Dreams are messages from the deep. Then what is this nightmare? Dune dares to defile the good name of Frank Herbert with a rank and shoddy showcase of how, eventually, all genres will eclipse themselves. How foreboding an opening line that can be, and just how on the nose Denis Villeneuve makes this jargon-heavy space-bound feature. Dune opens with a bold assumption that a second part is to come. Mulling over its political ideologies and the many Houses across the known galaxy, all Dune and Villeneuve’s vision can offer is a weak and febrile scratching of the surface. He would be hard-pressed to hit at anything bigger or better than that, even when the most important pieces linger awkwardly close to the right places.
A slick ensemble shows up in smart-looking costumes and smarter backdrops. At the very least, Villeneuve has captured the grandiose world that Herbert hinted at in his first instalment. It is hard to be blown away by the magnitude and scope when the area around it is drizzled in smoke and sand, extreme close-ups that hope to show off the sweeping, underwhelming special effects and blockbuster names that appear ever briefly. Dave Bautista and Zendaya are solid draws, but their impact will not be felt until there is a later film, if there is going to be one that is. This necessity to make a minimalist palette of colours is obscene, and when compared to the previous adaptation under David Lynch, pales in comparison. Villeneuve aims for a field far from Flash Gordon though, and that decision is a blessing.
What is the alternative though? Slow-moving shots to showcase a book that fired on all cylinders. Uninspired designs that navigate a dubious, post-Prometheus and pre-The Force Awakens pastiche. Rainy greys and uninspired white cloaks with a hint of generic design to tie it all together. It is not the sort of attitude Herbert would craft in his book. At the very least, this overdrawn space-travelling political genericity is inevitable and performed well. Oscar Isaac and Josh Brolin have that solid back and forth and the on-screen gusto necessary to building up the later, viable leading man, Timothée Chalamet. His dialogue is as broadly uninviting as it gets, but he is the core piece of this narrative and hard to avoid, even when trading verbal blows with Jason Momoa for the sake of the story.
Their interactions, like most found in this feature, are soulless and predictably Hollywood. Quips and jabs for the sake of lighter comedic pockets as a bridge to the next scene are showcased with little effect, and the narrative makes leaps and bounds all over the place to try and make this work. There are some visually interesting moments, it is just a shame most revolve around Chalamet and his bland performance. His training sequences with Brolin, his father and son dynamic with Isaac, these moments are good they just offer little to the audience artistically. They are basic representations of what the dialogue needs to impart, rather than emotionally active resources that Villeneuve can depend on whenever he gets around to the second part.
Bleak and unimaginative where it matters, Dune and Villeneuve by extension fail to grasp the jargon-heavy tones of the book. So much to show off, yet so much time to do it. Confidence is key to a feature of this scale and opportunity. It is surprising to see tempered creatives muddle their words and ideas in this failed first act of a feature. A bulky commitment to make, especially when the future of the series is shaky at best. Etched deep within Villeneuve’s intention is a desire for audiences to return to the big screen. A realistic imagining of Herbert’s world, but was that ever the point of it all? Those grandiose beings and deities from beyond the stars had a larger-than-life presence in the book, and here they are whittled down to their core assets and stripped for parts.