Dune ★★★½

With its Star Wars aesthetic and 2001 sensibility, Dune will put willing viewers under a sci-fi trance. The movie—a second attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, after David Lynch’s disastrous 1984 Dune—rumbles and buzzes in your ears while presenting vast alien landscapes and massive, levitating spacecraft before your eyes. There’s a tactile quality to the film—the way softly glowing lamps float alongside characters in dark hallways or fabrics drape around them and flicker violently in the wind—that makes everything we see feel simultaneously graspable and out of this world. But is Dune, directed by Denis Villeneuve from a screenplay by Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts, and Eric Roth, more than a sensory experience? Thanks to a stronger screenplay (paring away some of the lore and nomenclature) and richer performances (particularly by Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson), this Dune more deftly navigates the denseness of the novel than the earlier version. But the story is still too leaden to allow for either the emotional pull of Villeneuve’s Arrival or the existential angst of his Blade Runner 2049. As for Timothee Chalamet, who stars as Paul—the son of a duke who is sent to the title planet to mine its resources but falls in, after much interplanetary political intrigue, with the mystical, indigenous Fremen—he’s more at home in this material than one might expect (certainly more at home than Kyle MacLachlan was in Lynch’s picture). But it remains to be seen whether Chalamet—along with Zendaya, who plays a Fremen woman—can overcome the somewhat troubling archetypes they’re playing. (He as the white savior; she as the exotic native.) This is, it turns out, Dune: Part One. I’ll be curious to find out if Part Two will embrace these tropes or have the courage to interrogate the story’s colonialist implications in the subversive manner of another key (and sandy) text from the 1960s: Lawrence of Arabia.

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