by Hope Madden
Denis Villeneuve’s vision for Frank Herbert’s Dune is as gorgeous and cinematic as you might expect from the filmmaker behind Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival. The worlds, the interiors, the exteriors, the space crafts, the spice, the worm — each articulated with a sense of wonder, as if the director himself was awestruck by what he saw.
That vision is hampered by a number of things, but the cast is not among its faults. Though Part One contains too many glorified cameos, even those are handled with care.
But let’s start at the top. Timothee Chalamet, whose genuine vulnerability makes him the perfect emo savior, is a natural for Paul. There is depth and almost humor to the performance. Even with only the first part of his journey completed by the end of the 2 hour and 35 minute film, his arc is clearly underway.
Oscar Isaac is so wonderfully Oscar Isaac as Paul’s noble but human father, and Rebecca Ferguson is exquisitely tortured as Paul’s mother. Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa and especially Javier Bardem all leave impressions with minimal screen time.
But the film has two problems, they are both pretty substantial, and they are both the story.
Problem #1 is that Dune Part 1 is half a film. You can make a multi-part story and still have several lovely, complete, standalone films. Kill Bill did it. Dune did not. It ends at the halfway point and that is exactly how it feels: 2 and a half hours to halfway there.
The second concern is that the source material is a white savior film. By casting almost exclusively people of color as the indigenous Fremen people of the conquered planet Arrakis, Villeneuve was at least facing the issue directly. That same laudable decision also exacerbated the situation, however, by turning Dune from a metaphorical white savior story into a literal white savior film, as the very white Chalamet takes on the mantle of messiah to lead the Fremen toward salvation.
He’s a dreamy messiah whose hair is forever mussed and hanging in his big, brown (for the moment) eyes, sure. But we know where this is going, even if we have no idea when we’ll get to see it arrive as Dune Part 2 is not yet filming.
It’s a lot of very attractive waiting for something to happen, which is maybe the best Dune synopsis I can think of.