TIFF 2021: Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” Delivers on its Promise

Few films, if any, at the Toronto International Film Festival have been more anticipated than Denis Villenueve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel, Dune. Though the tale has been adapted before, most famously with 1984’s oft-derided David Lynch-directed film, along with a SyFy mini-series that aired in 2000, it’s fair to say neither got Herbert’s dense tale right at all.

Expectations had been high that Villeneuve, the genius behind Arrival, Prisoners, and Blade Runner 2049 would be the one to change the narrative. It’s fair to say, he has, and then some.

Dune features an all-star cast led by Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides, Oscar Issac as Duke Leto Atreides, Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica, Josh Brolin as Gurney Halek, Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho, Zendaya as Chani, Dave Bautista as Beast Rabban, and Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Harkonnen. All of them do exceptional work in the film that runs 2 hours and 35 minutes.

Sachin Hingoo and I were in attendance for a press screening of Dune, so we thought we chat about what we thought of it and share it with you.

Andy Burns: Let’s get started – I thought Dune was one of, if not the greatest science fiction films I’ve ever experienced in a theatre. I genuinely felt I was seeing things I’d never seen before in a film.

Sachin Hingoo: Villeneuve’s vision is both comfortingly familiar and refreshingly unique. He takes a story that I’ve consumed both as a book and as a film so many times that I’ve lost count, and makes me feel like I’m experiencing it for the first time.

AB: What was your first experience with Dune? Was it the novel or Lynch’s film?

SH: I saw Lynch’s film first, but read the book soon after. To be honest the book was pretty tough for me to keep straight without the visual references in the movie.

AB: My first taste was the Marvel Super Special adaptation that Ralph Macchio wrote and Bill Sienkiewicz illustrated. I think it was years before I actually saw Lynch’s movie and then…it was a tough nut to crack for me.

SH: Dune is maybe my favourite example of world building though. Everything in the book, from characters to settings to language feel fully developed.

AB: We saw this film in IMAX, and it’s one of the few times I’ve actually really believed the IMAX tag line that you feel like you’re a part of the movie. I felt as thought I was on Arrakis. It was pretty captivating. Would you agree IMAX is the way to see Dune?

SH: I think IMAX is the definitive way to see it, yeah. The visuals are stunning and immersive and have a tactile quality that make them feel authentic. I didn’t buy into the ‘this has to be experienced in a theatre’ stuff when Christopher Nolan said it about Tenet but it feels true about Dune. The first time (and every subsequent time) you see the Shai-Hulud is particularly breathtaking.

AB: Couldn’t you just say sandworm, you big Dune nerd?

SH: Never! They have a name! I bet calling them sandworms only makes them more ornery.

I’m wondering if Jodorowsky’s vision has any influence on Villeneuve’s. I noticed that the Harkonnen world has a bit of an HR Giger quality to it.

AB: That’s a great question. At this point in time, I don’t know how Villenueve couldn’t have been at least a little inspired by Giger’s and Moebius’ contributions to the failed ’70s version. He did say how Jodorowsky had his own singular vision, but when you see the talent that came out of it, I think there’s got to be an underlying influence.

AB: Let’s talk about the performances. I thought Timothee Chalamet as Paul was fantastic. He’s the lead character and was the perfect fit. He was acting against some heavyweights.

SH: I think this is maybe the best Chalamet performance since Call Me By Your Name. He’s got so much to do in terms of developing and evolving the character and he’s right up close for most of it. Rebecca Ferguson was the real heavyweight for me, personally though. She has a lot of emotional baggage and exposition to get across and she knocks it right out of the park.

AB: Agreed. No surprise though, as she’s brilliant in everything she does.

SH: I think everyone made the most of their screen time. Javier Bardem doesn’t have a lot in this one, but he’s the best thing in every scene he’s in. And as always, you can’t help but love Jason Momoa from the first minute he appears. I’m biased but Dave Bautista overdelivered once again. Villeneuve better the heck get to make the rest of the movies to finish this story.

AB: And not that we need to run through everyone, but I thought Oscar Issac was a great Leto. You could see and feel why people would be loyal to him. And Stellan Skarsgård didn’t go over the top as Baron Harkonnen.

SH: Both of those characters seemed a little more understated than in Lynch’s version. For some reason I find Skarsgård’s Harkonnen scarier since he’s not as cartoonish.

AB: Absolutely, I agree with you on that point.

So overall, it’s fair to say we both loved Dune and we hope that there’s enough people out there who go see it when it arrives in theatres on October 22nd, or who watch it on HBO Max. I have my fears we won’t get that second film, mainly because Dune feels almost too good, too complex for a mainstream audience to embrace it. I hope I’m wrong!

SH: I’m a hopeless cynic and after seeing audiences fail to embrace Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, I fear this one will be tough for people that aren’t already Duneheads like us. That being said, there’s so much here to love and I really hope our readers give it a chance, no matter how they choose to see it.

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