Saturday, October 23, 2021

Movie Review: Dune Part 1

I'm at a bit of a loss for things to say about Dune that aren't evident from a combination of the trailer and the knowledge it's directed by Denis Villeneuve. This is, for all intents and purposes, exactly the movie (or at least the first half of the movie) you'd expect to get if the director of Blade Runner 2049 took a stab at Dune. Personally, that's exactly what I wanted out of this. But, as was the case with 2049, your mileage could easily vary.

Once again, we're left with less a movie than an experience, even more so because it's only a partial adaptation of the source material. There's a story and characters, but all it all feels secondary to the world. That's not to say the characters are at all bad - I think they're well above par for this genre - but they almost don't matter. Same goes for the plot: it all feels like the rail in an amusement park ride. Every character and story beat is an opportunity to explore the setting or hint at the depth of the backstory. It provides direction and momentum, but really we're here for the backdrop.

If that sounds like a chore, it probably will be, but...

God, what a world. Very few movies are this successful at pulling you in, and even fewer come close to offering you anything this awe-inspiring. The scale is simply magnificent. Every detail feels right in a way that comes off as organic. Nothing feels artificial or out of place - it's incredible to see and hear.

All of that's true of Blade Runner 2049, as well, though by its nature that story felt smaller and more personal, while this delivers something epic in scope. So far, 2049 edges this out for me, though we'll have to wait for part 2 to see if that holds.

Assuming, of course, part 2 ever materializes. I know Warner Bros has all but promised to make it, but I didn't trust them before they were sold; now there are no doubt more voices in the room. I certainly hope we get the second half of the story, but even if we don't this is still wonderous. A sequel would resolve the plot, but - again - that's a secondary consideration. A conclusion would be icing; we already got the cake.

The cast is fantastic, though it's a bit distracting spotting actor after actor from existing franchises. Almost everyone with any screen time is instantly recognizable from Star Wars, the MCU, the DC Universe, Mission: Impossible, and so on. I almost feel like they need to cast one of the stars from Fast & the Furious to check off the last box.

It's also worth noting the ending feels small, partially because it's not really an ending at all and partly because the last fight in the movie is relatively minor. Again, this isn't an issue for me - I'm more than happy to follow along whatever path they want to take, so long as the scenery is nice enough - but I can't dispute anyone calling it anticlimactic.

Personally, I didn't have any serious issues with any of it - to me, it's virtually perfect (and I've never even read the source material). But exploring alien worlds is my bread and butter, and Dune delivers that as well or better than any movie ever has. I know that's not what everyone's after. If you want a story or a light adventure or a love story or anything other than what feels like a $160 million pilot to a TV show, you might find this alienating in a bad way.

I found it alienating in the best way possible - it brought me to an alien world. It let me touch me the sand and breathe in the spice. Even if there isn't a part 2, I'm grateful for the experience.