‘Dune’ rides the sand to success

Film version of cult-classic sci-fi book receives positive reviews


Photo courtesy of Javierblas

The Wadi Rum desert in Jordan served as one of many filming locations for the science fiction film, “Dune,” which is ranked among the top 10 films of 2021 by staff writer Hallie Chong.

With excellent cinematography, eye-catching graphics, and eerie music, the production of “Dune” exceeds expectations. 

The plot and character development, however, are shallow in comparison to the film’s intricate visual aspects.

Leading stars Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, and Rebecca Ferguson, the long-awaited film “Dune” based on Frank Herbert’s novel “Dune” finally hit theaters last month.

Directed by Denis Villenueve, the film follows a young prince, Paul Atreides (Chalamet), on a journey to save his kingdom as he navigates his true identity as possible savior of Arrakis. 

As son of Leto (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Ferguson), Paul has a big responsibility in his hands: the future of House Atreides. 

When Paul travels to the desertland of Arrakis with his family, the Fremen, inhabitants of Arrakis, suspect that he is the prophesied “chosen one”. 

Faced with attacks, betrayals, and threats from the Fremen, Paul is left to fend for himself and pave the way for his destiny.

Science fiction films call for expert CGI and impressive scenery, aspects that Villenueve expertly delivers through direct filming at the dunes of Abu Dhabi. Through brilliant portrayals of fictional spaceships and otherworldly kingdoms, the film’s visuals do not disappoint. 

Hans Zimmer’s dramatic and intense soundtrack enhances the creeping atmosphere of the film. Interestingly, the lack of sound and music in select scenes also present contrast that never leave the audience bored. 

But despite the exceptional production, the plot is relatively unclear and difficult to understand. The rules of magic and mysticism are not explained in the least bit, leaving the audience to make far-fetched assumptions throughout the film. 

As for the characters, the cast elicits multiple responses. Chalamet, known for previously starring in “Call Me By Your Name” and “Little Women”, is an unexpected choice to bring to an action packed science fiction film. Though his image is fit for the role of a 15-year-old prince, Chalamet’s fighting scenes are somewhat awkward. Unfortunately, his casting may have been to attract young fans.

Frustratingly, Chalamet is not the only big name used for publicity. Zendaya, while appearing in virtually all promotions for the film and being showcased as a main character, only receives seven minutes of air time as her character Chani in the ambitious 2 hour and 35 minute film. Short clips of Chani in Paul’s visions seem like randomly inserted perfume advertisements. 

But the film’s plot raises questions as it follows a search for a precious resource in Arrakis, a planet designed to evoke Arab motifs. The plot draws close comparisons to the search for oil in Iraq. But after taking a closer look at the messianic themes of the film, a worrisome aspect arises. With Paul paralleling Muhammad, the story turns into a White savior narrative and raises controversy over possible cultural appropriation.

As the film covers only about one third of Herbert’s novel, it comes to an abrupt conclusion, leaving the audience feeling unfulfilled. “Dune” serves almost as an introduction to the future films in the recently-announced series. Though the film may be lacking in depth, its external characteristics are enough to draw crowds in and keep them for the following films. 

After all, this is only the beginning.