Festivals, Reviews

TIFF 2021: ‘Dune’—A Magnificent Cinematic Introduction to an Upcoming Sequel

After a year of delays, it’s finally here. One of the most anticipated films of this year, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune hits the fall festival circuit. Fans of the book and cinephiles alike have waited for this film to grace the screens as the pandemic delayed its release and controversies about its HBO Max debut boiled over. I was lucky enough to nab a screening at the Cinesphere, the first permanent IMAX theatre in the world.

Adapted from the novel by Frank Herbert, Dune: Part One (as the title card presents) follows Frank Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), as his father Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) accepts an assignment to govern the planet of Arrakis, the only planet that holds the resource called “the spice.” This powerful drug makes the planet the most unstable place in the universe. There are indigenous inhabitants of Arrakis, the Fremen, who persist in their own autonomy; and with all the political minefield the planet presents, it also hosts a harsh environment and large unforgiving sandworms.

The star-studded cast gives good performances, but with all the visual display, acting is not the element of the film that pulls audiences in. Nevertheless, Rebecca Ferguson’s portrayal of Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother, was the scene-stealer. Chalamet, meanwhile, gives a lukewarm portrayal; a familiar performance to those who have watched his body of work in the past few years. Other than Chalamet, another lure of the film is Zendaya, who plays Chani, appearing in most of the promos. But her character only appears in a few scenes, suggesting a bigger involvement in part two.

Timothée Chalamet as Paul is a familiar performance to those who have watched his body of work in the past few years

Performances aside, Dune is visual pageantry to behold. People were not wrong when they said this film is to be watched on the big screen, preferably on IMAX. (Then again, with special circumstances, seeing Dune in theaters will be a challenge to a lot of people.) The film also delivers one of the most epic scores of the year by Hans Zimmer, who perfectly captures the grandeur of the setting and the palpitating moments as danger looms to each character; a challenge for Jonny Greenwood who delivered amazing scores for this year’s Spencer and The Power of the Dog. Narrative-wise, though, Dune was lacking. For those viewing it from home, the impact the film had on theatrical audiences wouldn’t be the same.

Dune is a technical wonder that begs to be seen on the big screen. From the beautiful setting of the titular dunes to the amazing production design of the buildings the characters inhabit, an IMAX screening suits it. Yet, even with a strong cast and an expansive source material, its story is lacking; which hopefully gets resolved in the upcoming sequel already confirmed by Villeneuve. As Chani says, “This is only the beginning.”

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