Influential books almost always get made into movies. When it comes to genre fiction, there are certain books that are iconic. For fantasy, it’s The Lord of the Rings, and for Westerns, it’s Lonesome Dove. While there are many contenders for the crown of most significant science fiction novel, I suspect the title goes to Dune. But honestly, while I’ve immersed myself in the worlds of Tolkien and McMurtry, Frank Herbert’s equally intimidating tome still sits on my shelf, untouched.
Denis Villeneuve is not the first director to bring Dune to screen, even though the book has long been considered unfilmable. Back in 1984 David Lynch tried, and the movie bombed so badly the director disavowed it. A later cable TV miniseries version isn’t without its fans, but was hardly a success. Having seen neither, I went into this latest adaptation blind.
The story is massive. So much so that this two-and-a-half-hour-long epic is only part one. At its core, Dune is about Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the son of Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) and a witch, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), who might be a long-prophesied messiah. When the Emperor sends Paul’s family to the desert planet Arrakis (aka: Dune) to oversee the harvesting of Spice (a hallucinogenic, life-extending dust also used for faster-than-light travel), he finds himself surrounded by political intrigue, war, and ancient mysticism.
Villeneuve, who previously directed Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, knows how to create atmosphere. Dune, with awe-inspiring visuals, is no exception. Every note of Hans Zimmer’s score complements everything else happening on screen, creating a moviegoing experience unlike anything since Hollywood epics that are older than the source material itself. Where so many movies have heroes at odds with their parents, Paul refreshingly has good relationships with both of them.
“Fear is the mind killer,” Lady Jessica whispers in one of the story’s most famous lines. The ability to resist fear, the movie says, is what separates humans from animals. It also brings to mind the words of the biblical Paul in his first letter to Timothy. “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (I Tim 1:7).
Since we haven’t been called to adventures on distant, war-torn and coveted planets, our lives might seem comparatively insignificant. However, God does have a purpose for each of us. And in times of fear it’s important to lean on the attributes of the spirit he has given us.
Admittedly, Dune drifts at a glacial pace. There’s a certain inevitability to the proceedings that robs the movie of dramatic tension. Violence is short and sharp, and any romance is being saved for the sequel. But for those willing to take the journey (safer, now that part two is officially announced) there are wonders to behold. (Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images|sequences of strong violence|suggestive material, Warner Brothers)