6. It’s a cautionary tale on the dangers of religious fanaticism and messianic worshipping
Which brings us to the next point. In the world of Dune, religion is shown to be the most lethal form of submission — a shared mythos that spreads like a disease and keeps the masses tamed. The Sisterhood of Bene Gesserit are shown to be experts in planting the seeds of superstition with fabricated prophecies and empty promises of false prophets. Desperation pushes the Fremen to place all their hopes in the Lisan al-gaib, a legendary messiah who will supposedly come to their aid and lead them to salvation.
As foreshadowed in Paul’s prescient visions, blind worshipping comes at a steep price. The once admirable Fremen will soon rally behind his cause and ignite a holy war that will claim countless lives, thus perpetuating the vicious cycle of oppression. Frank Herbert was a man wary of charismatic leaders because “they could lead their followers off the edge of a cliff” and their mistakes are “amplified by the numbers who follow without question”.
Arguably no recent sci-fi film warrants as much self-reflection as Dune, precisely for the way it challenges our own tendency to deify individuals — a sin that carries over to fictional characters too.
7. The strong ensemble cast
Having a bad film cast is like trying to conduct an orchestra with an out-of-tune choir. The next step after bringing in a maestro like Villeneuve was to find the proper string of actors that would bring his vision alive. On paper, no sci-fi movie in recent memory has garnered as much raw talent as Dune. With practically every A-list actor flocking to join his latest project, Villeneuve made sure to handpick a roster that fully captured the essence of Herbert’s characters.
The director claims he took his time with the casting process, “building slowly and piece by piece” by approaching one actor at a time. Obviously, the first domino to fall was Paul Atreides — which according to Villeneuve was no contest at all. “There was just one Paul on earth right now for me, so there was one name on the list”.
In many respects, Timothée Chalamet seems born to play the part. Villeneuve points to his maturity and depth as two of the many qualities he looked for when it came to the young Atreides. As an “old soul trapped in a young body”, he proved to be the perfect pick for a regal genius soon to become a leader of people. “He has an insane charisma and I needed that for Paul”.
After finding his poster boy, filling out the rest of his dream team was smooth sailing. “The book is so beloved in the acting community that people were very enthusiastic at the idea of participating in the project”. Then came Oscar Isaac, Stellan Skarsgård, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem and Zendaya among others — a royal line-up worthy of an epic years in the making.
When word got out that Villeneuve had ditched regular collaborator Roger Deakins in favor of Greig Fraser, the decision was met with a mixed response to say the least. Granted, some of the skepticism was warranted. After all, Deakins — one of the best directors of photography to ever do it — recently shot Sicario and Blade Runner 2049 to stunning results. However, all doubts were eventually put to rest with Dune’s release, which instantly earned its place as one of the best-looking movies we’ve seen in quite some time.
Villeneuve accomplished the impossible by introducing millions of viewers to a complex world without flooding the film with dry exposition in the process. How did he pull it off exactly? The same way he’s done so throughout his brilliant career — by using visual storytelling as his biggest ally. Something he kept in mind — and which so many sci-fi movies seem to overlook — is that showing is far more rewarding than telling. At the end of the day, what’s cinema if not a visual medium? Be it the open vistas of Arrakis’ vast desert, the steep cliffs of Caladan or the monumental interiors of the Atreides’ palace — every frame of the movie is a sight to behold that mirrors the grandeur of the novel.
9. It’s the ultimate theater experience
After a challenging year ridden by a global pandemic that forced us to reassess our whole worldview, even our most essential sources of entertainment seemed at jeopardy. Like any other industry, cinema took a big hit with thousands of theaters forced to close indefinitely and countless people losing their jobs.
With streaming wars and risk-averse studios at an all-time high, even renowned legends like Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee struggle to secure funding. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but there’s a real risk of cinemas becoming a niche luxury going forward opposed to the staple venue of mass entertainment they have been for over a century. Much was said about Warner Bros’ decision to release Dune on the big screen and streaming simultaneously — a controversial move that seemed to undermine such an anticipated event. Villeneuve argued that watching his latest film on TV is like driving a speedboat in a bathtub.
For all these reasons and more, it felt like — now more than ever — a lot was riding on Dune to revitalize a dying industry as the last hope for unproven IP’s. You only have to look at the overwhelming response by both critics and general audiences to realize that this was the immersive adventure people were aching to see on the big screen — a visual spectacle that’s reinforced the idea that no television set-up will ever compete with theaters.
10. In the director’s own words
“Dune is one of my biggest dreams. It’s the movie I’ve wanted to make for such a long time. The reason why I made the film is because I love the books so much — they’re masterpieces. They’re a work that can transcend time, but they tell us things about ourselves, as human beings. The problem with our societies. Our relationship with nature. The danger of mixing religion and politics together. I first read [Dune] when I was 13 or 14 years old. It’s stayed with me through the years for several reasons, and still today every time I open it, I get the same kind of deep joy reading it. So, when people were saying, ‘Well, what would be your biggest dream?’ I would say, ‘Dune.’”
“The biggest challenge was to make sure that people who hadn’t read the book would be welcome and capable of understanding that story. At the same time, I wanted to make sure that the hardcore fans would find the qualities, poetry, beauty and complexity from the books; I had to find that equilibrium. But the most important thing for me was to keep the sense of adventure and that sense of an epic. I didn’t want the complexity of the story to be in the way of the entertainment and emotional value of the movie. I wanted it to be quite a ride.”
“I’m deeply obsessed by the idea that we can change, that we can evolve as human beings, the idea that we are struggling with the burden of genetics, education, family, the past, politics, religion – all the influences as a human being. That’s what brings me hope for humanity as well: I think we can evolve. But if we are not aware of it, we are condemned. Hell is repetition.” –– Denis Villeneuve