• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Revisiting Dune: Part One 

ByTommy Manning

Mar 2, 2024
A desert dune under a blue sky

Before the sand settles back down on Arrakis, the famed home planet of 2021’s Dune’s giant sand worms, we revisit this first outing before Dune: Part Two hits the big screen.

The first and so far only installment in the franchise, released on October 2021, was a world-building promise of what an extended Dune universe apparently has to offer. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, the sci-fi epic was a second attempt at bringing Frank Herbert’s original series of bestselling novels to the big screen. In 1984, a David-Lynch-directed outing was heavily critiqued, The New York Times’ Janet Maslin can be quoted for humorously commenting, several of the characters in Dune are psychic, which puts them in the unique position of being able to understand what goes on in the movie”. 

Anticipation for the franchise’s revival was, of course, sceptical, with a more than five year development back-and-fourth between studios before a script was even penned. Setbacks continued up until the film’s release—the COVID pandemic being responsible for a near year long set of pushbacks. October 2021 rolls around however, and Dune becomes a box office hit. 

The film took big swings which rarely miss, and despite boasting over 1,700 VFX shots, not once are we overwhelmed (á la Marvel) due to Dune’s refreshingly grounded, near-bleak colour grading. 

A purposeful lack of synthesised sound design is also employed. The Atreides’ ornithopter for example, blending visual inspiration between a modern day helicopter and a dragonfly, buzzes with pitched cat purring and beetle ticking. We are constantly teased by a sonically obscure and reverberating Hans Zimmer composed score soundtracking the slow paced, oddly intimate and bewilderingly grand Sci-Fi of Arrakis.

These efforts were extended by production designer Patrice Vermette; with minimal green screen use in combination with on location filming being essential in grounding Dune’s otherwise fantastical freakishness. A diverse set of both modern and historical, wholly multicultural influences places Dune both outside of time and yet clearly in our future. Soviet Union brutalism, Mesopotamian and organically analogue influences are riddled between the otherworldly dunes of Arrakis and its neighbouring planets. 

Villeneuve succeeds in adapting a now 60 year old science fiction novel into something appropriately retro-futuristic. It feels difficult to compare this iteration of Dune with, on the surface, similarly epic sci-fi; the likes of the Star Wars or Avatar franchises as the most obvious examples. The planet hopping, everchanging nature of its setting is something not often executed well. Where the Marvel franchise attempts this, a quickly apparent overcomplicating of its universe[s] feels suffocating in comparison to Villeneuve’s baby steps approach in introducing us to an actually immensely complex narrative. The key here is balance; we are rarely placed in a setting which lacks tactility or realism.

Part One strikes a rare balance between young adult and mature storytelling; highly comparable to The Hunger Games saga. Timothée Chalamet plays the brave naïvety of a coming of age hero to full affect – with accompanying performances from Rebecca Ferguson and a stoic Oscar Isaac rounding out our Atreides cast.

Dune is, quite importantly, not an alien movie – if anything its story is unsettling in its humanity. The universe we’re introduced to contains a separately evolving human race on the brink of war with itself. Dune might be the only sci-fi franchises I am still excited for, with Part Two promising to be an action packed continuation.

Dune: Part Two hits screens on March 1st in the UK.

Naked Dune” by Hamed Saber is licensed under CC BY 2.0.