Dune ★★★

I read Herbert’s books ages ago and wasn’t the biggest of fans. They’re a sprawling mess. Flashes of brilliance intertwined with tedious, pseudo-philosophizing. After watching Villeneuve’s adaptation I’d say it’s very faithful to the books as it suffers from the exact same problems and adds some of its own.

I think Villeneuve is one of our current great directors. Looking at his filmography betrays a need for exploration of genres and styles. Of late he seems to have settled in the science-fiction genre, with which I have absolutely no problems as it is one of my favourites. Another thing, apart from the always stunning visual palet, that distinguishes him as a director is that his films often are contemplative, provoking thought in often the subtlest of ways.

Dune is, as you’d expect, a visual marvel. Villeneuve’s attention to detail shines brightly. The aesthetics defining and representing the different factions are wonderfully rich and stunning. I can find no fault there. Neither can I in the way the story progresses. Sure, there are moments where Villeneuve stretches scenes or threads so thinly they almost disappear, but overall there is a rather balanced pace, alternating kinetic action with slow exposition adequately.

So far so good, but here be problems. It’s loud. Literally. It’s like Villeneuve shouting over every scene: “THIS IS EPIC!!!”. The sometimes overbearing music has a lot to do with this, but it is mainly Villeneuve throwing his usual subtle hand out of the window and forcing his point home with a blunt fist. Exactly like Herbert’s books. It’s shouty intelect hoping to find a layer of depth and gravitas in a style rather than in actual content.

Furthermore, and I know I’m going against the popular grain here, the portrayal of our protagonist, to me, felt excruciatingly monotone and infuriatingly hollow. He is surrounded by a cast that manages to breathe actual life into their rather one dimensional characters, even in the sometimes short time they have on screen. But Chalamet’s performance did not carry the weight the role demanded. He should be our connection, our linchpin to an emotional investment in this otherworldy tale, but he just wasn’t, leaving a beautiful but completely empty shell behind.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is a bad film. On the contrary it has a lot to offer, but it falls short on too many pivotal points to make it a really great film. And that, to me, is a huge disappointment.