Scene it: ‘Dune’ adds ‘spice’ to the big screen

Timothée Chalamet kneels dramatically.
(Courtesy: Chiabella James)

“Dune” emerges victorious from the overwhelming history of book-to-film adaptation failures. Stunning visuals, an awe-inspiring soundtrack and a star-studded cast with tangible acting skills all converged to create a film I envision becoming a classic. 

At the risk of sounding overenthusiastic, I would still say the visual capacity of “Dune” quite frankly floored me with its quality. Director Denis Villeneuve nailed the creative vision of contemporary science fiction. When I saw the opening scenes, it made me feel how someone watching “Star Wars” at the time of its release would feel. The concepts executed were so cutting-edge that I completely bought into the idea: This is what the future will look like. Perhaps in 30 or 40 years, people watching “Dune” will find its optics outdated, much as one feels when watching “Star Wars” today, but I anticipate this movie staying relevant long enough for us to find out. 

The notion of a water planet, Caladan, and a desert planet, Arrakis, was realized perfectly. Caladan was a palette of grays, blues and gentle droplet sounds; Arrakis was its burnt orange desert counterpart filled with sparkling particles of the sought-after “spice” drug, but somehow, neither planet came off as “tacky.” 

Typically, I find sci-fi movies have a crude, cheap quality to their backgrounds — in my mind, the backdrop of films like “The Avengers” and “Wonder Woman,” though both excellent movies, were always linked with a foreboding, perpetually cloudy gray sky broken up by fiery explosions. 

“Dune” diverged from this trend with its expansive collection of modern backgrounds. The film employed several pieces of impressively angular architecture with broad, sweeping ceilings, incorporating “natural” light to illuminate the smooth swaths of concrete, wood, metal and water comprising each structure. In fact, the “Dune” imagery strongly evoked that of “Game of Thrones,” yet more advanced (the highest of compliments). 

The film’s portrayal — or lack thereof — of the bloodthirsty “sandworms” that haunt the deserts of Arrakis proved to be another one of its merits. Conceptually, it is extremely difficult to make a worm scary — they’re squishy, amorphous and about as far from threatening as an animal can get. Rather than try to make a noodle with teeth elicit terror, the director made a wise move in applying the “don’t show the monster” rule of horror movies, in which only flashes of the monster are revealed, leaving the imagination to fill in the gaps with a much scarier mental image. 

Overlaying the pleasing visual landscape of “Dune” is a soundtrack by none other than the legendary composer Hans Zimmer — if you’ve ever watched a decent movie, chances are you’ve heard his work (think “The Lion King,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Inception,” among many others). Drums, bagpipes and even a recurring electric guitar weave in and out of the story, elevating it to the status of an epic. Truly, when watching this movie, neither your eyes nor ears will be bored.

The cast of “Dune” carried some weighty names with it, including Timothée Chalamet — Hollywood’s latest obsession, star of “Call Me By Your Name,” you know who he is — Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin, to name a few. Indeed, the names are weighty for a reason, as these actors can act. One slight disappointment was the extremely brief screen time featuring Zendaya, despite her (flawless) face gracing every piece of the nearly overwhelming amount of promotional material. That said, I understand the appeal of such an easy marketing tactic — it worked on me — and her role in the second film is purported to be much larger, thankfully.

To balance out the experience of watching “Dune,” I must comment on one more point of contention. It is hard to ignore yet another depiction of a white male character (Paul Atreides, played by Timothée Chalamet) destined to save what one Vulture writer describes as a planet of “generic ‘people of color.’” It appears to be up for debate whether the 1963 book version of “Dune” is an anti-imperialist critique, but criticism does surround this recent movie. In particular, some assert that the movie diluted the book’s original references to Islam down to a vague, appropriative cultural “aesthetic.” Having not read the book, I cannot form an opinion on this, but the question of whether it was a good decision to obscure specific cultural attributes included in the book is worth turning over while viewing the film.

All things considered, I found “Dune” quite entertaining. Whenever I can escape the outside world, immerse myself in a story and feel connected to the characters, I consider a movie to have fulfilled its purpose; “Dune” accomplished just that. Give it a watch — come for Timothée Chalamet and stay for the plot, like I did. 

Rorye Jones PO ’23 is TSL’s TV and film columnist. She spends her days waiting for the second season of “Euphoria” to drop so she can breathe in Alexa Demie’s dust once more. If you see her on campus, please feel free to assail her with unsolicited TV and film recommendations (actually).

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