by Chloe Sun ‘24
Published Dec. 2nd, 2021
Published in 1965, written by Frank Herbert, Dune was a cultural phenomenon that stood itself as one of the greatest sci-fi epics of all time. Rich not only in social commentary regarding ecological disaster and colonial oppression, Dune also sculpts an elaborate and action-packed universe with its own technology, landscapes, and cultures.
Nevertheless, such an intricate lore also made it difficult for the novel to be transferred onto the big screen, with several failed attempts having been made in the past, a famous one being David Lynch’s in 1984. Now, 37 years later, director Denis Villeneuve steps up to take the job.
Dune follows the assignment of imperial House Atreides over the desert planet of Arrakis, where a highly desirable resource known as “spice” must be collected from the sand. Surrounded by enormous sandworms and mysterious natives known as “Fremens”, the Atreides, particularly the young heir Paul, find themselves tangled in a web of alliances and betrayals.
The success of its source material and failure of its predecessors led to this 2021 adaptation of Dune being quite anticipated by movie enthusiasts, especially considering Villeneuve himself is a renowned director with works such as Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival under his belt.
Even so, Villeneuve’s Dune is not perfect: It suffers from apparent exposition during its first portions, relying on character dialogues and in-universe media to shove sufficient background info into the audience’s head. Villeneuve is also not big on humor, therefore his dialogues tend to be dry, and the movie can quickly become boring and drawn-out to some.
However, these drawback pales in comparison to what the film does right: The grand, realistic visuals and unique soundtracks take viewers straight into the mesmerising spice planet of Arrakis, the arcane sisterhood of Bene Gesserit, the mechanical gloom of House Harkonnens…etc.
In terms of visual and sound designs, Villeneuve’s decision to seek out real-life locations whenever possible resulted in a very natural lighting on the actors, an unsaturated sunshine overhead in desert landscapes that is difficult to imitate with CGI. Even when using VFX, the film crew’s creative design to use a sand-colored screen instead of a standard greenscreen helped further the organic, dusty shine of the desert, and the overall visual juxtaposition between the puny man and formidable nature/machinery has an almost Lovecraftian tone, emphasizing the novel’s ideological undertones.
All of the above is, of course, aided by Hans Zimmer’s score, a series of extremely layered and ethereal soundtracks, woven with female chanting, throat singing, rhythmic drums…etc.. Zimmer and Villeneuve went out of their way to achieve an alien sound that would exist within the world of Dune, even designing new instruments to achieve this goal. Dune is a majestic, complex, yet worth-a-watch sci-fi epic you should check out if interested, and definitely in a theater if possible. Afterall, Villeneuve did intend it to be “a tribute to the big-screen experience.”