MOVIE REVIEW: New “Dune” adaptation is visually exceptional

Jackson Stange, Staff Writer

As the film industry has evolved, so has the style of films themselves—movies become more advanced, more colorful, more experimental. A recent film that has become a litmus test for mood and aesthetic is “Dune”, an adaption of the 1965 Frank Herbert novel of the same name. 

“Dune” is a difficult novel to adapt, partly due to its length and pacing, but also due to its abstract elements. However, Denis Villeneuve does an incredible job of capturing the story’s sci-fi nature in the film. Maintaining the cryptic factor of the events unfolding around Paul and his family, the writing is sparse and hushed. “Dune” (2021) is carried by its music and visuals, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just what occurred when adapting a very complicated and admittedly dense novel. 

This isn’t the first time “Dune” has been adapted; David Lynch’s 1984 version is the most famous. While it did have that legendary David Lynch style, it was also a dense film, something you can get away with in text, not so easily on screen. “Dune” (2021) takes a much different approach, letting the sound and visuals speak for the film, much less exposition. The film is drenched in atmospheric shots, from simple shadows cast over a small room, to dozens of ships exploding around each other. 

You can see every spec of dust in the film as it coalesces into a grand display of color and action. Within each faction of the story, the lighting and contrast change, with the Atreides drenched in light grays and greens, while the Harkonnens is a dark and dense black. 

Visuals aren’t just effects and shots though, this goes for the design of the characters as well, who are excellently displayed in the story. Every character’s clothing and looks show their personality: the Atreides are fine and honorable like medieval knights, and the Harkonnens are oily and ugly with snow white skin and large round faces. To put it simply, this film is incredible looking. 

Good looking visuals would be fine on it’s own, but it combines it with the sound design and music to really capture the magic of Frank Herbert’s novel. Legendary director Han Zimmer was brought along for this project and he doesn’t hold anything back for this. Seeing spaceships crash or fly while his score is playing keeps the narrative thrilling and exciting. 

The score can get overdone at times however, but for the most part it paces itself to the more important parts of the film. This makes it all the more exciting to know that when you hear the score begin to swell, you know something is going to happen. 

Now, “Dune” (2021) is the first part in the series, so it ends roughly halfway through the first “Dune” novel. Even without that, this film does leave a lot to be desired, especially if you haven’t read the novel. Due to the aforementioned sparse dialogue, many of the scenes could leave a viewer very confused, with many of the major factors driving the narrative being almost completely unexplained. 

Visuals and sound do make up for the pure entertainment, but good music and shots can’t explain some of the more esoteric aspects of a story. Simply put “Dune” (2021) is not so easy to understand or ultimately fulfilling, but it is still visually and auditorily stunning.

(Originally published 11/5/21. Updated 11/17/21.)