Dune Part One begins with the declaration, “Dreams are messages from the deep”.
And this was originally just entitled ‘Dune‘, like the novel, but on the Tuesday after its released, Warner Bros confirmed that this has done so well, that it will get at least one sequel. How many we get will depend on how the next one does, I presume. It’s not like they’ve set out a trilogy like the Star Wars films usually do.
So, Dune – Part One, at least – is set 8170 years in the future, in 10191, beginning at the Caladan Homeworld Of House Atreides, where Lady Jessica Atreides (Rebecca Ferguson) is sat at breakfast with son Paul (Timothée Chalamet), telling him that instead of asking for her to pass the butter etc, he should “use the voice”, it’s basically about projecting your voice in such a way that it works as a Star Wars Jedi mind trick, a la “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”.
Meanwhile, The Fremen reside on the planet, and have blue eyes due to the exposure of the Spice which is harvested, which floats across the surface of the planet Arrakis, and Spice is what gives life, and allows for interstellar travel. Yep, I never said any of this was going to make sense. In Manchester, Spice is what gets druggies high, and allows them to maintain a standing posture whilst being completely off their tits.
However, the Fremen are seen as the enemy, and Paul’s Dad, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) wants to make an alliance with them.
Along the way, several times, Paul dreams of Arrakis, making you wonder if he’s seeing the future; Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) trains Paul in the ways of combat – which allows for them to wear a shield that surrounds their body and makes him look like a hologram; the city has a shield which protects it from weather and worms (perhaps some tablets from the vet might sort that out); Aquaman – sorry, Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) – has spent four weeks trying to infiltrate the Fremen, and lived within a Seech (yep, just listen to the dialogue, but don’t try to understand it). Oh, and he has a sand compactor, which I think made a bit of a difference, but my brain was bamboozled at that point, so I’d need to watch it again (several times.
Meanwhile, the Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) introduces one character to ‘Pain in a box’, which was quite an amusing scene but was a great way of getting something across – i.e. the feeling of intense pain – without having to do any actual set design or CGI work – because the character with her just puts their hand inside a box!
However, there’s a big baddie in all this. For 80 years, the Spice fields of Arrakis have been harvested by the House Harkonnen. Top of their tree is Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), whose character is like the Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, but one that can float through the air. Now THAT would’ve put the willies up Willard!
As much as I loved the visuals of this, Dune Part One doesn’t make a lick of sense. It’s like the Simpsons episode where Homer’s watching Twin Peaks on TV, stares in disbelief with a fixed grin, and remarks “Brilliant! …I have absolutely no idea what’s going on!”
There’s a stirring loud score from Hans Zimmer, and in expecting a sequel, the last line uttered in this stunning mess is “This is only the beginning”.
All that said, there are some daft things here, in that Rebecca Ferguson plays Timothée Chalamet’s mother, even though she’s 38 and he’s 25. Okay, I understand from the novel that he’s meant to be 15, so that explains the real age gap of the characters, but Chalamet doesn’t pass for 15. Also, the Sandworms look like a mix of a massive vagina with the end of a penis, as well as a bumhole. So, they could go and f… themselves in the… y’know (ba-dum-tss!)
Seriously, though, Dune Part One could’ve used more humour, but there were occasional moments such as when Josh Brolin is told to smile, and he growls in his usual way, “I am smiling”. However, for two-and-a-half hours, this feels like a movie length perfume advert: “Dune… by Villeneuve”
When it comes to the visuals for Dune Part One, anyone who knows me, knows that I love the 1.43:1 IMAX experience with the floor-to-ceiling tall images. Last year, Christopher Nolan wanted to be the savour of the summer with his latest visual masterpiece, Tenet. Sadly, due to the pandemic, he didn’t pull off the hope that people would return to the cinema, but anyone who didn’t see it in that format has missed out greatly. You can still see it on Blu-ray with those 1.43:1 scenes cropped to 16:9 (1.78:1), which is the next best thing.
Like Dune Part One, the plot of Tenet was a baffling one, but one that made more sense second time round, so I hope the same happens here.
In the cinema, 1.43:1 comes in early with a lot of very close-up face shots that really wouldn’t suit being cropped to 2.39:1, making that aspect ratio unwatchable for a lot of reasons. While in the auditorium, I figured this film would really need to be seen in, at least a 16:9 ratio – which is how they Blu-ray should end up on our screens, and is basically as good as we’ll get in the home, unless Warner also put out a 1.43:1 version as they did with Batman Vs Superman on the 4K release.
Afterwards, thinking about how this film’s visuals will be treated in the home, I felt I needed to watch this again in the HBO Max version, to see how it compares. Prior to doing so, I will say that the presentation I saw was about 70% in the 1.43:1 ratio (with the rest in 2.39:1), so anyone watching the IMAX scenes cropped to 2.39:1 is missing a hell of a lot, unless it’s like Prometheus, where the 1.66:1 ratio was a mix of 2.39:1 cropped to 1.66:1 (like the opening shot of Elizabeth looking directly into the camera, thus filling the IMAX screen, as she’s making a hole to get into the cave with alien eggs), or Super 35-filmed shots where the 2.39:1 ratio can be opened up as there’s more picture top and bottom. I think a shot of David bouncing a basketball around the empty spacecraft was one of those (well, while everyone was in hypersleep).
For now, rather than sitting down to the HBO Max version in full, I’ll flick through it, and first off, I can see that less than a minute in, is a picture of Zendaya (above) with one of those tubes up her nose to allow people to breathe when they’re outside. The 1.43:1 IMAX version, from my recollection, just crops the image at the sides to show her face. A lot of IMAX screens are digital projection only, and are in 1.90:1. I can’t comment on how that looks, but I presume by now, a 1.78:1 home version will have been produced, so they’ll just crop those shots slightly to 1.90:1.
However, I can see other shots that will be badly cropped. I won’t detail them all, and I’m sure when the Blu-ray comes out, someone will make a comparison article, but I can remember the visuals that were 1.43:1 in the cinema, but which have been a straight crop down to 2.39:1, chopping off the top and bottom, and losing a ton of detail. It’s such a shame. Why the hell didn’t HBO at least get the eventual 1.78:1 version?
Flicking through the rest of the film, I can see some where the 1.43:1 version was a crop for the IMAX screen like Zendaya’s face – such as with what I called the ‘arrival of the chess piece ships’ (31 minutes in), and others where we lose a ton of the detail from the top and the bottom – like the next moment where the ships cast a tall shadow over the ground and the inhabitants). Later comes a scene where a character comes face-to-face (sort-of) with a sandworm’s ‘mouth’. The mouth is circular, close to the 1.43:1 ratio. Here, it’s cropped to 2.39:1. Gah, it’s a mess. I just want the IMAX version. Hopefully we will get that on the eventual 4K release, a la Batman Vs Superman.
With the 2.39:1 version, you still get an idea of what’s going on, but it’s not the same work of art.
For this first viewing, I’ve given it 6/10 as it’s a visual feast, but I had no idea what’s going on. A second viewing (not in 2.39:1) will be a must.
And for anyone who cares about my cinema audience experiences, I found myself in the middle of a strange seating situation. I prefer to get either J21 or J22 as they’re right at the back of the IMAX screen, and the centre of the screen is split right between them. Two people had already booked J20 and J21, and since I didn’t want to sit right next to someone – as it’s always good to have a gap of a seat inbetween you and them – I went for J23. Quite frankly, you can sit a few seats out from the centre, and it’s just as good as being right in the centre.
Before I got there, I saw online that no-one was sat to me on the left, but on the right, there were those two people, plus a gap and then another sat in the next seat. By the time I got there, two other guys had separately booked J25 and J27 (to the left of me), and I chatted briefly to one of the two guys on my left who hadn’t yet been joined by his friend, and he’d tried to watch the 1984 Dune the night before, but couldn’t get into it. Me, I didn’t get round to watchng it, and I figured I’d wait until I’d seen this one.
After a last minute trip to the loo (since this film runs over two-and-a-half-hours), the man to my right had now been joined by his friend. After the film, the man closest to me went off to my left, and the man I’d spoken to earlier went off to the right. So, they weren’t friends at all… so after one man had booked their ticket, the other one had willingly booked his right next to someone they didn’t know. Eww… just get a gap inbetween!
As for the man to my left, in J25, he walked out exactly halfway through! I figured he’d gone to the loo the long way round, as he walked down the steps and out to the main toilets, rather than to the closer ones to the back, on our floor. But then he never came back. It wasn’t THAT bad!
Running time: 155 minutes
Release date: October 21st 2021
Studio: Warner Bros
Cinema: Vue Manchester Printworks (currently the third biggest IMAX in Europe)
Format: 1.43:1 (IMAX, where the projection set-up allows – most scenes), 1.90:1 (Digital IMAX – most scenes), 2.39:1
Cinematographic process: ARRIRAW (4.5K), Anamorphic Panavision
Cameras Arri Alexa LF IMAX, Panavision H-Series and Ultra Vista Lenses; Arri Alexa Mini LF IMAX, Panavision H-Series and Ultra Vista Lenses
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth
Novel: Frank Herbert
Producers: Cale Boyter, Joe Caracciolo Jr, Fuad Khalil, Mary Parent, Denis Villeneuve
Music: Hans Zimmer
Paul Atreides: Timothée Chalamet
Lady Jessica Atreides: Rebecca Ferguson
Duke Leto Atreides: Oscar Isaac
Duncan Idaho: Jason Momoa
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen: Stellan Skarsgård
Thufir Hawat: Stephen McKinley Henderson
Gurney Halleck: Josh Brolin
Stilgar: Javier Bardem
Dr. Liet Kynes: Sharon Duncan-Brewster
Dr. Wellington Yueh: Chang Chen
Beast Rabban Harkonnen: Dave Bautista
Piter de Vries: David Dastmalchian
Reverend Mother Mohiam: Charlotte Rampling
Jamis: Babs Olusanmokun
Herald of the Change: Benjamin Clementine
Bene Gesserit Sister: Souad Faress
Shadout Mapes: Golda Rosheuvel
Lieutenant Lanville: Roger Yuan
Arrakeen Residency Gardener: Seun Shote
Sardaukar Bashar: Neil Bell
Hawat Specialist: Oliver Ryan
Harkonnen Troopers: Stephen Collins, Charlie Rawes, Richard Carter
Sardaukar Assassin: Ben Dilloway
Shamir: Elmi Rashid Elmi
Tanat: Tachia Newall
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.