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Bless the Maker and His water: Denis Villeneuve’s DUNE may actually EXCEED my expectations

July 22, 2021 - 3:47 pm   |   by

All right, we’ll have a bit of additional announcement news for the week tomorrow here at The Bits, and I’ll be spending the afternoon working on a review of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran in 4K UHD, which will be posted then as well.

But today, I want to talk about Denis Villeneuve’s DUNE.

I had the opportunity last night to attend one of Warner and Legendary’s IMAX sneak peek events for the film as a member of the press.

A little background first... I would definitely go so far as to call myself an expert on the subject of science fiction cinema. I’ve been reading literary science fiction my entire life (including DUNE many times), I’m known in some circles to be well-versed on the topic human spaceflight, and I’m a life-long student of science in general. I read physics and astronomy research papers like some people read comic books.

So as I noted in my recent review of Voyagers in 4K, I have certain critical expectations of science fiction films and TV series. Is the story and its science setup plausible, or does it require too many contrivances or conveniences? Is the story logically consistent? Is the world-building credible and convincing? And most importantly, is the story entertaining, engaging, or thought-provoking? The vast majority of genre programming fails on one or more of those criteria. In other words, on both the big and small screen, truly great science fiction is rare. [Read on here...]

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But based on what I saw last night (some of which all of you can now see online below), Denis Villeneuve’s DUNE has the chance to be one of the truly great pieces of science fiction cinema, on the level of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Alien, The Matrix, and the like.

Looking back at his last work, I honestly didn’t want anyone to make a sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. I thought the result could only disappoint. So I was thrilled to discover that Denis’ Blade Runner 2049 proved me wrong. But having now seen the first ten minutes of DUNE, along with the complete spice harvester rescue scene, about a half hour of behind-the-scenes material, and the new trailer—all on a big IMAX screen—I’m prepared to tell you that Denis’ Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 only hint at the magnificence he’s achieved here in this new film.

Think of the look and feel of those two earlier films, matched with the scale and scope of Lawrence of Arabia, and the sheer ambition and attention to detail of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, and you’re in the right ballpark.

Nothing I’ve ever seen before truly felt like it did full justice to Frank Herbert’s original conceptual vision until last night. And I say that as someone who really liked and enjoyed both the David Lynch film and my friend John Harrison’s Sci-Fi channel miniseries.

Denis’ work looks like DUNE, with production design that’s nothing you’ve ever seen before. Think of the alien ship from Arrival, matched with a kind of far-future, Brutalist design ethic, that credibly feels like it belongs in the world of the year 10,191. Denis’ work feels like DUNE, with textured cinematography that takes full advantage of the vast desert landscapes in the spirit of (but not in imitation of) Freddie A. Young’s work on Lawrence of Arabia. And thanks to what promises to be one of the most unique and ground-breaking scores of Hans Zimmer’s career, it sounds like DUNE too. Imagine the deep chanting of a hundred Buddhist monks matched with the piercing cry of choirs of Bene Gesserit witches, set to an orchestra of alien percussion and brass that sounds like didgeridoo from another dimension.

In short, DUNE is out of this world.

There are lots of articles online today that reveal every single detail of the first ten minutes of the film, if you wish to read them, but I don’t want to ruin any of that experience for you here. The shooting script is even out there online (and yes I’ve read it). The point is, my expectations for this film have been high indeed and, thanks to the pandemic, the wait has been long.

But no matter. Suffice it to say that I was genuinely blown away by what I’ve seen.

Herbert’s masterwork is in good hands with Villeneuve. And Denis is absolutely not kidding when he says that the best way to watch this film is going to be on the biggest theater screen possible. I’ll just tell you that the experience of seeing a sandworm attack a spice harvester—with the LFE in the theater shaking the seat beneath me—made the hair on my arms stand on end.

Denis Villeneuve’s DUNE is going to be off the hook.

Here’s the new IMAX trailer to give you just a taste. Make sure to watch it as big and loud as possible...

October 22 cannot possibly come fast enough for me.

Stay tuned...

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