Film and drama Opinion

WHAT'S ON: Dune (part one) — spice up your life

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The son of a noble family is entrusted with the protection of the most valuable asset and most vital element in the galaxy. Digital editor Dan Jensen checks out the first half of this new sci-fi blockbuster.

★★★☆☆

DUNE (PART ONE) is a new version of the classic sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert. The previous film version by David Lynch in 1984 was widely considered a mess and failed at the box office, many finding it dull and boring. But while the new version by Denis Villeneuve can be slow at times, there is a lot to appreciate.

The story is deep and follows Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) as his family, the noble House Atreides, is thrust into a war for the deadly and inhospitable desert planet Arrakis, the only source of “spice”, a valuable substance that bestows its users heightened vitality and expanded consciousness. The ensemble cast also includes Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin and Zendaya to name a few.

Having previously directed Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival, Villeneuve was a perfect choice to helm Dune being that it’s a story best told slowly. This is not a whiz-bang action sci-fi adventure that moves at a cracking pace — it’s a character-driven drama filled with complex themes and a distinct absence of fun. But that isn’t to say Dune is not an enjoyable film by any means.

Two of the most important elements to make a film really stand out on the big screen are visuals and sound and these are easily Dune’s biggest triumphs. Even when the story slows right down, there’s rarely a dull moment when the film looks so dazzling. There's always something to stimulate the senses. A lot of practical elements were used including the building of huge sets instead of surrounding actors with a blue screen. Many of the spacecraft were mostly built to scale with CG touches to finish them off. And the blending of practical and computer wizardry is flawless — Dune offers some of the best special effects seen on a cinema screen this year.

The sound design in Dune is extraordinary, both in terms of music and effects. Legendary composer Hans Zimmer even went as far as inventing new instruments to achieve the otherworldly sounds heard throughout the film. But while many films tend to let the soundtrack accompany the visuals in the background, the score for Dune is bold and makes its presence felt in every scene. It’s never overwhelming, though, existing in perfect harmony with the picture. Everything from the design to the mixing is Oscar-level good.

The performances throughout are perfect, too. Villeneuve manages to pull the best out of every cast member, with Chalamet and Ferguson easily being the highlights of the film. Another memorable performance was from Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, the antagonist of the story. His villain is bloated and gluttonous, with Skarsgård going through a seven-hour make-up process to transform him into the character. While he doesn’t have a great amount of screen time, the character is brought to life in such a memorable way that you feel as though you know a great deal about him from so little time spent watching him.

But while Dune does work on many levels, it is still a very slow-moving film. There are moments where it loses steam completely, only saved by the aforementioned visuals and sound. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, particularly those who like their sci-fi with a bit more action. And because of its pacing, it’s not a film many will want to rewatch in a hurry.

Aside from that, the opening of the film is a lot to get through. The audience is bombarded with a lot of strange names and words that are important to remember and keeping track of such heavy exposition can feel overwhelming. It’s one of those ways in which books don’t translate into films so easily and as much as Villeneuve has done his best to bring the world of Dune to the big screen (wanting to make his own version of the novel as opposed to simply remaking Lynch's film), it does suffer from forcing a lot onto the viewer in the opening minutes.

But once you get past that and retain whatever information you can, the journey is worth taking. Overall, Dune is a visual and aural treat. Despite a few moments of slight tedium, it’s a memorable film and will definitely leave you eager to see how it concludes in part two, scheduled for 2023.

Dune is now showing in cinemas across the country.

You can follow digital editor Dan Jensen on Twitter @danjensenmovies or check out his YouTube channel, Movie Talk with Dan Jensen.

Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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