Frank Herbert’s science fiction saga, “Dune”, was a book that was deemed simply unfilmable. “Dune’s” road to the big screen had seen some attempts fall by the wayside including those of Ridley Scott and surrealist filmmaker, Alejandro Jodorowsky.
The first big-screen outing, directed by David Lynch, was poorly received and divided Dune fans, and Syfy’s 6-part mini series, despite winning an Emmy Award, left fans of the saga wanting.
Enter Denis Villeneuve – hot off the success of “Blade Runner 2049” – on a mission to make his own personal dream come true and to give “Dune” fans the glorious, cinematic adaptation they long yearned for, and deserve.
After 3 years of production, delayed by the global Covid 19 pandemic, “Dune: Part One” finally arrives on the silver screen. So has Villeneuve actually managed to pull off what was deemed impossible? Does this new version carry enough “spice” to rock your world? Journey with us and find out…!
The line up for this epic, action-packed interstellar saga, features an eclectic acting mix of action stars, Oscar nominees and winners. Leading the charge is Timothée Chalamet, (better known for dramas such as “Call Me By Your Name”), as Paul Atreides, the heir apparent to House Atreides troubled by prophetic visions and horrific dreams pointing to a messianic destiny.
Better known to sci-fi fans as hot shot pilot rebel, Poe Dameron, in the third Star Wars trilogy, Oscar Isaac plays the troubled Duke Leto Atreides, ruler of planet Caladan who accepts the Emperor’s offer to take control of spice mining on planet Arrakis.
Accompanying him to the desert planet are;
Rebecca Ferguson (“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation“ and “Fallout“) plays Lady Jessica, the concubine to Duke Leto and Paul’s mother, also a powerful member of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood who’s been teaching her son the ways of her order, much to the chagrin of her reverend mother.
Josh Brolin (“Deadpool 2“, “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Endgame”) plays the house swordmaster and protector, Gurney Halleck; Stephen McKinley Henderson as Thufir Hawat, mentat (human computer) to House Atreides, a loyal and trusted advisor; and Chang Chen (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “The Assassin”) as Doctor Wellington Yueh, the house healer with a dark secret.
Jason Momoa (“Aquaman”) is the Atreides’ swordmaster, Duncan Idaho, a grizzled warrior who, much like Gurney, is sent ahead to make contact with the Fremen.
Plotting the downfall of House Atreides is Duke Leto’s sworn enemy, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, played by the ever-versatile Stellan Skarsgård (Doctor Erik Selvig of the Marvel Cinematic Universe). Head of House Harkonnen on the planet Giedi Prime, the Baron plots to wipe out the Atreides line with a little extra help.
Dave Bautista plays the Baron’s nephew, the Beast Glossu Rabban, a vicious, bloodthirsty warlord in the service of his uncle. David Dastmalchian, last seen as Polka-Dot Man in James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad”, takes on the role of the Harkonnen’s mentat, Piter De Vries.
Veteran British actress Charlotte Rampling shakes things up as the Reverend Mother, Gaius Helen Mohiam, head of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood whose own agenda is at risk when she learns of Paul Atreides’ alarming talents. Caught in between are the Fremen; Arrakis’ indigenous population, led by war leader Stilgar played by Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men”, “Skyfall”).
Taking a break from playing Spiderman’s love interest MJ, Zendaya takes on the role of Chani, a Fremen warrior, and also the girl of Paul Atreides’ dreams. Serving as the link between the Fremen and the Atreides is Dr. Liet-Kynes, played by British actress Sharon Duncan-Brewster.
It is the year 10,191, and the universe is ruled by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV. The richest known substance is “Spice Melange” (simply known as “the spice”) mined from the desert planet, Arrakis which is vital for health, deeper levels of awareness, and travel through warp space.
The Emperor appoints House Atreides, led by Duke Leto, to take over the management and rule of Arrakis from their rivals, House Harkonnen. The Duke accepts, almost certain that it’s a trap, whilst his sworn enemy, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen plots to end the Atreides’ bloodline.
Caught in the middle is young Paul Atreides, the Duke’s son who is troubled by prophetic dreams of Arrakis and its inhabitants, the Fremen, and images of a young woman.
Soon a deadly Machiavellian chain of events unfolds, with political power plays leading to brutal slaughter that put Paul on the path to a messianic destiny that could shake the entire universe.
If you are an ardent fan of the book and know the story page by page, and inside out, you might shake your head in confusion with the film’s opening scene.
It marks a big departure from how Frank Herbert’s novel begins, and it shouldn’t come as any surprise to learn that Denis Villeneuve doesn’t stick to the letter of the law (book).
Fear not however, as Villeneuve, along with co-writers Jon Spaihts (“Doctor Strange”), and Eric Roth (“Ali”), instead establish the greater conflict earlier on, introducing key players before pushing the viewer straight into the story.
The film’s visuals are so strong that they help carry and dispense its narrative without the need for any noir-style internal dialogues or explanations. This enables focus to remain on the book’s main story of the political power moves played out chess game-like, with all players placed or manipulated into position.
The scene is then set for some blistering, and chilling authentic action, courtesy of talented, veteran fight choreographer, Roger Yuan.
From the beginning, the film transports the viewer into an alien, yet stunning world of awe and wonder. Opening gently onto the sun-kissed sand dunes of Arrakis with traces of spice glistening, Chani narrates the oppressive, and brutal history of her home.
Vast rows of spaceships line up in front of legions of troop battalions. Harkonnen soldiers face down Fremen warriors battling furiously as cannons turn spice harvesters into a fiery inferno, inflamed by the desert heat.
Having already seen the Harkonnens in action, that sense of foreboding exudes through the screen as the Atreides prepare for the trip to Arrakis.
The training scene between Gurney Halleck and Paul brings this stark reality to the fore as the chiseled, battle-hardened Halleck gives the young Duke-to-be a lesson on getting into the fighting spirit.
There’s a Kali knife fight that’s fast-paced and packed with kinetic energy. It makes for a visually thrilling fight scene with a fascinating twist, for, as the strikes and blocks are swift, the kill blows have to be delivered slowly to penetrate the shields that protect them.
The contrast of opposites, fast versus slow, is played out where Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho, faces an onslaught of Sardaukar and Harkonnen troops. Momoa is no stranger to a little swordplay and certainly seems at home with a blade in hand.
The fight action is intense and packed with technically-rich weapons techniques that would leave fight experts drooling.
The battle scenes are intricately staged and choreographed by Roger Yuan invoking the epic visuals and adrenaline intensity of war, and are reminiscent of films like “Lawrence of Arabia”. It’s an apt comparison given that Paul Atreides is himself an intergalactic T.E. Lawrence which must therefore make Villeneuve this century’s David Lean.
As always, the battle scenes invariably show the different sides and fighting styles of the film’s warrior cast. The emperor’s wide-eyed, and fanatical Sardaukar, with their chilling chanting, contrast with that of the brutal, and vicious Harkonnen; as one set of troopers storm the compound, the others step in brutally hacking and decapitating their spoils.
With such ferocious intensity, it’s a relief that the battles are not drawn-out, but rather serving as tasters of what’s to come. That isn’t to say there isn’t any more action-packed drama to see us through the 2 hour 35-minute running time.
There are life-threatening desert treks, betrayals, assassinations, and the much-anticipated sighting of the Shai-Hulud, Arrakis’s giant worms. There’s more one-on-one fight action this time between Paul and Fremen warrior Jamis, and a prophetic glimpse of the holy war to come with some Hong Kong-style fight action giving us a sense of the Fremen’s fighting method.
“Dune” is quite literally an action-packed epic, crammed with political intrigue, family drama, and some of the most authentic, and stunningly-brutal fight action ever committed to film, all wrapped up in a jaw-dropping, visual feast.
The cast performances are superb, with Timothée Chalamet proving to be the biggest surprise in his first, leading, blockbuster action role. He is ably supported by a powerful thespian roster, all of whom light up the screen and handle their fight action like professionals thanks to the skillful training and choreography by Roger Yuan.
As an adaptation of one of the most revered sci-fi novels still very much-beloved today, Denis Villeneuve and Legendary Pictures have given “Dune’s” generations of fans the adaptation they’ve pined for…finally!
At over 2½ hours, the film might seem long, but the time soon flies as you can’t help getting engaged and then totally absorbed into the movie, before reluctantly coming away feeling that you’ve seen and experienced a true auteur at work. Now bring on “Dune: Part Two”!
- “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Lady Jessica of the Atreides
- “Mood? What’s mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises, no matter the mood. Now fight!” – Gurney Halleck (in response to Paul Atreides when he says he’s not in the mood to train.)
- “A great man doesn’t seek to lead; he is called to it. But if your answer is no, you’d still be the only thing I ever needed you to be, my son.” – Duke Leto Atreides
- “My father came, not for spice, not for the riches, but for the strength of your people. My road leads into the desert. I can see it. If you’ll have us, we will come.” – Paul Atreides (to Stilgar.)
- Five days after it’s release at the cinema (and HBO Max in the U.S.) on 26th October Legendary Films confirmed “Dune: Part 2” had officially been given the green light.
- This movie version marks the third adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune”. The first was in 1984 directed by David Lynch, followed by a TV mini-series developed by Syfy in 2000.
- Prior to David Lynch’s film version, an attempt was made previously by Mexican, surreal filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowski to adapt the film, but it was aborted due to high costs and budgets going awry.
- In our interview published this year, fight choreographer and trainer Roger Yuan outlined the three main fighting styles he incorporated. 1. For the Atreides who use short-blade weapons, Roger employed Kali and Escrima techniques. 2. The Harkonnens’ brutal, fighting style was based on Mongolian war tactics similar to Genghis Khan, and 3. For the emperor’s shock-troops the Sardaukar, Roger called on aspects of the Samurai and Viking Berserkers.
- Although in the book, the Bene Gesserit ‘Weirding Way’ was depicted as a fighting form, (majorly influenced by prana-bindu psychophysical training) it was changed in David Lynch’s film to a deadly form of voice projection. For this latest film Denis Villeneuve and Roger Yuan agreed to go back to the original idea.
- The Sardaukar’s chanting involves a vocal technique called “throat singing” which has been a staple of Mongolian and Tibetan mantric tradition for centuries.
- When the global Covid 19 pandemic spread, production on all films came to a halt. “Dune” was the first production to resume filming after lockdown with newly established Covid protocols in place.
- The main battle sequences involved motion capture with CGI backgrounds, and many of them were filmed after the lockdown lifted.
- Roger Yuan features in the film as Lieutenant Lanville, a soldier and bodyguard for House Atreides – although he is not referred to by name. It is believed he will have a prominent scene in “Dune: Part Two”.