Not to be hyperbolic, but if TENET  (2020) were the (self-proclaimed) messiah of the exhibition experience, DUNE (2021) would be looked back on as the second, maybe even final chance at salvation.

            Pulled from within the written word of highly regarded novelist Frank Herbert, Denis Villeneuve (ARRIVAL (2016), BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)) has once again been entrusted by Legendary to oversee the transitional period of another high profile science-fiction IP, DUNE. Predictably, where Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Lynch failed before him, the space opera didn’t spare Denis Villeneuve.

            To exacerbate the matter, the seemingly unachievable, not to mention thankless process from page to screen, could be the last big-budget measuring stick to assess the viability of at-home entertainment versus a strictly in-person roll-out; and it doesn’t look good.

            Whittled down to a “relatively” watchable, sub-three-hour runtime, DUNE is able to survive a desert of mundanity and protocol through the majestic gaze of DP Greig Fraser and Denis Villeneuve’s rare ability to make the minutiae, matter; if only for a short while.

            DUNE is a testament to the stupefying yet soulless procedural that is modern moviemaking for good and bad. After it’s over, the only thing on your mind is the next release date. Make no mistake, the masterful world built by Villeneuve and production designer Patrice Vermette has made DUNE, above all else, a must-see and on the biggest screen, you can possibly find. It’s just that, even so, Villeneuve is still able to extract more emotion and resonance from the Replicant race than the entire planet of Arrakis.

            Maybe I should be grateful to exist in an age of such movie magic. Even if the all-too-familiar shaded aesthetic and broody forecast of the modern blockbuster, here, impressively scaled, left DUNE but a droplet into the ocean of white-noise brought on by the superhero boom. Once again, the spectacle isn’t able to elicit a connection beyond some form of sensory deprivation. That shouldn’t ever be an issue. Especially with the talent level assembled, both behind and in front of the camera.

            Led by Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Issac, standout Rebecca Ferguson, and Javier Bardem, I could go on and on; it’s, sadly, rather impressive just how nonchalantly Josh Brolin was quite figuratively, and literally, rendered cannon fodder. As for the rest, let’s say, I kind of wish that Spice Harvester had eaten up Paul Atreides.

            What most alarmed me about DUNE was Villeneuve struggled to find the light in one of his desperately dark worlds. I find he can cut to the heart of good sci-fi, past the complexity and coldness, to where we suspend our disbelief but maintain our humanity.

            Whichever way you look at it, DUNE is, without question, the most critical release since TENET, from a post-pandemic box office standpoint to the accessibility of Cinema discussion, let alone what it’ll mean to the Streaming Wars. In the end, even if Villeneuve can keep the exhibition experience on life support, I suppose what’s important here is that DUNE didn’t work for me. That said, I can’t wait to watch PART TWO.

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