“Dune” creates visually cinematic experience, yet provides a weak resolution


Legendary Pictures

Jessica, Chani, Stilgar and Paul stare off into the sands in Dune.

A distressed teen holds up Frank Herbert’s novel “Dune,” dramatically lip-syncing to a TikTok sound, “What does it mean? Ah!” 

The 2021 movie adaptation of “Dune” did more than pique Gen Z’s interest with its trailers featuring an all-star (i.e. extremely attractive) cast. While the casting’s target audience is more than prepared to stare at Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya’s faces for over 2 1/2 hours, teens like this TikToker put the book down feeling like they had bitten off more than they could chew. 

“Dune,” directed by Dennis Villaneuve, is a visually stunning and faithful adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic novel that succeeds in conveying both a complex plot and world to a larger audience but does so at the cost of any resolution to the story by the time the credits roll. 

“Dune” tells the story of Paul Atreides, the heir to a powerful dukedom in an empire spanning all of space. When his father, the Duke Leto, is given control of the desert planet Arrakis by the emperor, Paul must navigate the struggles for power and water in the sands of the planet nicknamed Dune.

“Dune” did a fantastic job of maintaining the weight of each plot point without the clarity that narration provides by adding in more visual conflicts. Paul gets into a little more mortal danger a little more often, making up for the loss of the subtler political battles from the novel. Major themes of the story are even conveyed visually; the emphasis on the value of water on Dune is shown through shots like dew on a desert mouse’s ears and burning date palms. 

Speaking of shots: “Dune” is, to put it simply, a very beautiful movie. The colors, the orchestrated soundtrack, the sweeping shots of otherworldly landscapes and, of course, the cast, make “Dune” a movie you won’t want to take your eyes off of. 

One high point: fans of the novel are familiar with the “ornithopters” of Arrakis, helicopter-like vehicles with long, vibrating wings like those of dragonflies. To put it in slang terms, these go hard. They look so badass and natural in the movie, to the point where a viewer might question why we don’t have them in real life. 

Ironically, the dramatic cinematography is also one of the movie’s weak points. Cool one-liners and stare combos are fun once or twice, but they start to feel tedious somewhere around halfway through the movie. Same goes for mysterious whispers over slow-motion shots. The movie reaches a point where the beautiful moments start to feel like they’re unnecessarily padding the runtime. 

“Dune” more than accomplishes the task of bringing the story of Paul Atreides to a wider audience, but the movie fails to form a cohesive story. The movie covers only half of the book, so the movie is actually half a story in the first place. That confused TikToker might leave theaters with a better understanding of Paul’s world but not with any sense of satisfaction or resolution. 

“Dune” is visually engaging and filled to the brim with talent but still leaves audiences feeling like they watched over two hours of setup for the movie they actually want to watch. And to all my Zendaya fans out there: she’s barely in it.