Illustration by Ben Beechener

After a long delayed arrival, Dune landed in UK cinemas on a chilly Thursday night and I was, of course, ready and waiting with prebooked tickets and one medium popcorn, to see what it had to offer. Having tried (*ahem* and failed) to finish the book in anticipation for this latest adaptation, my initial excitement was tinged somewhat with nerves: would the struggles I encountered when reading the source material bleed over onto screen? Would this perfect-on-paper cast, helmed by my favourite director, live up to the almost tangible hype?

The short answer is yes. 

With often-underrated masterpieces such as Blade Runner 2049 and Prisoners under his belt, there was no need to fret about Denis Villeneuve’s ability to produce a stellar adaptation of this foundational Sci-Fi classic. The book—and, more or less, the film—follows a young boy named Paul, son to Duke Leto Atreides, who has recently taken over rule of the desert planet Arrakis by imperial decree. Although scorching hot and almost bereft of water, it is Arrakis’s supply of the invaluable mineral Spice that pits the house of Atreides against former rulers, the Harkonnens. Couple this political danger with Paul’s visions of a mysterious Fremen (a native of the planet) woman and Dune’s plot alone is enough to inspire a bold new franchise and, indeed, that is what Villeneuve has achieved. With Part 2 announced and due to start filming next year, Villeneuve’s Dune is the birth of a new sci-fi saga that has the potential to rival those that, ironically, were inspired by Frank Herbert’s book series. 

While the plot rumbles on for the 2 hour and 35 minute run time, taking its time to unfold, the star-studded cast deliver brilliant performances that breathe new life into a story that has proven a struggle to adapt to screen. Timothée Chalamet, a fan favourite and consistently brilliant actor, leads the cast in the role of Paul, a young man burdened by strange visions of his future. While Rebecca Ferguson’s Jessica, Paul’s mother, is almost-irritatingly weepier than her book-counterpart, she is played with heart and Oscar Isaac’s turn as the Duke is equal parts brooding and heart-wrenching, with him cementing himself as one of my firm favourites of the adaptation. Fans were recently outraged to discover Zendaya’s short screen time (a grand total of seven minutes although, graciously, far more, in the simple fact of her presence, than she appeared in the section of the book that was adapted). However, her character’s aura of mystery was an enticing interval to the drama and holds great potential for expansion that her talent will no-doubt fill when Part 2 arrives to the big screen. Another smaller role also played brilliantly, is Jason Mamoa’s charismatic Duncan Idaho, a swordsmaster for the house of Atreides with cheeky humour and a curious, nomadic heart. In all, the cast all live up to their renown, bringing their star-power to fill the plot and stunning visuals with stellar performances. 

Characters and actors aside, what’s most notable about Dune is that it is a feast for the eyes of its audiences. The cinematography is nigh on breath-taking, with sprawling scenes of Jordan, where much of the film was shot, capturing Arrakis in all of its brutal beauty, as well as detailed close ups and striking shots, a memorable example being Paul, the collar of his dark coat upturned, his head bowed as he broodily walks along the beach of his home planet Caladan, ships ascending into the grey sky behind him as they leave for Arrakis. It’s clear that cinematographer Greig Fraser thrived in the creation of Dune’s world and the result is a movie that feels like pure cinema. With music from the legendary Hans Zimmer—an oftentimes hair-rising symphony that skilfully builds on the film’s tension and drama—the experience of watching Dune is all consuming; glorious shots, sharp direction, a strong plot and an equally strong cast make this one of the best films delivered this year. 

Hetta Johnson

Hetta Johnson (she/her) is a contributing writer and Junior Editor for Cultures at The Oxford Blue. She is in her second year reading English Language and Literature at Worcester College and, when not wandering Oxford or with her nose in a book, can be found in the countryside of Northamptonshire.