As the world we live in gradually devolves into more of a twisted dystopia by the day, audiences may feel at ease settling into the fictional world of Arrakis, the main setting for Denis Villeneuve’s new film adaptation, Dune. The 1965 novel, from the creative mind of Frank Herbert, has stood the test of time as one of the most influential within its genre.
As Villeneuve rises to the challenge of taking this story from hardback cover to cinema screen, it is perhaps worth mentioning that he is not the first to turn his hand to the saga. David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of the popular novel was poorly received by audiences and widely criticised, making it far from the “Twin Peak” of his career. Almost 40 years later, could Villeneuve do it justice?
He has an undeniably acute eye for the absurd and the abstract, toying with mystery and the boundaries of human knowledge. There are few creative boundaries in a Villeneuve film, often conveying worlds that are post-apocalyptic or unimaginably destitute
Regarded in recent years as one of the world’s finest directors, Villeneuve has ascended to new heights in the last decade. In particular, he has become widely acclaimed as somewhat of a specialist in creating modern science fiction films, as well as psychological thrillers.
He has an undeniably acute eye for the absurd and the abstract, toying with mystery and the boundaries of human knowledge. There are few creative boundaries in a Villeneuve film, often conveying worlds that are post-apocalyptic or unimaginably destitute. In “Arrival” (2016), he imagines a world where aliens come to earth, with humans consequently trying to communicate with them in otherworldly languages. He bridges the gap between humanity, what is commonplace and normal, and the alien. This gives the viewer the sensation that they, like the protagonist, are treading upon uncharted territory. The cinematography employed by Villeneuve to bring these spine-chilling creatures to life is also unique, provoking a sense of intrigue for audiences that makes one want to look away, whilst also wanting to know where the story will go.
Villeneuve is perhaps one of the only directors in the last few years to have garnered so many heavyweight actors and got them all on-board with the same project
The alien-like creature in Arrival is very much comparable to the spider creature in Enemy (2013). Both defy nature and go beyond what viewers may have expected to see. The contrast between what is human and what is eerily not, is harrowing to say the least. If his previous films are anything to go by, Dune will likely use a similar technique. As seen in the recently released trailer, a colossal sandworm appears to unearth itself while towering over the young protagonist. Villeneuve was clearly eager to use another description-defying monster in his latest release, and once again he appears to have done so with a certain degree of success.
One of the film’s most eye-grabbing aspects though, is the cast lineup, which can only be described talent-laden. Villeneuve is perhaps one of the only directors in the last few years to have garnered so many heavyweight actors and got them all on-board with the same project. Protagonist Paul Atreides is played by Timothée Chalamet, the budding young actor best known for his work on films such as Call Me by Your Name and Ladybird (2017). Over the last few years, his roles have ranged from King Henry V in The King (2019) to a drug-addict teenager (Beautiful Boy, 2018), therefore, his versatility as an actor is hardly in question. Taking on his first lead role in a science fiction film, the pressure is on for him to perform to the standard he is expected to, and to potentially solidify for himself a long-lasting legacy in the film industry.
He is joined by Zendaya, who plays alongside him as Chani. Similarly, despite her young age, she has embodied roles ranging from characters on Disney Channel to, more recently, MJ in the Spiderman universe. Having recently taken home the Emmy Award for Lead Actress in a Drama for her work in Euphoria (2019) (making her the youngest Emmy winner in this category), she seems more than prepared to take on the challenge of Dune.
When it comes to more experienced actors however, the cast is equally impressive; Jason Momoa, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem are among those who will also star in Villeneuve’s adaptation. Indeed, the cast recruitment process proved fruitful, with more than enough talent and acting experience to go round.
As a specialist in sci-fi and a master of the mysterious, film and science fiction fans alike should be looking forward to what could potentially be a box office opening from beyond this earth
From a directorial perspective, audiences can expect Dune to be a typical Villeneuve film. Stylistically, it will most likely mirror that of his previous film releases. The grim, dark tone he typically establishes at the start of his films is likely to be present in this one too, with a slow build-up of tension occurring as the film progresses. As much as he has become a specialist in sci-fi, he is also somewhat of a specialist in creating tension. Prisoners (2013) is perhaps one of his finest films when analysed as a psychological thriller. Throughout, he toys and teases with audience expectations, leading them down the wrong path countless times until, finally, the truth is revealed. The tension level in this film is at a constant high, as a man struggles to find the truth behind the disappearance of his child, and is forced to take drastic and unpleasant measures. For the audience, it is almost like psychological torture, and the final reveal is all too cathartic.
Although Dune may not have the makings of a typical psychological thriller in this sense, Villeneuve could still use certain aspects of his filmmaking style to add to this familiar sense of uneasiness in his films. Using sharp contrasts in colour or placing neon bright light alongside pitch black darkness for instance, he brings out whatever the scene is trying to emphasise. This is a technique frequently used in Blade Runner: 2049 (2017), to distinguish what is new from what is not, and to differentiate modernity from ruin. He may also use intense scoring as he has in the past, to augment the sense of mounting tension or suspense. Despite the speculation however, much is still to be known about how he will interpret this sci-fi classic.
Although Dune hasn’t proven itself to be an easy film to make, the career that precedes Villeneuve hints at the fact that he should be able to deliver a successful film nonetheless. As a specialist in sci-fi and a master of the mysterious, film and science fiction fans alike should be looking forward to what could potentially be a box office opening from beyond this earth.
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