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Dune, from Herbert’s masterpiece to Villeneuve’s (un) finished work: when sci-fi becomes auteur cinema

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The merits, in addition to Villeneuve, are also the composer of the soundtrack, Hans Zimmer, for having dressed the entire film with atmospheres marked by “a thousand and one nights”, and Greig Fraser, for the obsessive attention to photography, warm, which enhances the desert landscapes, restoring the sense of ‘fantastic’ desolation of an environment as hostile as it is seductive, which made every single shot as wonderful as a Caravaggio painting.

Without forgetting the splendid interpretations of a choral cast that revolves around an excellent Timothée Chalamet in the role of Paul Atreides, the protagonist of the film: the actor does a priceless job on himself managing to return the pride and torment of the terrified boy and anguished by the fear of an increasingly uncertain tomorrow, the courage and recklessness of those who do not give up and the fear of those who are discovering step by step what there is to know.

But if the whole cast was nothing short of formidable, Arrakis is the real protagonist of the film, with his landscapes, his creatures and his boundless expanse of sand. Not new to the mastery of creating suggestive atmospheres, Villeneuve with Dune has definitely surpassed itself: long shots to be framed, glimpses of unknown planets and galaxies that bring the audience into the room to appreciate the simplistic beauty of a new world. The shots convey a sense of grandeur and depth rarely seen on the big screen: once again thanks to the photography by Fraser and the special effects of Gerd Nefzer and Paul Lambert.

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Never over the top and thoughtful to the core, he shows an exponential growth of his characters but taking his time. Villeneuve’s Dune redesigns the concept of science fiction that is too relegated to the Marvelian blockbuster in the collective imagination. The action is savored and gives way to dialogue, reflection and religious-political subplots. There is no room for the “big bucks”, rather everything you need to know is shown with gimmicks and mastery by a director able to show a new universe, father of the best science fiction of this and the other. century and, above all, a child of its time.

Villeneuve respects the work without distorting and without denaturing it, making it his own. Everything is in contrast: monumentality and sacredness; spirituality and technology. It is a film that talks about predestination with a nod to the sacred and the other to the profane: Paul Atreides is a chosen one, a messiah, but the prophecy is obtained from a (fanta) scientific technology, so advanced that it can be considered pure magic .

The film somehow speaks of us, nothing is left to chance, the use of advanced technologies is based on an ancient heritage: that of our civilization. Dune talks about today’s world by masking it with the best known sci-fi but without anything ever being fully disclosed. It speaks of our history, set in an earlier future in which the human race has colonized all the planets of the galaxy, bringing with them atavistic remnants of the old terrestrial culture.

The parallels with contemporaneity come by themselves: the Middle Eastern situation; the analogy between oil and spice; colonization to obtain it; the money that nullifies the beauty of nature and so on.

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The comparisons with other sagas, such as Game of Thrones and Star Wars, are natural since they both drew a lot from Herbert’s work while being of a different kind of dough anyway. Very often compared to the Lord of the Rings because of the intricate universe in which the characters unravel, it shares with the trilogy the bulwark of “impossible adaptation”. Like Dune, the Lord of the Rings had seen numerous directors fail in attempting to portray Tolkien’s work in the cinema until the early 2000s, when a highly inspired Peter Jackson delivered an (literally) Oscar-winning film adaptation to eternity. The difficulty of the transposition of the work puts Villeneuve in a directorial elite of which very few are part (Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick and Peter Jackson, just to name a few).

The film apparently has no flaws, it is true, but it still has an immense basic error: what is never said during the promotion is that the real title of the film is “Dune – Part 1” and that this “is only the ‘beginning’: it’s all a great springboard.

A story that is not afraid to take its time to better present places and people and build the famous background that is indispensable for what will later be. Entering into the merits of the struggle between the different families is difficult because there are no ‘explanations’ and the roles and alliances and motivations are left to the tenacity of an attentive spectator.

Despite the many difficulties dictated by the delays caused by Covid, it may seem that Villeneuve has not fallen into any trap and that he has escaped the misfortunes of his colleagues who preceded him. But it’s too early to sing victory: the fate of the sequel will depend solely on the proceeds of this first chapter and its performance on the US platform HBO Max.

After years of Marvel dominance, the cinema of 2021 also deserves sci-fi works of the genre: the film manages to be spectacular in a different sense, imprisoning the viewer in its desolate world. Some authors deserve to be supported, without being afraid to show themselves and without having to compromise on a science fiction full of action and special effects. However, after the flop of Blade Runner 2049, one might think that Villeneuve’s works are not effective enough and have little grip on the viewer, thus not justifying the excessively high budgets. But after all, as the film itself teaches us, “fear kills the mind” and cinema is in dire need of this quality and this substance: it is essential that the effort and expectation of the most daring spectators be rewarded with the second chapter. of this saga with the wish that, perhaps, Dune could represent for generation Z what the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter represented for the Millennials.


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