Much has been made of Denis Villeneuve’s crusade for the physical institution of cinema but one thing is for certain: his much-delayed Dune is a phenomenon fit for the largest of screens. This is sheer science-fiction spectacle the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a long time, marrying the stark cinematography and eerie scoring of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 with complex worldbuilding mythology based on Frank Herbert’s notoriously prickly space epic. Villeneuve has always had flair, and Dune might be the biggest arena he has played yet.

As with most visual auteurs, Villeneuve works best when there is meat on the bone, substance to his style. Colonialism unsurprisingly threads through this tale of a sinister empire controlling a desert planet’s rare resources, and Villeneuve is not shy in his indictment: “They ravage our lands in front of our eyes,” Zendaya’s Chani, a member of the planet Arrakis’ indigenous Fremen tribe, echoes in the opening voiceover. As the warring households fight over “desert power”, Villeneuve audaciously resists the relentless grind of plot for dramatic tableaux that articulate the overwhelming force of imperial control, characters silhouetted against military crafts and halls of soulless wealth. Most awe-inspiring, however, are the two thrilling set-pieces featuring Arrakis’ famed sand worms, monstrous creatures whose nonhuman enormity dwarfs the humans and their petty power struggles.

At times Dune feels like it is holding back; perhaps because it only covers the first half of Herbert’s novel, perhaps because this investigation of power lacks the weighty interrogation of the human condition that made Arrival in particular so enrapturing. Yet balanced by a largely stellar cast (inexplicably none of whom are Middle Eastern despite the source material’s clear geopolitical parable) and sumptuous visual storytelling, Dune breathes life into Herbert’s plentiful world.

RATING: 4/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa

DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve

WRITERS: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth

SYNOPSIS: When the noble house of Atreides, led by Duke Leto and his son Paul, are ordered to take over command of the desert planet Arakis and its rich supply of life-giving spice, alliances within the empire begin to fracture.