Divided first Dune reviews hail 'immersive,' 'breathtaking' filmmaking, split on storytelling
At long, long last, a new adaptation of Dune has arrived on our planet.
Director Denis Villeneuve's highly anticipated film, based on Frank Herbert's beloved 1965 novel, premiered Friday at the Venice International Film Festival, finally screening before an audience after the coronavirus pandemic delayed its release by nearly a year. The first reactions and reviews have largely hailed the film's extravagant visuals and world-building, comparing it to such landmarks as Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and even 2001: A Space Odyssey.
EW's Leah Greenblatt gave the film a B, calling it "breathtaking, and a little bit maddening." "[Dune] is exactly the kind of lush, lofty filmmaking wide screens were made for; a sensory experience so opulent and overwhelming it begs to be seen big, or not at all," she wrote in her review. "As he proved on projects like Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve's gift for visual storytelling can be genuinely breathtaking — vast desertscapes unscrolling like oceans and helicopters with dragonfly-wing blades where the rotors should be; the kidney-piercing resonance of Hans Zimmer's soundtrack poured over sets of towering, planet-scaled enormity."
Responses to the film's story, however, have been more mixed. Villeneuve has frequently said that Dune was intended as the first of a two-part film adaptation, and Greenblatt conceded that "The sheer awesomeness of Villeneuve's execution… often obscures the fact that the plot is mostly prologue: a sprawling origin story with no fixed beginning or end."
Variety's Owen Gleiberman, meanwhile, wrote that "Dune is a movie that earns five stars for world-building and about two-and-a-half for storytelling… It's not just that the story loses its pulse. It loses any sense that we're emotionally invested in it."
IndieWire's David Ehrlich was even more blunt, calling the film "a massive disappointment" in his review and adding, "This lifeless spice opera is told on such a comically massive scale that a screen of any size would struggle to contain it… For all of Villeneuve's awe-inducing vision, he loses sight of why Frank Herbert's foundational sci-fi opus is worthy of this epic spectacle in the first place."
Wrote David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter, "An awful lot of what we're watching feels like laborious setup for a hopefully more gripping film to come — the boring homework before the juicy stuff starts happening."
Still, many journalists praised the film on social media, calling it "a once-in-a-generation film," "thrilling and emotionally authentic," and "a pitch perfect epic that DEMANDS Part 2." The film seems destined to divide general audiences as well as critics; as EW's Greenblatt wrote, "If you're already knee-deep in Herbert mythology, you'll thrill to every whispered word; if you come in not knowing the difference between a Holtzman shield and a hole in the floor, it's a longer walk."
Dune stars a massive ensemble cast, including Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, and Rebecca Ferguson, in a complex tale of a family overseeing the colonized desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the most valuable substance in the universe, known as spice. After a bitter betrayal, Chalamet's Paul is drawn to Arrakis' natives, the Fremen, who live in the deep desert.
Dune will be released in theaters and on HBO on Max Oct. 22. You can see more journalists' reactions to the film below.
A new adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel about the son of a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable but crucially important planet.