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Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ Came to Save Sci-Fi

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Marvel movies had disenchanted me from the science fiction genre: simple, stuck to a repetitive and annoying formula for children and pedagogical—as if we, the audience, were idiots. The only thing it all rested on was the production’s millions. A first-rate cast, with superstars and great technological achievements. Nothing else. But everything is not like that. Denis Villeneuve’s Dune came along, and there is finally hope.

I have not read Frank Herbert’s novel. My only approach to Dune was through the project that was never Jodorowski’s. On the other hand, although David Lynch is one of my favorite directors, I had always avoided his version because of its bad reputation. With Villeneuve, everything was different from the moment that his version was announced.

Arrival was a milestone in science fiction cinema and Blade Runner 2049 was one of the best things made this century; even surpassing, for me, Ridley Scott’s version. It wasn’t an easy feat as Scott is a master of the genre. Villeneuve has little in the industry, but his talent is tangible. This was clear to me since Enemy, back in 2013.

First, a carefully selected cast. I understand that it faithfully adheres to Herbert’s descriptions. Each actor fits their character perfectly. Even Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa, both of whom I was worried about. Rebecca Ferguson stands out with a brilliant and commanding performance. Timotheé Chalamet was up to the task, establishing himself once again as the great actor of the next generations. Oscar Isaac was so impeccable that I wanted him to be on the screen for much longer.

Dune is what science fiction needed. When one thinks of a good space opera, epic and majestic, one must refer to this. Its merits are twofold: the subtlety with which it builds an absorbing story, and its beauty. In that sense, Hans Zimmer’s music sets the majestic tone of Villeneuve’s work. Undoubtedly among his best soundtracks.

This time, Zimmer manages to depart from his accurate formula and combines tribal and ethnic sounds with a futuristic and dystopian atmosphere. Next comes the scenography. That vast and dense beauty to which Villeneuve has already accustomed us and that he showed us very well in Blade Runner, but framed in a much more epic and pompous blockbuster. Brutalism—the futuristic badge of architecture with aesthetic value—imposes itself and builds a world that captivates but, at the same time, terrifies.

The wardrobe is the other great achievement. Beautifully crafted, accurate, and elegant. You have the construction of a delicately woven product from the collection of completely opposite elements. The delicacy of monarchic details and the coarseness of a rough world, immersed in the most implacable and cruel desert.

Then, the story. I am told that the references to the Middle Eastern conflict are more delicate in the novel. But there was no need for such subtlety when it comes to building a world consumed by wars raised on the same struggles that we have today. In Dune the conflict seems close, present, but not identical. The similarity is clear. The spice is oil. Arrakis is Arabia and the Fremen are the Arabs.

Or rather, they could be, because they are not, and that is the genius of the story built by Villeneuve and based on Herbert’s work. Because in addition to the conflict, which is clearly the leitmotif of the work, you have a whole universe to which we are completely alien. A Mythology that is presented, but not explained to us. And that’s fine. Enough of movies for dummies.

Elements from the Middle East, but also from the Bible. And this is Villeneuve’s other great achievement. Science fiction cinema had become engrossed in subjecting every production to the trite resource of the messianic. A resource that contrasts dramatically with the dystopian worlds of science fiction stories, where the present and the future are chaos, all is lost and there is no salvation.

In Dune, the messianic element is present, but without falling into the error of offering itself as salvation in the midst of a lost world. It is the opposite. This time, the messiah arrives, but to offer us a future full of tears, blood and death. It is destiny that announces the arrival of the messiah and, perhaps, in the end there will be, not salvation, but balance. 

Dune is a spectacle. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a sci-fi movie that moved me so much. In fact, not since Blade Runner, also by Villeneuve. It could be the future of the genre, which is extremely reassuring. A blockbuster can also be beautiful and carefully put together.

We needed a film that rescued the greatness of space operas and that overwhelming ecosystem that sinks and absorbs you. An instant classic. There, instantly to the hall where Solaris, A New Hope, Mad Max, Blade Runner, or 2001 are. The work that the genre was missing and that, although it may not completely displace the mass production of films with a lot of money but lousy quality, comes to mark the north of what should be the great science fiction productions.

Ps: it goes without saying that it would be a crime not to see Dune in a good theater.

Orlando Avendaño is the co-editor-in-chief of El American. He is a Venezuelan journalist and has studies in the History of Venezuela. He is the author of the book Days of submission // Orlando Avendaño es el co-editor en Jefe de El American. Es periodista venezolano y cuenta con estudios en Historia de Venezuela. Es autor del libro Días de sumisión.

1 thought on “Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ Came to Save Sci-Fi”

  1. Well, if you hadn’t included A New Hope in your list of classic sci-fi I might have been interested in seeing this Dune but I guess I’ll pass. But that’s what reviews are for so thanks.

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