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Dune: A Review | Her Campus


The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Spoiler Warning

After much anticipation, the 2021 film adaptation of Dune has finally reached the silver screen. The film features a star-studded cast, including Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, and Stellen Skasgård. In the directorial sector, the renowned Denis Villeneuve sits at the helm of the film, with many notable films already under his belt such as Blade Runner 2049, Arrival, Sicario, and Prisoners. The score for Dune was masterfully curated by world-famous composer Hans Zimmer, who has, without fail, composed scores that enhance the films they accompany with flying colors. With the well-known cast and clear talent at hand, film nerds and the general public alike have been on the edge of their seats to see this 2021 futuristic science fiction film. 

In some ways, I had many expectations for Dune, but at the same time, I also had none. On the one hand, I am a fan of nearly every person cast for the film, have long admired Villeneuve’s work, and am a notorious film soundtrack enthusiast and therefore, a Hans Zimmer-lover. On the other hand, I had a very limited notion of the plot or general background regarding the novel and its previous adaptations, which leads me to my disclaimer: I have never read Dune by Frank Herbert, nor have I seen its 1984 film adaptation. With my limited precursory knowledge, I hope I can provide a fresh perspective on the narrative overall, with a review that is based solely on the content that was laid before me in those two and a half hours of film traffic. 

The Soundtrack

Hans Zimmer does not often provide a soundtrack that doesn’t adequately compliment the film it accompanies, and I find that he does an incredible job with Dune. He captures the drama, the agony, and everything in between. From the unpredictability of the desert to the youthful turbulence of Paul and his incessant visions — all of these aspects and more are perfectly captured in a score that creatively combines numerous musical genres. Zimmer utilizes decorative orchestral undertones paired with the occasional dissonant synthesizer. Not to mention the bold but perfect use of bagpipes in the ‘House Atreides’ theme, which serve as a very refreshing contrast to the futuristic tone set by the synthesizers and orchestral backdrops. Zimmer’s choice to use bagpipes also successfully sets apart House Atreides as the leading protagonists; the odd ones out in the very ominous league of the Imperium and the people that loyally serve it (House Harkonnen, for example). The Atreides’ are categorized as a clear threat to the power of the Imperium, and the bagpipes really gives the Atreides’ sober dedication to order-following and nobility of character a pride-stirring vibrancy and, overall, more color. 

In his piece ‘Holy War’, Zimmer uses quiet and mysterious yet sharp unintelligible whispers — really evoking his famed piece ‘The Plagues’ in the animated classic The Prince of Egypt (1998). This use of whispers is impressive in its musical purpose relating to the plot — for throughout the film the audience learns that despite the honor and loyalty the Atreides’ dedicate themselves to, they are consistently lied to and plotted against by enemies from all sides. There are secrets — whispers — that are kept from House Atreides, and this is portrayed very cleverly through Zimmer’s score. 

Additionally, throughout the score there are intense, battle-cry-like laments in a language unintelligible, evoking a great emotional intensity. They are seen most frequently when Paul experiences his dreams and visions. To sum them up, the laments are harsh, loud, and borderline uncomfortable; people sitting beside me in the cinema shrank back at the noise, and I even felt a headache stir in me while listening to the last two minutes of Zimmer’s piece ‘Paul’s Dream’. Be not misled — I think this is a very intriguing artistic choice. With this discomfort, the soundtrack is musically communicative and strengthens the audience’s understanding of the emotional and physical pain that Paul endures for much of Dune. While in some ways hard to listen to, such an addition enhances the experience of the film in a way that is both striking and admirable.  

I believe Zimmer’s score for Dune is a remarkable one. The score evokes a sense of urgency and uncertainty, but at the same time leaves its audience feeling in awe, and on the edge of their seats for what is to come, both cinematically and musically, in part two of the Dune franchise. As always — well done, Zimmer. 

Zendaya 

Based on comments from friends, on social media, and elsewhere, there seems to be a well-rounded consensus on Zendaya and her role in part one of Dune. The trailer that was released for the film grossly misled its audiences to believe that Zendaya’s character, Chani, would be one of the movie’s major players. She takes up much of the screen time in the trailer alongside Timothée Chalamet, and yet in the actual motion picture she gets no more than seven minutes of screen time in 2 hours and 35 minutes of total run time. 

This appears to have been a marketing strategy to cast a wider net, to draw people in to watch the Emmy-award-winning actress play the well-beloved Timothée Chalamet’s love interest. Such a choice in editing to keep Zendaya at the front and center of the film’s main advertisements may also be an attempt for Villeneuve to avoid a loss similar to that of Blade Runner 2049, which had a budget of $150 million and made only $92 million domestically and $167 million internationally — even with Ryan Gosling as the film’s principal character and Harrison Ford reprising his famous role as Rick Deckhard. 

One other key complaint I have is about the way in which Zendaya’s character, Chani, is portrayed in the majority of her appearances. Most of Paul’s dreams are about Chani and her home Arrakis, whether he is back on Caladan or on Arrakis in the flesh. Much of the shots we see of Chani in these dreams are what I would call ‘perfume commercial-y,’ for lack of a better term. At one point, she is seen standing at the top of a hill at sunset, dressed in flowy clothes as the wind blows in her hair. She is facing away from the camera, but then looks back over her shoulder, smiling with her piercing CGI blue eyes. When we encounter Chani in her physical form for the first time; however, she is cunning, matter-of-fact, and stoic. She wears no dress, but the stillsuit that Paul also wears (there are a few dream sequences where she wears the stillsuit, but for the majority of those clips she is seen either gazing longingly at, or on the verge of kissing, Paul). Conclusively, for most of the film we are given this, in my opinion, false ethereal version of Chani. Now, this can be read in a couple ways. Such a clear difference in character could be traced back to the possibility that Chani is overly idealized and over feminized through Paul’s dream lens; through his ‘male gaze’ so to speak (even in the year 10,191). That may be a stretch, but that claim could be a valid defense for such shots. Gender related psychology aside, the fact remains that dream Chani and real Chani are two different people — stillsuit versus dress aside — and I am left questioning whether this stark difference was intentional or accidental.

Timothée

When I first heard about this role for Timothée Chalamet, I was actually excited. The cinematographic and futuristic concept of the film was not only one that I was looking forward to seeing Villeneuve curate, but I was also intrigued to see Timothée Chalamet in such a backdrop. Overall, I had very high hopes to see what kind of complex character he would have the opportunity to create. Before Dune, audiences were yet to see Chalamet take on the science fiction cinematic world, which proves to be a very different one than the realm by which his successes, such as Call Me By Your Name, Ladybird, and others, exist in. All in all, I was curious to see what this genre would bring out in him. 

To start, I think it’s important to establish a couple of things about Timothée Chalamet that I think will make my opinions about his role in the film a little more palatable. I’ve heard Timothée described by some as a ‘sickly-looking Victorian orphan,’ and by others as ‘a Greek god’ — two extremely different descriptions that are a blunt reminder that the way we perceive beauty is ultimately relative. However, the fact that he can be both at the same time to such a widespread amount of people does say something about the versatility of his physique, but I am not quite sure if such a claim of versatility can be applied to his acting. The bottom line: Timothée is talented, and I have seen him in a great number of films where his presence not only made sense, but made the film better. However in Dune, it really felt like he was the one not like the others; like he did not belong. My conclusion: Timothée Chalamet does not belong in the science fiction genre of film and in my opinion, he did not belong in Dune

I cannot really put into precise words how I felt in those first few scenes of Dune when Chalamet made his appearance. In general, it felt like he was very out of place not only amongst the actors starring in the film alongside him, but like I stated before — the futuristic science fiction setting just didn’t feel right. I made a serious effort to appreciate his presence in Dune, and was satisfied by some moments, but most of the time I felt an overwhelming sense of disappointment. Timothée Chalamet is undoubtedly talented, but his acting style simply does not fit. He just doesn’t have the range. 

Here’s the thing. I enjoyed Timothée in the newly released Wed Anderson film, The French Dispatch. His character was funny, sassy, and determined — a lot like Timothée himself. Chalamet’s confidence and overall likability appeals to audiences, making it no surprise that he has grown so much in his popularity — it’s simply enjoyable to watch. As Hollywood’s golden boy, he has millions of fans who would all pay good money to see his films – let alone see him in the flesh. He draws in crowds as the awkward, relatable, but talented 25-year-old who happens to be the youngest person ever nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor since 1939. So, why does he fall short in Dune?

Timothée Chalamet thrives where the films are not so decorated, where the human experience can be explored. His best performances were arguably in Call Me By Your Name and Beautiful Boy. Chalamet’s ability to dive deep and express the rawness of human emotion is what makes him a really good actor. To try and put him into performative roles like the ones he played in both The King and Dune don’t play to his strengths at all, while it seems like directors like Villeneuve have aimed to piggyback off of the popularity Chalamet has gained in recent years in order to draw in larger audiences. Timothée Chalamet was never meant to be a ‘chosen one’ like Paul, or a king like Henry. Timothée Chalamet is so popular because he is so human. I just wish that Hollywood casting directors were not so concerned with feeding off of his fame for good turnouts, and that Chalamet knew himself and his skills enough to play where he is strongest. 

However, acting versatility aside, one of the biggest issues I had with Timothée’s portrayal of Paul Atreides may not entirely be his fault. At the start of the film, Paul is a subpar fighter; he is clearly still a student of combat. He shows promise, but little progress in being able to best his enemies. Then, with what feels like out of nowhere, by the end of the film Paul is able to defeat and kill the most skilled fighter in the Fremen group that he and Lady Jessica encounter on Arrakis. At the beginning of the film, Paul is happy-go-lucky, unaware of the events that would change his life as he knew it forever. Toward the end of the film, however, he embodies a learnéd stoicness as he looks after his mother while they venture through the desert of Arrakis. Overall, there was little to no transition from this old Paul to the new one. There is no doubt that ‘tough times’ can change a person, and if somebody used this to explain such a development in a narrative context, I would believe it. But the film didn’t make me believe this — it didn’t show its audiences this. This clear development that occurred in Paul felt rushed, unclear, and unplanned — in some ways it even felt lazy. What made Paul go from lost to resourceful? Where did this immense improvement in his fighting and in his ability to use the Voice come from? This may be at fault of the writing and cutting scenes from the novel that could have better built this bridge between the old and new Paul, but in general it just felt like there was a lot missing with Chalamet’s portrayal of Paul Atreides in Dune, and I think the writing and editing as they constructed his character is a large part of it. 

I am hoping that as the franchise of Dune grows, that Villeneuve will make necessary adjustments, or at least work more with Chalamet, so that he may fully embody the Paul Atreides that we all dream of without any feeling of displacement or discomfort. 

General Consensus 

I have heard and sifted through a number of mixed reviews about Dune. In one camp, there are the avid Frank Herbert and original adaptation fans who are aware of the nuances that make up the franchise, and are pleased to see it revived by one of the most well-renowned directors of the day. In another camp, you have the general public, who for the most part, ‘went to go see Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet make out,’ a quote from a friend of mine who was undoubtedly let down by the lack of non-dream interaction between the two co-stars. In that same camp are the people who were led on by an action-packed trailer, which masqueraded the film as a blockbuster with an all-star cast. I think it is safe to say that Dune, while dramatic and intense, is no blockbuster. In fact, the majority of the film’s running time is spent in ominous journeying, discussion of vague galactic politics (which has points only reliably made clear by previous knowledge of Frank Herbert’s novel or its 1984 adaptation), and beautiful cinematography (always a saving grace in Villeneuve’s films — he has a keen eye for talented cinematographers). I have heard it been called ‘boring’ and ‘dragging on’ by friends who have seen the film. I, however, do not think Dune was at all boring. It definitely requires an extra attention span, but I think it is a film worth revering and in some categories, I think the franchise will go far. 

There are a lot of different opinions circulating right now about Dune, and the one I have provided in this article is only my own. Of course I have a healthy amount of criticism for the film, but I nonetheless left the cinema in awe and excited for what is to come. I will be on the edge of my seat for the next year to see what Denis Villeneuve, Hans Zimmer, Zendaya, and Timothée Chalamet have in store for their audiences. 



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