Marc’s review published on Letterboxd:
I really wanted to love Dune, but I didn't. Throughout the entire runtime I was waiting for one scene to hook me, to engage me in what's happening and allow me to immerse myself in the experience. But it never happened. For full transparency's sake, I read the book earlier this year and saw the Lynch film shortly after, so I went in knowing full well what the plot was and how another film adaptation handled the material. And while Lynch's Dune is riddled with problems in its pacing and plotting, there are things it suceeds in over Villeneuves latest endeavor. But we'll get there when we get there.
The biggest problem in this newest adaptation of Herbert's seminal work is Villeneuves incessent gigantomania. When he said this film needs to be seen on a big screen, he was right, but I don't think any screen in the world will be able to make the size of this film look manageable. Every starship in this film is the biggest it can possibly be, Arrakeen, the capital of Arrakis, is an amalgamation of absolutely massive concrete buildings built almost on top of each other and the armies standing in formation seem endlessly big. Because everything is the enourmous size it is, none of it ever feels believable. When the courtyard of your palace is a massive concrete plain that stretches as far as the eye can see, but is entirely devoid of any markings, wells, walkways or any signs of life, they just look like computer-generated textures. When the ships are all huge grey blocks with no discernible characteristics or features, they just become big blocks that look artificially placed in an empty-looking environment. Dune is big because it is filled with literally huge structures and buildings and ships, but they never feel organic. Which is the next big issue.
None of the sets the characters inhabit feel lived-in, or natural, or like they convey an actual world. Why Villeneuve opted for every building to be a grey slab with grey walls and nothing on them, I cannot for the life of me understand. None of its feels alive, vibrant, or remotely natural. It's all just copy-pasted textures that have nothing to them. Contrast this with Lynchs version and the lush round and gold features on the palace exterior and interiors, the beautiful ornaments and art-deco-looking elements. They have character to them, and they give a sense of personality to the area the characters are inhabiting. Villeneuves environments feel dead by comparison. Speaking of dead:
To call the characters lifeless would be an overstatement, however, they do all have an air of imposed seriousness on drabness to them, that weighs down on the general atmosphere a lot. Never is there a sense of levity, of a character being content, and actually tender moments between characters are very sparse. The only actor that is allowed to have the slightest charisma is Jason Momoa, but even then he does not get the opportunity to let it shine much. Timothée is good at what he does, though he always looks like he's constipated. The rest of the cast has to abide by the general tone of the film, which is unflinchingly serious, to a fault. Again, Lynch was able to incorporate genuinely touvhing moments while condensing more story into less runtime, so why couldn't Villeneuve? All of these elements, the artifical scale, the lifeless set design, the one-note characters, it all leads to a very distant and cold experience. Never did I ever emotionally engage in anything onscreen, the film started and then it ended and I was left pretty unphased by everything. It's such a shame, because the book as well as Lynchs film both have spectacle and scale as well as emotion and very human moments. But Villeneuves Dune could have also taken place on an ice planet and it would have fit the tone of the film almost better.
The main difference between the two films is that the newer really wants to take it's time and properly tell the story of Frank Herberts Dune. While Lynchs film tries to tell the entire story in two hours, essentially crippling it and leaving an overstuffed mess, the new Dune is intent on staying true to the details of what Herberts Dune is about. Except for the fact that there is still a lot missing. Not just details and single exchangeable scenes, but actual plot threads that fans liked (I know I'm not the only one upset over the plot line about the investigation into who the traitor is missing). So this new Dune is longer than the old one, and only tells half the story, but because the plot is decelerated so much the 150 mins feel like 240. The first hour of this film drags for very long, since exposition in reading is easier to digest than exposition in film, especially when in film it is just delivered through dialogue. At the same time, so much happens in this first movie already, that thinking about having to go see another one like this feels like a chore. It still feels overstuffed. Overall, this is definitely the better adaptation of the book Dune, though it is not finished yet. The second part is going to be far more interesting than the first, so I'm keeping my hopes up.
In conclusion, while conceptually more mature and structured better than previous iterations, Villeneuves first Dune film can't help but bury its great base material under heaps of comically oversized imagery (Hans Zimmers oppressive and incredibly loud score only makes this film heavier and clunkier), an atmosphere that is way to stern and self-important for its own good and an approach to its base material that is taking its time, which has two sides, as it allows for more detail and clearer themes, but at the same time still seems like its barely managing to hit all the story beats before credits roll. This Dune needed more refining in a lot of places, and overall, its not bad. It's just not as good as everyone wanted it to be.
I don't want to seem like I hated this film, so here are a list of things I liked: The cinematography largely supported the narrative quite well (though also succumbing to the aforementioned gigantomania) and generally looked pretty good. The CGI is entirely seemless (except for the artifical building exteriors and interiors). Everyone in the cast is sexy as fuck. The story of Dune is finally getting a worthy adaptation, though it is a flawed one. Might see this Dune again soon, might change my mind.