Caroline Richards ’22
For anyone who’s read Frank Herbert’s Dune, you’ll know that there’s not a lot of direct action. It’s what makes the book so difficult to read; a lot of the world-building is based on telling (or not telling at all) rather than showing, and the majority of the action that takes place takes place off-page and is only known through character dialogue.
In sum, there’s a lot of talking about action. That’s why I was surprised by Denis Villenueve’s take on the Dune in his new, and highly anticipated, movie: there’s hardly any dialogue. I’m pretty sure Zendaya has like eight lines and Timothee Chalamet, who plays the central figure Paul, is really built off what he doesn’t say. And where Herbert wastes no time thrusting the reader into a deeply complex world with little to no exposition or explanation, Villeneuve seems to completely eschew the potential for a confused audience.
In fact, what little dialogue there is is used largely to explain the context of the images we’re being shown. For this set-up to work, Villeneuve needed to create a rich, textured aesthetic; what drama and tension he lacked in dialogue needed to be made up for in a dramatic, magnetic, mesmerizing world. And for the 165 million dollars he had in his budget, he had the means to do this incredibly well. Unfortunately what we got is a world that’s minimal to a point boring, and dull to the point of lacking creativity.
I’ll admit that the grandeur and scale of the world he creates is impressive and thoroughly done, the open spaces and sheer largeness of his shots are certainly immersive. But they’re also flat and empty to a point where it detracts from the smallness and intimacy needed to get to know the characters within them; not only are we given so little time to get to know the characters, but it seems every time we meet them all we can focus on is their smallness within this huge, inevitably boring, minimal shot. Understandably, Arrakis, the primary setting, is a desert. Deserts are pretty barren and minimal.
But this isn’t an excuse to make nearly the entire movie barren and minimal. If anything, you need something else entirely to contrast the qualities of the desert to make it’s barrenness as harrowing and mysterious as possible. The last thing you want to do is make everything from the cityscapes, to the interior shots, to the costumes, to the make-up all look exactly the same: grey, brown, and generally muted. For 165 mill that’s pretty unoriginal. The best part of the movie was the worms, which for the staggering grandeur of Villeneuve’s desert portrayals, are the only things that seem to fit in. Maybe this was on purpose.