Over the past few weeks, a number of tentpole releases have hit cinema screens, including No Time to Die, Halloween Kills, and Venom: Let There Be Carnage. This week, another significant movie arrives in the shape of Dune – the big-budget adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel of the same name.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Dune stars Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Jason Momoa, and Stellan Skarsgård. Dune is a science-fiction epic, which tells the story of a conflict on the desert planet of Arrakis, and is one of the most anticipated movies of the year.

Image: ©Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures

In the film, Duke Leto Atreides, the head of the House of Atreides, accepts a position on the planet of Arrakis. His job is to oversee the mining of a valuable resource known as Spice, and he is keen to complete his mission successfully.

Taking his family to the planet, including his son Paul, Leto begins to familiarise himself with the harsh landscape. This includes getting a clear understanding of the planet’s sandworms, which roam the dunes that cover Arrakis, and also becoming aware of all the customs of the natives.  

But despite his best efforts to ensure the mining operation continues at apace, Leto’s appointment is not all that it seems, and soon the House of Atreides finds itself under attack from a rival. But can this rival bring down the House, or will there be resistance from Paul, the heir to the Atreides name?  

Image: ©Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures

Before I begin this review, I feel it is important to explain my experience with Dune, or rather, my lack of experience with Dune. Prior to seeing this movie today, I knew next-to-nothing about the story, the characters, or the world of Arrakis.

I have never read the 1964 novel, of which this movie is based on, and I have never watched the 1984 film (also called Dune), which is directed by David Lynch. As a child, I did have an action figure of one of the characters from the movie – a character played by Sting no less – but owning this toy never encouraged me to watch the movie.

I have also never watched the TV mini-series, Frank Herbert’s Dune, which aired in 2000, or the 2003 sequel mini-series, Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune. I was aware of both of these productions at the time of their broadcast, but I did not check them out.

The truth is, I have never had any real desire to watch Dune. I have had ample opportunity to connect with at least one version of the story, be it through the book, the film, or through the TV series, but I have simply never wanted to.

The main barrier for me is that I have always believed Dune looks and sounds rather dull. Whether this was true or not, that is the impression I have always had, and it is an impression that remained with me through the years, and even through the promotion of this latest big screen adaptation.

When Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures released the first trailer for Dune, I was unimpressed. Sure, there were clearly some great-looking visuals on display in the teaser footage, but there were also endless shots of sand and people in formal clothing.

None of this promotional material excited me. The sand shots instantly reminded me of Attack of the Clones (2002) or John Carter (2012), two movie comparisons which did not do the marketing any favours, while the costuming looked rather unappealing and somewhat stuffy.

Sure, the film was being promoted around an impressive cast, but previous versions of this story have also boasted big names too. The Lynch movie counted Patrick Stewart, Kyle MacLachlan, and Sting amongst its cast, while the two mini-series boasted the likes of William Hurt, Ian McNeice, Susan Sarandon, and James McAvoy.

While star names certainly can win me over and encourage me into the cinema, with Reminiscence and Free Guy being two examples of this in recent months, a high-profile cast isn’t always enough for me. Seeing a long list of well-known actors attached to a project isn’t something that encourages me to purchase a ticket.

So, what did convince me to see this latest version of Dune? Well, it was a name, but it had nothing to do with the cast. The reason I headed to the cinema today to watch Dune is purely because of director Denis Villeneuve.

I loved Villeneuve’s work on the 2013 thriller, Prisoners; I was suitably impressed with his handling of the science-fiction movie, Arrival (2016); and I believe he excelled with the 2017 Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049. While I came out of that movie not entirely sure if I cared about it or not (and I’m still not sure), Villeneuve did something I didn’t think was possible – he made a Blade Runner sequel that slotted in rather snuggly alongside the original.

All of the above movies are what got me to the cinema today to watch Dune. The promotional material didn’t do it; the cast didn’t do it; and all of the previous adaptations didn’t do it – it was purely because of the director. 

This isn’t me saying I’m a huge Villeneuve fanboy, because I’m not. But I understand this director knows how to bring a movie together, so if Dune is ever going to get my attention, now is the time to give it a go.

It is such a shame then that despite Villeneuve giving it his all, and delivering something which I expect many fans of Dune will like, this movie did not win me over. It has not converted me into a Dune devotee, nor did it really satisfy me in any way.

Dune is not a bad movie, but I believe it is not something which works for those who aren’t already invested in some way. If you are a newcomer, I recommend approaching with caution, because I don’t think you will care for it.

Image: ©Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures

There are some good points to Dune, and I will get to them momentarily. However, I feel it is best to get my criticisms out of the way first.

Dune is a plodding, dry, achingly slow picture, which takes forever to get anywhere and when it does, the end result is not worth it. Scenes drag on for lengthy periods of time, characters are largely uninteresting, and so much of the movie is filled with exposition.

The first hour in particular is bogged down with so much dialogue that it becomes a chore to get through. I understand that much of this dialogue is included for the purpose of world-building, but it does nothing to bring excitement to the screen.

Moving into the second hour of the movie things begin to pick up a touch, but despite some slight elevation, the film never takes off. The only time Dune mildly segues into anything even remotely interesting is when action scenes are introduced, and even these sequences fall largely flat.

Yes, the action is decent, but it is nothing outstanding or original. There are better fight sequences in other movies (and TV shows), and even the scenes of spectacle are unimaginative.

The best action sequence is reserved for a sandworm attack, which takes place midway through the film. This is the strongest sequence by default, but this is because the others are largely uninspiring.

And speaking of uninspiring, while the film is well shot, this whole movie comes across as rather dour, incredibly grim, and pretty damn miserable. I understand the tone is a reflection of the hostile conditions on Arrakis, but there is not one single moment of joy or lightness in the whole picture.

As such, watching Dune is a relentlessly depressing slog. It all feels rather downbeat, occasionally it borders into pretentiousness, and the end result is something which is at best watchable and at worst thunderously boring.

Image: ©Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures

For those unaware, this movie runs to just over two-and-a-half-hours in length, and boy, does it feel it. By the time it was nearing the final 30-minutes, I was more than ready to call it a day.

In total, there were six people in my screening, including myself. As soon as the end credits began to roll, myself and another audience member were out of our chairs like a shot (we’d clearly both had enough), while another person seemed to suddenly wake up after nodding off at some point during the film.

This person definitely watched some of the movie, as I noticed they went for a bathroom break after about an hour into the film. However, upon their return, I can only presume that with an empty bladder there was nothing stopping them from falling into a deep slumber.

For all I know, this might have been the best sleep they ever had, and it was all thanks to Dune. Maybe they should return for the sequel, for yet more sleep – that is, if the sequel ever happens.

And this brings me neatly onto something that is very important to mention. While this movie is being heavily marketed as Dune, the onscreen title for this picture is Dune Part One – because this is the first of a two-part adaptation of the original novel.

If this movie does well at the box-office, then Part Two will follow. So, those going to see this film should be warned that it ends rather abruptly, to leave the door wide open for more to come.

The open-ended nature of this picture means that Dune (Part One) doesn’t feel whole – which of course, it isn’t. So, some audiences will come out of this movie feeling rather disappointed.

They will be disappointed that they sat through all 156-minutes of the film, only to be left with no major conclusion. And presumably, they will be disappointed they may have to do it all again in a couple of years, just to get to a proper end point.

Of course, the sequel is very much dependent on how much money this film makes at the box office. It’s very difficult to predict what will happen, especially in these COVID times that we find ourselves in, but if I was a betting man, I would say this film will fall short at the box office.

Audiences appear to want light, frothy movies right now (Jungle Cruise, Fast & Furious 9, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings etc), to counteract the difficult times we have all been facing. I’m not entirely convinced that a two-and-a-half-hour movie about spice mining on a drab desert planet is going to cut the mustard.  

For fans of Dune, I hope you get the sequel you desire, but I have a feeling it may not come. Although, if it does, Villeneuve is certainly the person to direct it.

Image: ©Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures

While it is pretty clear I did not have an enjoyable experience with Dune, I genuinely believe that Villeneuve was the best person for this project. Although I am not familiar with the contents of the book, I certainly got the impression he worked tirelessly to recreate the world of Dune on the screen.

Every frame of the movie felt real, with sets and characters that I imagine were lifted directly from the source material. As made clear with his previous movies, especially Blade Runner 2049, this is a director with an eye for detail, and this is something which I feel is one of the more positive notes about Dune.

Image: ©Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures

The casting is also rather positive. There is not one actor in this film that doesn’t put their all into this movie.

Oscar Isaac brings strength and wisdom to the role of Leto, while Rebecca Ferguson is perfectly cast as the somewhat stern Lady Jessica – mother of Paul. Josh Brolin, and Jason Momoa do their very best with what they are given, and Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, and Stellan Skarsgård get to stand around twiddling their moustaches as the bad guys of the picture.

The outstanding cast member is Timothée Chalamet who plays Paul. Chalamet has the most scenes in the movie, often having to carry significant chunks of the film, but not once does he falter.

Chalamet has proved himself in other pictures, so it should come as no surprise that he is so good in this film, and yet, his leading man status did still catch me off guard. He delivers a perfect balance of innocence and bravery in this role, and he is easily the best thing about the whole film.

The only cast member who perhaps stands out for all the wrong reasons is Zendaya, who is barely in this movie. Ignore the trailers, and all those red carpet pictures you’ve seen to help promote this movie, Zendaya gets about ten minutes of screen time and a great deal of this is just shots of her looking aloof.

If you are the world’s biggest Zendaya fan, and you want to see this movie simply for her performance, then I’m afraid you are will be left feeling rather frustrated. She does what she can, but I believe she is merely included in this film as set up for what’s to come, and nothing more.

Image: ©Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures

Outside of the casting, Dune benefits from good (but not amazing) special effects, as well as a very strong score. Hans Zimmer – who recently provided the music for No Time to Die – provides the score here, and is on fine form.

While I think it is highly unlikely I will be returning to Dune any time soon, I will certainly check out the film’s soundtrack again. This is the type of music that helps to convey what is on screen, but can also exist outside of the movie, and I liked it a lot.

And that I’m afraid, is all of the positives I can offer. Despite some bright spots, I was truly underwhelmed by this entire movie.

Although, is underwhelmed really the right word? As I am not a pre-existing fan of Dune, I had no expectations going into this picture; so, I’m not sure that this film could ever really underwhelm me.

What I should say is that I went into this movie not all that bothered about Dune, and I came out of it feeling exactly the same way. Regardless of whether or not Part Two materialises, I can’t say it will bother me in the slightest, because I simply don’t care.

Image: ©Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures

Despite my own personal feelings toward this movie, I do believe there is a market for this picture, and it isn’t just Dune fans. Those who are into densely plotted science-fiction pictures, and stories which revel in world-building, will find something to get lost in.

But as far as mainstream audiences go, I don’t think this film will work for the masses. Those that have a mild interest in sci-fi/fantasy will find Dune far too slow and uninvolving, while those out for something fun and diverting will possibly leave the cinema long before the movie hits its climax.

Dune is an acquired taste. It will develop a loyal following amongst a niche crowd, but let me make one thing very clear, I did not care for it.

Rating: 2 out of 5.