Dune – a Cinematic Masterpiece

Frank Herbert's future-shock epic is adapted by Denis Villeneuve in an equally sweeping and intimate way.

Director Denis Villeneuve

Writers Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth

Stars Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa

Rating PG-13

Running Time 2h 35m

Genres Action, Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi


Dune – Frank Herbert’s science-fiction masterpiece, which is re-entering the worldwide box office race even as it stirs up debate over what it and its messianic protagonist represent.

Denis Villeneuve’s film is a mammoth effort, a star-studded, lavish adaptation of the novel’s first half. Herbert’s book, published in 1965, is a gorgeous monster crammed with kings and rebels, witches and warriors. He imagined a desert planet where water was the new petroleum, inspired by government efforts to keep sand dunes at bay. As a result, we get a future-shock epic that reads like a cautionary tale for our ecologically depleted world.

Paul Atreides is the central character of the film, which is set thousands of years in the future. Paul is set to leave with his parents for his new home on Arrakis, a desert planet. The Emperor has given the Duke orders to assume command of the world. While the story’s most flamboyant villain, the Baron, plans and slays, floating above fearful minions and foes, there are convoluted intrigues, sword fights, heroic deaths, and frequent inserts of a mystery woman throwing come-hither glances at the camera. Paul is on a journey full of weighty deeds and ideas, but he can get caught up in the beauty along the way, like a fly in hardening sap.

The film relies heavily on exposition, partially to help viewers navigate the story’s convoluted mazes, but Villeneuve also employs his visuals to develop and clarify the plot. Characters and their environs are in harmony, with the designs and textures of the movie’s different planets and inhabitants being striking, filigreed, and significant. The magnificent scope of the film, combined with Herbert’s intricate mythmaking, produces an unproductive conflict between stillness and movement. Despite the loss of characters and plot swathes, the movie maintains the overarching arc of the book. The film’s commercial imperatives, and, by extension, Hollywood’s entire historical push with its demand for heroes and happy endings, pose the most difficult task. The film finishes before everything is too neatly or uncomfortably wrapped up, which gives it a nice sense of unpredictability.

Herbert created five sequels, and Duneworld continued to grow after his death; if the film succeeds at the box office, the story would presumably continue, which would be a boon to a franchise-hungry business. It is up to the audience to decide if it will become a gift that keeps on giving. Villeneuve has created a solemn, majestic work, and despite the fact that he doesn’t have a pop bone in his body, he knows how to put on a show as he fans a topical debate over who gets to play the hero anymore.