During the very first Melbourne lockdown, I ordered a bunch of books online. One of those books was Frank Herbert’s 1965 epic masterpiece, Dune. Holding it in my hand for the first time was an experience in itself; it was hefty, both literally and figuratively. I was holding so much of science fiction history in my hand in holding that book — it just felt powerful.
Here’s the part where I’d love to say I read the whole thing and it changed my life, but honestly, I laboured my way to the halfway point and just gave up. It wasn’t bad — there were some truly great moments, and it deserves all the respect it has garnered and then some. Perhaps it just wasn’t the right time.
Recently though, I was lucky enough to attend a preview screening of the film, and unlike the book, I was gripped from the very beginning to the closing credits. That’s two hours and 35 minutes of pure cinema for those playing at home, and honestly, I almost wish it was three times longer. I genuinely can’t wait to see it again.
I was fortunate enough to see it on the big screen — in a real-life cinema, an experience I will never take for granted again. Sure the popcorn is nice, and being around real people is a lovely change of pace, but they’re not the reasons you should see Dune at the cinema — they’re great bonuses, sure, but Dune is a cinematic masterpiece, and seeing it in anything less than an actual movie theatre would be a crime against art, my friend. Here are just a few reasons why.
It’s a love letter to cinema
Director Denis Villeneuve first read Dune 40 years ago as a 14-year-old and fell in love with it. He knew exactly what he was going for coming into the project; he’s had this movie in his mind basically his whole life — and boy does it show.
He said in an interview that he kept in mind the millions of diehard fans of the book all across the world and aimed to please them, but most of all he wanted to please the biggest diehard fan of the book, the one who would criticise him most if he fell short — himself.
“Dune for me is a love letter to the big screen,” he said. “That’s the way it was dreamed, that’s the way it was designed, and that’s the way it was achieved — and that’s the way I hope people will experience.”
“There were numerous big scale scenes, and I wanted to shoot as much as possible on camera,” he adds. Super refreshing in a world of stale CGI superhero fight scenes that are so cut and paste, so boring — and perhaps their biggest crime? So forgettable. In this stale, oversaturated landscape, Dune is a truly welcome breath of fresh air.
Dune is a film about many things, but ultimately, it’s a film about the triumph of the human spirit — and Villeneuve captures this theme masterfully, and in doing so, himself triumphs. Take a bow my man, you created a piece of art that will be talked about for decades, at the absolute least.
The set design
Set design makes or breaks a film. With Dune, Villeneuve did his utmost to create real environments for actors to really shine in.
“When a director wants to keep his grounding and wants to be as practical as possible — that’s a gift because you’re able to feed off your environment and bring a scene to life,” said Timothée Chalamet in a promo for the film.
How did they make this happen? It all started with grand, ambitious, and absolutely gorgeous concept art by Deak Ferrand, and with that framework, the Dune team proceeded to build sets to the literal edges of the stages available.
There is no AI in the Dune universe, it was long banned after artificially intelligent machines were wiped out in a series of devastating wars dubbed the Butlerian Jihad. And so, because of this, the sets have an ancient, regal feeling to them. The iconic scene where Paul Atreides first meets the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother, played by the legendary Charlotte Rampling, is shot in a grand ancient-looking library which could easily be set in the long past, not the distant future — a feature of many scenes throughout the film.
The sets of Dune become the ultimate playground for the iconic cast to show the full breadth of their abilities. Timothée, Zendaya, Jason Mamoa, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, and Stellan Skarsgård, all shine in the film, and it’s thanks in part to the perfect environment the set design of Dune gives them to showcase why they are truly some of the best in the biz.
It’s this kind of inspired set-design, combined with the grand real-world desert landscapes utilised to create a real sense of Arrakis’ scope that transports you right there alongside Paul Atreides as he grapples with the outer turmoil of Arrakis, and the inner turmoil of his own identity.
A lot is made of the film’s imagery and cinematography, and for good reason, Dune is an absolute triumph of cinema — but one of the main reasons for this is the incredible soundtrack that permeates deep into your senses throughout the whole affair. It’s visceral, it completely captures you, hypnotises you, and transports you out of your seat and onto planet Arrakis.
The first thing that greets you when you watch Dune isn’t a grand landscape, or an impeccably designed set — it’s pure sound. A black screen, with a powerful indescribable and distorted voice with a simple one-sentence subtitle — “dreams are messages from the deep” — this sets the tone for the whole film: sound is key.
The sound of Dune is as mesmerising as it is complex. Hans Zimmer‘s work on Dune is some of his best ever, creating a sound that genuinely feels like it’s from thousands of years in the future. It’s a truly unique triumph that utilises layers of voices, singing, chanting, distortion, whispers, shouts, throat singing, and a vast array of instruments created specifically to bring the world of Dune to life.
The score and sound design of Dune play a huge role in making it the masterpiece that it is, and experiencing it in anything less than a full theatrical cinema experience would be such a damn shame.
And of course, who could forget the main event? The giant friggin’ worms. These things are huge, my friend. 400 metres in length, and don’t even get me started on the girth. My god, the sheer girth. If nothing in the aforementioned has spurred you to see Dune on the big screen as soon as humanly possible, then please just do yourself a favour and see it for the worm. The glorious, all-powerful worm.
But you must not fear the worm, child. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings obliteration. You must face your fear; permit it to pass over you and through you. And when it has gone past, you will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only you will remain.
In conclusion. Dune is fucking sick, and you’d be an absolute fool to see it anywhere other than a full-fledged cinema. And you’re not a fool, are you?
Of course you’re not, you read Pedestrian.
Catch Dune in Aussie cinemas on December 2.