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Dune First Reviews: The Breathtaking Adaptation Fans Have Been Waiting For

Critics say Denis Villeneuve's new take on Frank Herbert's classic novel is a nuanced, well-acted feast for the eyes and ears, even if it only leaves viewers wanting more.

by | September 3, 2021 | Comments

After decades of failed attempts and unsuccessful efforts, Frank Herbert’s Dune has been adapted into one of the most anticipated movies of the year — if not millennia. Does Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) finally do the classic science fiction novel(s) justice? The first reviews of his star-studded and visually epic new movie, also known as Dune: Part One, answer mostly in the affirmative. However, there’s a fairly uniform disappointment in how it ends without an ending.

Here’s what critics are saying about Dune:


Is this the Dune we’ve always wanted?

“Denis Villeneuve’s movie is the film interpretation that fans have been waiting to see for decades.” – Eric Eisenberg, Cinema Blend

“For science fiction devotees, especially those who have long-worshipped Frank Herbert’s dense tome…Villeneuve’s Dune is the adaptation you always dreamed of.” – Ben Travis, Empire Magazine

“[It] honors the source material in the most satisfying way possible. Dune 2021 is a modern-day work of art.” – Jimmy O, JoBlo’s Movie Emporium

“The missing link bridging the multiplex and the arthouse… Good heavens, what a film.” – Xan Brooks, Guardian

“For all its amazing imagery and A-list stars and very cool interpretations of the nerdier aspects of Herbert’s book, this version of Dune doesn’t fully coalesce.” – Scott Collura, IGN


Will it make us forget about David Lynch’s version?

“His Dune is the opposite of Lynch’s, methodical and cerebral, set against pastels and smoke and long stretches of moodiness.” – Roger Friedman, Showbiz 411

“Denis Villeneuve hasn’t succeeded where the likes of David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky have already failed, [but] his Dune is at least uniquely dispiriting.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“I’ll always love Lynch’s Dune, a severely compromised dream-work that (not surprising given Lynch’s own inclination) had little use for Herbert’s messaging. But Villeneuve’s movie is Dune.” – Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com


Dune

(Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures)

Is it a satisfying adaptation?

“This first chapter explores a very complex and detailed story with clarity and style. More importantly, it does so without sacrificing the impressive detail of Frank Herbert’s original vision.” – Jimmy O, JoBlo’s Movie Emporium

“Denis Villeneuve and his collaborators have cracked the code with their approach… extraordinary in its ability to directly translate the source material across mediums without compromise.” – Eric Eisenberg, Cinema Blend

“A more significant casualty is the book’s layered interiority, its skill at turning unspoken perceptions and motives into drama; the writers have managed this material without mastering it.” – Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

“If anything falls short of Herbert’s particular vision it’s the movie’s sandworms.” – Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly


Is it OK if you haven’t read the book?

“Thankfully, Dune isn’t particularly hard to follow.” – Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

“Though there’s plenty to establish, Villeneuve makes surprisingly light work of it all… Dune is never as formidable as it threatens to be.” – Ben Travis, Empire Magazine

“The script does a good job with exposition without making it seem like EXPOSITION… but by the same token, there may not be any reason for you to be interested in Dune if you’re not a science-fiction-movie person anyway.” – Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com

“It’s not a film that requires any familiarity with the source material… Stretches in the early parts of Dune are a layman’s terms guide to Herbert’s incredibly intricate and uniquely realized universe.” – Adam Solomons, AwardsWatch

“If you come in not knowing the difference between a Holtzman shield and a hole in the floor, it’s a longer walk.” – Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

“We don’t really learn much about individual characters in the film, making it hard to grasp or care about the stakes of the story.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair


Denis Villeneuve on the set of Dune

(Photo by Chiabella James/©Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

How is Denis Villeneuve as director?

“Villeneuve’s true talent is less in the staging of violence than in the queasy anticipation of it… That gift serves him well enough in Dune.” – Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

“Those who find Villeneuve to be a self-serious, humorless, and pretentious bore likely won’t be changing their minds anytime soon after Dune, but that just might be their loss.” – Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

“To say I have not admired Villeneuve’s prior films is something of an understatement. But I can’t deny that he’s made a more-than-satisfactory movie of the book.” – Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com

“The unforgiving starkness will unsettle even some of Villeneuve’s greatest fans.” – Donald Clarke, Irish Times

“For all of Villeneuve’s awe-inducing vision, he loses sight of why Frank Herbert’s foundational sci-fi opus is worthy of this epic spectacle in the first place.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“He’s an overloader, and only the keenest and most urgent of scripts can survive beneath that weight. Dune, unfortunately, is not one of those.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair


How does it compare to his other work?

“It’s an arthouse blockbuster in the vein of his Blade Runner 2049, but even less concerned with commercial appeal, which is admirably bold.” – Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

“Much like the haunting Blade Runner 2049, the director has taken the time to explore numerous characters without sacrificing the main story and themes.” – Jimmy O, JoBlo’s Movie Emporium

“Like Blade Runner 2049 and especially Arrival, Dune is another unusually philosophical speculative fiction that ponders the difficulties of language and coexistence.” – Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

“If you loved Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, then Dune is perhaps Denis Villeneuve at his Villeneuviest.” – Richard Trenholm, CNET


Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho in Dune

(Photo by Chiabella James/©Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

Is it reminiscent of anything else?

“Think of it as Game of Thrones in space or Star Wars if it never got off Tatooine.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“Impressively ambitious in scale, like Villeneuve mashing up the worlds of Star Wars and Game of Thrones.” – Brian Truitt, USA Today

“Arguably [many of its elements are] all things that Star Wars features too, but just much more dense, sophisticated, and less child-like.” – Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

Dune feels most reminiscent of The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring.” – Ben Travis, Empire Magazine

“Much like the semi-recent classic Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Rings in the LOTR trilogy, this is only the beginning of the story… [and] Denis Villeneuve has created one of the best fantasy feature since Peter Jackson’s journey into Middle Earth.” – Jimmy O, JoBlo’s Movie Emporium

“Historical comparisons are of no use. None of us has been anywhere like this before. They can put that on the poster.” – Donald Clarke, Irish Times

“It sets a new standard for modern sci-fi epics.” – Germain Lussier, io9.com


Is there enough action for mainstream audiences?

Dune is consistently gripping and plot driven.” – Adam Solomons, AwardsWatch

“Even though it may be a slow burn, the action set pieces do not disappoint, neither does the filmmaker sacrifice the subtle themes and ideas explored throughout.” – Jimmy O, JoBlo’s Movie Emporium

“The pacing is perfect. Villeneuve makes you wait just long enough, so when the action moves to Arrakis you’re just as eager to venture into the desert as Paul.” – Ben Travis, Empire Magazine

“This version of Dune sometimes feels as if it aims to impress you more than entertain you… but it’s also a formidable cinematic accomplishment.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“It feels like a drag in its back half.” – Scott Collura, IGN


Dune

(Photo by Chiabella James/©Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

How are the visuals?

“Cinematographer Grieg Fraser has outdone himself from frame to frame, set piece to set piece, creating jaw dropping pieces of art that are impressionistic, sensational, and other worldly.” – Roger Friedman, Showbiz 411

“It’s all a feast for the eyes. The visuals are mind-blowing.” – Jimmy O, JoBlo’s Movie Emporium

“Aesthetically, Dune is pretty damn monumental and enveloping, and for audiences that potentially may find the plot confusing, the film still works on a deeply experiential, visceral level.” – Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

“The sense of scale conjured up is, from moment to moment, frequently astonishing.” – Ben Travis, Empire Magazine

Dune looks great, but outside of the fantastical design, the muted palette borders on drab.” – Richard Trenholm, CNET


And how does it sound?

Dune [is] a symphony for the ears as well as a feast for the eyes.” – Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

Dune is also an auditory journey, not only featuring enveloping sound editing, but one of the best scores Hans Zimmer has ever composed.” – Eric Eisenberg, Cinema Blend

“The visual vastness is matched by a Hans Zimmer score that is, to use a technical term, full-Zimmer.” – Ben Travis, Empire Magazine

“Composer Hans Zimmer inspires great awe with a booming score, but not one BRAAAM in sight, thankfully.” – Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist


 What is the overall experience like?

“As a visual and visceral experience, Dune is undeniably transporting. As a spectacle for the mind and heart, it never quite leaves Earth behind.” – Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

Dune is certainly capable of transporting us to its alien landscapes via its many technical achievements… There is no detail spared in immersing us in this fantastical world.” – Scott Collura, IGN

“You feel like you’re looking into a window across space and time… The line between fiction and reality fades from your mind, and it’s breathtaking.” – Eric Eisenberg, Cinema Blend

“Villeneuve’s Dune is the sandworm exploding out from the darkness below. It is a film of such literal and emotional largeness that it overwhelms the senses.” – Clarisse Loughrey, Independent


Dune

(Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures)

How are the performances?

“Chalamet confirms on a grand scale what arthouse audiences have long known about his charisma.” – David Crow, Den of Geek

“Timothee Chalamet once again gives another exceptional performance.” – Jimmy O, JoBlo’s Movie Emporium

“Among the uniformly excellent performances, Timothée Chalamet holds his own in his first blockbuster leading role.” – Ben Travis, Empire Magazine

“Chalamet, playing it earnestly and effectively, is perfectly cast here, and both Ferguson and Isaac are excellent, as is Skarsgård.” – Pete Hammond, Deadline

“Everyone flawlessly gets at the core of who they are playing. Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac are the triumvirate that lead the cast, and they are all phenomenal.” – Eric Eisenberg, Cinema Blend

“Momoa, in particular, bringing a swagger and excitement beyond anything we’ve seen from him before.” – Germain Lussier, io9.com

“The actors here all give good, serious performances, but in a sense it isn’t an actor’s film, because they are playing archetypes.” – Catherine Bray, Film of the Week

“No one has much time to distinguish themselves, all functioning as mere fleshy cogs in Villeneuve’s churning machine.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair


Is it a fun movie?

“The script benefits from injecting occasional bits of humor into the universe-shaping events of the film.” – Scott Collura, IGN

Dune is so aesthetically rich and monolithic that a few brief, misguided stabs at Marvel-style humor early on feel almost like blasphemy.” – Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

“If what you love most about Marvel is the quips, you might not like Dune very much…it is deadly serious…a relief I hadn’t realized I needed.” – Catherine Bray, Film of the Week

“While Villeneuve has been and likely remains one of the most humorless filmmakers alive, the novel wasn’t a barrel of laughs either, and it’s salutary that Villeneuve honored the scant light notes in the script.” – Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com

Dune lumbers with such aloof, uninviting self-seriousness that it’s hard to love, hard to even celebrate as an assured piece of tentpole authorship.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“My only grievance is that hardly anyone in this film ever smiles…everyone in Dune is grimly serious. You kind of wish someone would shake Paul’s hand with a joy buzzer.” – Roger Friedman, Showbiz 411


Dune

(Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures)

Does it feel unfinished?

“The film is ultimately a long and overwrought prologue — a prelude to action rather than its own autonomous story.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“The real meal doesn’t really begin until Part Two, and that’s probably one of the minor disappointments of its inconclusive finale.” – Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

“It does wind up feeling incomplete… like the serving of a decadent and delicious appetizer that comes out while the epic entrée to come is still braising in the kitchen.” – Eric Eisenberg, Cinema Blend

“It feels so completely sure of itself and so legitimately stunning, that it’s a huge shame that the next chapter is in fact subject to the whims of the marketplace… Surely, there has to be more.” – Catherine Bray, Film of the Week

“To be left dangling without Dune: Part Two would be a particular heartbreak. Here’s hoping we won’t only be seeing it in our dreams.” – Ben Travis, Empire Magazine


Is it difficult to assess this first chapter on its own?

“It will require reassessment when the rest of the director’s vision is revealed – and if there is a movie god, we’ll see that happen sooner rather than later.” – Eric Eisenberg, Cinema Blend

“What could happen in the future isn’t something you can think about when critiquing a movie though. There’s this movie, this story, and if it doesn’t work on its own, that would problem. It’s not a problem here.” – Germain Lussier, io9.com


Dune is in theaters and on HBO Max on October 22, 2021.


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