Spice World

Evidenced by his films “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049,” director Denis Villeneuve is serious about science fiction. “Dune” is no exception- it’s a visually stunning sci-fi epic that may be this generation’s “Star Wars.”

 Based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 futuristic novel, “Dune” is the nickname for the desert planet Arrakis- the only known source for the spice ‘melange.’ What’s melange do? Apart from being a hallucinogen that extends life, it’s needed for intergalactic travel- it bends your mind as well as time and space.

 Neighboring planets have royal houses ruling them: those mining melange on Arrakis are from the House Harkonnen. Becoming wealthier than the Emperor of the galaxy by doing so, the Harkonnen also oppress the native inhabitants of Arrakis- the Fremen. Living beneath the planet’s hot surface, the Fremen come out at night to sabotage the Harkonnen’s mining of mélange. After 80 years of the Harkonnens’ violent retaliation, the Fremen haven’t been successful stopping them.

 One day without warning, the Emperor decides to kick the Harkonnen off Arrakis and put a new family in control, choosing the House Atreides: Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and son Paul (Timothee Chalamet). Though he doesn’t know what prompted the Emperor’s decision, Leto knows two things: the Harkonnens will want to wage war and, if House Atreides can bond with the Fremen, ‘desert power’ will make Atreides the most powerful House in the galaxy.

 Unbeknownst to Leto, Paul’s having recurring dreams of Arrakis and a beautiful Fremen girl (Zendaya). Though Paul doesn’t know what the dreams mean, he’s confided his visions to his mother and she knows: Lady Jessica’s a mystic. Not only has Jessica raised Paul to use mystic talents like ‘the Voice’ (an otherworldly speech that controls minds), she also knows about the prophesized coming of a Messiah that will unite the galaxy in peace. 

 Too good an opportunity to pass up, the Atreides and their sizable army go to Arrakis. Once there, the Harkonnen have indeed sabotaged the mining depots and made a failed attempt on Paul’s life. Why do the Harkonnen want Paul dead? To crush the Atreides lineage or is there more? With the Fremen seeming to recognize Paul and Paul having innate knowledge of life on a planet he’s never been, could he be the Fremen’s foretold Messiah and lead them out of oppression? Take a wild guess.

  Comparing “Dune” with “Star Wars” seems reasonable (written 12 years prior, you can see “Dune’s” influence): a galaxy ruled by an Emperor with an Imperial army; a desert planet that brings forth a young man who’s trained with a mystic force (that can control minds) to bring peace to the planets. “Dune’s” influence can even be felt in other films- remember the giant sandworms in “Tremors” and “Beetlejuice?” Arrakis has them too.

 The sheer size and scope of Villeneuve’s vision does “Dune” justice. Helicopters fashioned to fly like mechanical dragonflies and the aforementioned sandworms viciously attacking any surface vibration are only some of the Oscar-worthy visual effects you’ll see. “Dune’s” attention to detail creates an epic adventure. Yet, even at a two-and-a-half-hour running time, this film’s only ‘Part One.’ With at least one more film to complete the story and five more “Dune” books in Herbert’s series, a franchise could emerge.  

Supported by a capable cast including Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Jason Mamoa, Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling and Javier Bardem, the stars have truly aligned for this long-awaited, impressively imagined adaptation.

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