Dune Is An Auteur’s Vision

A perspective from a newcomer to Frank Herbert’s material

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures

Denis Villeneuve has achieved part 1 of a monumental task, making Dune an engaging cinematic experience. He must be competing for the impossible adaptation Olympics. First, he makes a stunning sequel to Blade Runner and now has made Dune dynamic. Villeneuve understands the power of atmosphere. Similar to Blade Runner 2049, Dune sticks to drawing us in its atmosphere for exceedingly long periods of time. Denis loves his extended takes. There’s enough moments of actors staring into the abyss to riddle any casual viewer. But my God, what an experience.

Not an exposition dump!

How do you make Dune work as a film? It’s an exposition sandworm trap that nearly destroyed the careers of David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky. Frank Herbert’s novel is as thick as a bible with head-spinning terminology. Attempting to navigate the maze of information to put on screen for a feature film is almost impossible. In the words of Dr. Malcolm from Jurassic Park, “he did it. The crazy son of a b**h he did it.”

My knowledge of Dune is that it’s a novel that looks like a dictionary. One filled with spectacular world building but very little character. On those terms, Denis Villenueve made the perfect adaptation. After witnessing the convoluted cheesy mess of David Lynch’s 1984 film, this Dune is miraculously the antithesis of that film on every imaginable level. From the get-go, I understood the Houses. House Atreides is ordered by the emperor to quit their temperate homeworld of Caladan and take up governorship over the desert planet of Arrakis. Arrakis contains “spice,” a unique substance that grants mystical powers. The bad guys are House Harkonnen, run by the physically repulsive Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård). Caught in the middle of a holy war are the occupants of the planet. Stilgar’s (Javier Bardem) people have been taken advantage of by both houses for decades, if not centuries. The plights of the little man don’t matter amidst a universe engulfed by greed.

How far the story goes beyond the ’84 flick would require me to tell you at what time mark to cut the tape. That is how unbelievably dense the story of Dune is. Just imagining someone cramming that much story into a single film is asinine. No wonder why this film works better. It takes its time while respecting ours.

Dry as a desert, but a fascinating mirage

Paul raises his blade to his forehead in salute before a duel.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures

Rumblings of Dune feeling disconnected might stretch across social media. I understand that, but here’s my perspective. Denis Villeneuve’s flaw lies in his precision which is also his strength. In Blade Runner 2049 Ryan Gosling’s performance is entirely reliant on his lack of persona to portray an emotionally robbed replicant. For that exact purpose Ryan gets the job done. Timothée Chalamet’s performance serves its usefulness. Paul Atreides is a man wise beyond his years with a heavy weight cast upon his shoulders. It’s up to the director to make a such a knowledgable young man convincing. In that particular aspect, Chalamet’s natural intellect comes across on screen, making Paul work, but nothing emotionally beyond that. Alternative would be miscast, like folksy Kyle McLaughlin’s portrayal of Paul.

Finally, I get why people are obsessed with the book. Arrakis isn’t a copy and paste of Tatooine; it’s a character itself. Director of photography Greig Fraser uses every square inch of the frame flawlessly to portray the fear Arrakis must instill. Flashes of 2001: A Space Odyssey echoed through my mind when Hans Zimmer’s score plays as the narrator to a visual opera. Films like Dune might validate Denis Villeneuve’s opinion on Marvel. Never from Disney could you find such a singular vision attached to a project.

I love my Marvel movies, but I know when a film’s Mise-en-scène is corporate property. A Marvel picture can have subtext, unpredictable twists, turns, and deep character development. However, every Disney property has and will look the same, because that’s the brand. Disney’s attempt at Dune would fail. And thank God it would or else we wouldn’t get to see a blockbuster that trusts its viewer to this extent.

Patience could be the audience killer

Dressed in still suits, Paul and his mothers survey the desert landscape before them.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures

I don’t know any film in 2021 with this budget that would challenge a crowd’s patience the way Dune does. The director isn’t holding your hand the entire way through. Denis Villeneuve respects his audience’s intelligence. He expects them to embrace the world, then understand it later if they don’t. When the title card reads ‘Part I’  and there’s no part II anywhere in the picture, then the fate of the franchise lies in the hands of the ticket buyers. I say, let the money flow.

Written by Mike Crowley

Mike Crowley is a full member of the Chicago Indie Critics. He periodically produces video content for and writes weekly film reviews for his publication You'll Probably Agree. He also writes content for Film Obsessive from time to time. You can follow him on Twitter, Tik Tok, and Instagram @ypareviews


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  1. Patience?? What utter crap, is that a nice way of saying how boring this film was, 2.5 hours of waffle, the ‘battles’ were power rangers calibre, the acting was wooden and the script terrible, the insectcopters were about the only thing worth watching, Auteur my arse, Villeneuve is a ridiculously overrated film maker, Blade Runner 2049 was awful and so is his Dune vision, if i saw Zendaya whisper ‘Paul’ one more time i’ll scream. A huge case of emperors new clothes for a film that flatly sucks!

  2. “…looks like a dictionary.”
    this is how boring
    the Dune movie was/is.

    how about showing several times what the spice actually does?
    everyone is fighting for it. in a old movie saying : “show the money”.
    (not show me the money….it’s older than that)

    and “why so serious?” all the time with no break.
    yeah, there are no jokes in the Bible and Dune is about religion,
    it will be in Part Two
    since the Kwisatz Haderach
    has to do the Messiah thing he does.

    well, we will do the pirate thing for P2.
    not paying anymore for anymore.

    • I can certainly understand those grievances. “Dune” may not be for everyone since it’s 2.5 hours of setup to Part II where we already know what the payoff will be. Herbert’s novel wasn’t meant to be adapted (especially into a feature film) Denis’ atmospheric style and bare bones breakdown of the material was enough to engage me, but I can certainly see how it may not for many.

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