jing @ 🌞💃🏻’s review published on Letterboxd:
It’s hard not to love a film you’ve been wanting to see for over a year, and it’s even harder when it’s one of the most anticipated films in years. Dune is, unsurprisingly, a stellar spectacle (no pun intended) with its stacked cast and crew, picturesque landscapes and chill-inducing soundtrack.
“DUNE. PART ONE.” Right from the beginning, Villeneuve suggests with little ambiguity that one film won’t be enough to do justice to this epic. Centered around a boy’s coming-of-age as The One, the Lisan al Gaib, Dune isn’t afraid to use the full array of cinematic elements to show us just how massive its world is: Wide shots of the desert follow frames filled with legions of fighters, thunderous explosions follow dazzling fight scenes, and stunned moments of silence follow the reverberating sound of drums and chants. And while this movie does undoubtedly exceed at depicting the challenging dimensions of Frank Herbert’s world, it lacks one thing essential to a story like this one: emotion.
Denis Villeneuve’s films have fascinated me like few others have. His worlds have the scale of sci-fi blockbusters, his emotions have the intricacy of moving dramas, his writing has the complexity of psychological thrillers. Villeneuve is able to carefully interweave all of these different aspects to create films with complex themes and questions, all while never failing to deliver a visual spectacle. Compared to Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve, to me, seems to approach his characters with more care and his stories with more sensitivity. He gives us time to get to know his individuals and their motivations, and he doesn’t hesitate to linger on some scenes to let their full emotional impact unfold. Unfortunately, this is where Dune falls short.
This film misses a lot of the sensibility and depth I had hoped to get from Villeneuve. Dune always seems to be chasing something, almost sprinting from one scene to the next, thus giving us little time to understand the feelings underneath its surface. It rarely pauses to stay just a little longer with the faces on screen and the environments they’re in. I found it difficult to find the depth of the character Paul is described as in the book, and if I hadn’t read the story, many of his motivations and his feelings would’ve seemed unclear to me.
A story as complex as Dune feeds on its emotional impact to keep the audience engaged with the story and its characters, and as an easy crier, I hadn’t expected for Dune not to squeeze a single tear out of me. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to describe this film as bland, the lack of emotion in its writing does occasionally make this movie feel like every other sci-fi movie. Dune’s writing improves a little over the course of the film, but some of the dialogue stays unconvincing, especially during conversations meant to sound like lighthearted banter. These “ha-ha” moments add very little, otherwise much-needed substance to the relationships of the characters. Instead, to me, they are unfortunately more cringe-worthy than amusing.
The cinematography quite literally mirrors the lack of depth of the writing. Many dialogues, specifically the scenes set outside, consist of closeups of the characters’ faces with very shallow depth of field. As a result, this undermines Dune’s struggle to place the characters in relation to each other and their environment.
Despite its shortfalls, Dune doesn’t fail to meet all the expectations surrounding it—it’s ambitious, majestic and heroic. However, it doesn’t exceed these expectations either, and unfortunately fails to acknowledge the depth beneath its sumptuous surface.
I’m rewatching Dune later today! This first watch was a little disappointing, to be honest, but I’m definitely gonna be focusing more on the aspects I genuinely liked in my next review. I also logged the films I watched at Cannes and created a Cannes, Ranked list, so check that out if you like!