‘Dune’ (2021) toes the line between pompous and brilliant

Dune+%282021%29+features+an+assortment+of+talented+actors+that+function+as+an+ensemble+cast.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+IMDB%29

‘Dune’ (2021) features an assortment of talented actors that function as an ensemble cast. (Photo courtesy of IMDB)

Myles Wolf, Movie Columnist

On the surface, “Dune” (2021) appears to be a feudal war story between two houses, Atreides and Harkonnen, that is told 8,000 years in the future. What makes the story stand out is its focus on environmentalism and ecology.

“Dune” is the first in a two-part adaptation, following Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his family as they are thrust into war over a spice called melange, which gives those who consume it supernatural abilities.

The world this tale inhabits is desolate, bleak and sparse. Vital resources such as water are finite even for those who are royalty. Everyone seems to have their own hidden agenda that can lead to a sudden betrayal, and giant sandworms prevent access to the melange. It’s almost like a parallel version of our world after global warming.

The themes surrounding environmentalism are reflected through the film’s brilliant cinematography. Shots are usually very dark or very bright, creating this image of a world that is constantly uneven and unstable. Sometimes it is difficult to see people and objects, but I feel that this was an intentional choice, as it shrouds the story in an aura of mystery. 

Acclaimed film score composer Hans Zimmer brings a very interesting soundtrack here, but I feel that it is overused and poorly mixed. Every dramatic moment seems to call for the bombastic flourishes of an overly loud vocalist backed by heavy percussion and wind instruments. The problem is it can be difficult to hear the characters talking because the soundtrack is much louder than the actors.

I focus on the visuals and music because they are very central to how this adaptation is told. It seems that despite the prevalence of well-known actors such as Chalamet, Jason Momoa, Zendaya and Oscar Isaac, this is, in many ways, an ensemble cast. Everyone gives a great performance, but characterization is sparse in service of lending more time to the story’s larger themes about the nature of the human condition in an apocalyptic world.

This movie requires a lot of patience and attention to detail. I found it brilliant at times, while at others I found it pompous, demanding more time than its ideas were worth. However, by the last third, the film becomes very engaging. Having read the book, this film excites me, and I know that the journey in part two will be worth the wait.

I do recommend this film for those who are patient and like to grapple with a lot of complicated ideas. Just be sure to bring a good pair of earplugs or noise-canceling headphones to deal with its painful sound mixing.