The original six-book series of "Dune" by Frank Herbert is one of my favorite book series ever. However, I can’t say I was excited when I heard Denis Villeneuve was going to make a movie adaptation of the first book (a movie that later became an adaptation of the first half-ish of the book). Not because I have anything against him (I am not a follower of his work, and his only other movie I had seen before was Blade Runner 2049), but because Dune is a book that has had some bad luck with adaptations.
On one side, you have the David Lynch movie, which I hate (although I understand some people like it), and then you have the Sci-Fi Channel mini-series (which is competent, but the lack of budget makes it suffer), not to mention the planned-but-never-executed Dune from Alejandro Jorodowsky (which I like as a concept, but not as a “Dune” concept).
I am glad to say Villeneuve's Dune (Part 1) is a very good and enjoyable movie, although let’s not get on the hype train and call it a perfect adaptation. In this review I won’t go into spoilers, and any “spoiler” that I may mention will only make sense to the ones familiar with the book.
Visually, the movie is a big spectacle, I have to say that. The world building is amazing, the designs, environments, costumes, etc. For example, when you are on Arrakis, you can certainly “feel the heat” of it being a huge desert planet while Caladan feels very “watery” so to speak. The technology is also amazing to watch, as you can see the different types of vehicles, including interstellar travel vessels. The vehicle that most drew my attention is the design of the ornithopter, the “dragonfly-like” small ship, for its peculiar design that mimics the insect I mentioned.
The visual effects are also top-notch.
In some high-budget movies, there’s this thing where, for some reason, there’s something that looks fake among all the amazing CGI. It can be a character, or a landscape (and in some other movies CGI just looks plain bad).
However, in Dune I can’t really remember a part of the movie where a visual effect was bad to the point of taking me out of the experience, though.
A very interesting effect was the shield. In Dune, different things (vehicles, people, etc.) have these shields that protect them against certain attacks. In the movie, the shield is shown as this blue vibration when it’s hit, and red when it’s pierced. I have to say, it was a very interesting portrayal, and it worked pretty well.
Performances are also very good, and all the actors do a really good job in my opinion. I have to admit, though, the Duke Leto didn’t give me a very “duke-ish” feeling, maybe because Oscar Isaac felt like “the dude from Ex-Machina, but with armor.” Also, I have to say I think the Baron Harkonnen was not fat enough.
But now the most important part comes. The story and how it manages to show what the book is about. The thing about Dune is that it’s very dense, with a lot of world building (the book even has an appendix to explain things, similar to The Lord of The Rings). While the movie is very good at explaining what is going on in a very straightforward way, sometimes it is unable to explain some important information.
For example, the movie doesn’t really explain what Mentats are (to the point, I am pretty sure I can ask someone “what did you think of the Mentats” and that person may not know what I am talking about). Other example is the Weirding Way, which can still be understood as “super-powers” in this movie.
On the other hand, to provide some extra information, the movie uses the oldest trick in the book: exposition dumps. There are a couple of times where Paul is watching some sort of “learn about Arrakis!” classes using a projector, that mostly serve for information dumps.
However, in other instances the movie relies on the audience being smart enough to catch the small hints, which is very good in my opinion. Apparently this doesn’t work, since lots of critics have talked about “the white savior plot” and the “space Jesus.” The thing is, there are a few instances where these issues are addressed, but, for some reason, critics are unable to see it. It's like they needed the movie to pause and then have Paul talk to the camera and go full Deadpool mode to explain how “his super-powers” are just the result of very extensive training and genetic manipulation that has been going on for centuries à la “and remember, folks, I’m not a superhero, I’m just a very genetically-modified human with lots of training!”
And this is the whole reason I can only half-recommend Dune. I can simply say Dune is amazing, although not perfect, and also say that you have to see it. However, recommending Dune is like recommending A Clockwork Orange, you’re going to love it … if you’re into that kind of movie. The movie is about a lot of talking and not a lot of action (the books are the same), and if you’re into movies about heavy political complots and feudal rivalries, you’re going to love it, but if you’re coming from the MCU camp looking for the next big budget extravaganza, you will say Dune is boring.
However, if you’re a fan of the book, you should definitely go watch it, on the big screen of course.
Now let’s just hope there’s a Dune Part 2.