2 1/2 hours) and the complicated and dense plot.  This is not a breezy, quick watch.  I liked the fact Villeneuve and his co-writers trust the audience to follow along and I believe if you’re willing to immerse yourself in the story, you’ll be rewarded.  Yet, at the same time, I can easily envision people being hesitant to do that.

Additionally, it doesn’t actually adapt the whole book in this movie, only about half of it. This means you may leave the movie feeling a bit incomplete, even if you haven’t read the book.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I highly recommend seeing DUNE on the big screen. IMAX, if possible.  It’s worth it.  One of the reasons Villeneuve kept insisting on delaying Dune‘s release date was so people would have the opportunity to see it in theaters.  The Academy Award-nominated director swung for the fences and I think he knocked it out of the park.  It’s a visually stunning and epic movie with an all-star cast and I can’t wait to see the next chapter.

It’s so well done that it made me go out and purchase the dense book on which it’s based.

WHERE TO WATCH

Like all Warner Brothers releases this year, DUNE is also available to stream on HBO Max.  I understand the urge to try it out at home, but this deserves to be seen on as large a screen as possible.  Then you can go back to your TV for an additional watch-through.

HBO Max requires a $15/month subscription fee or a subscription to HBO with your cable or satellite provider. DUNE will be available to stream until Nov. 22.

Interested in this movie?  Watch the video at the top of the page for my full, in-depth review & final rating.


Hopefully you & your family found this review helpful! Andy Farnsworth is the movie and pop culture guy for the KSL 5 Today morning news show and also hosts the Fan Effect podcast for KSL NewsRadio. Check out some of his other in-depth reviews of movies and streaming TV series on KSLTV.com.

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