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#TIFF21 Review: Dune (Special Events)

September 13, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is the French Canadian filmmaker’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic 1965 sci-fi novel of the same name. And the movie, which focuses on the beginning half of Herbert’s book and is intended as the first in a two-part saga (the opening title card says Dune: Part One), is big scale filmmaking in every way.

The space saga is set in a distant future where a powerful drug known as spice is the most sought after commodity, with those who control the supply holding the power. The hero is Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), the son of Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), the ruling family of the planet Arrakis. Paul is heir to the throne, and must train to become a warrior to help protect the planet’s rich supply of spice from invading forces. His hero’s journey involves travelling to a dangerous desert planet plagued by giant sand worms, to enlist the help of the Fremens, a powerful but insular tribe of warriors.

Despite delivering in terms of big screen spectacle, Villeneuve is still working with complex and hard to adapt source material. The story can feel dry at times, especially during the exposition-heavy first hour of the 157 minute running time, and I found some of the lore a bit hard to follow and keep up with. I admittedly haven’t worked my way through Herbert’s book, and I think reading it first would help to gain some more knowledge of this world and its politics beforehand.

The film also very much feels like a Part One. It just sort of ends in the middle of the story, making it seem like only half a movie. This makes it hard to fully judge the film on its own until we see it in conjunction with Part Two. But Dune excites on a visual level, with Villeneuve staging some thrilling action sequences. Greig Fraser’s cinematography of the desert landscapes is made to be seen on the biggest screen possible, matched by Hans Zimmer’s booming score.

Herbert’s novel is one that several filmmakers have tried to adapt over the years, with Alejandro Jodorowsky failing to get his version made (detailed in the very good documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune), and David Lynch succeeding in 1984 with his somewhat poorly received take on the material. But I think fans of the book will be happy with the level of attention and detail that Villeneuve brings to his version, with him clearly being a fan of the material.

Villeneuve’s preference is for people to see the film in IMAX, and this really is the way to go, with about an hour of footage shot in the format and making use of the extra height provided by the screen. I may need another viewing to fully absorb it all, and do want to watch it again. But Dune does deliver in terms of a visually impressive big screen experience, with good action, a solid cast, and some fine character moments. I’m looking forward to Part Two.

Public Screenings:

Saturday, September 11th – 7:15 PM at Ontario Place Cinesphere

Sunday, September 12th – 7:30 PM at Ontario Place Cinesphere

Monday, September 13th – 8:00 PM at Scotiabank Theatre

Saturday, September 18th – 8:00 PM at Ontario Place Cinesphere

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9th to 18th.

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