I am not a cinema-buff. Maybe I go once or twice a year, and usually because someone else suggests seeing it. At their worst, cinemas can massively detract from the experience, usually as a result of the other people in them. The fact that I paid 15 quid or so for a ticket, and still had to watch about seventeen adverts before the film was absolutely criminal — a state of insanity that audiences have been frog-boiled into over time. No longer is it the case that the “film trailer” section merely contains film trailers, now I get to enjoy a fucking Audi advert right at the very end of the block as though it is a film in itself. Yes, I know the sound system in this cinema is great, I don’t need to spend 20 seconds getting blasted by every individual speaker to realise this, please just put the film on. This, along with all the other stuff everyone knows. Drinks are ridiculously priced, snacks are absurd, but at least we’ve gotten to a stage where cinemas no longer try to pack as many people as possible into a screen, electing to do smaller screens but with more luxury.
Despite all this, Dune was so good in the cinema, I’m contemplating seeing it twice — something that I have never done in my life. Do not watch this film on your shitty home television, do not watch a download on your PC, disregard HBO Max or whatever it’s hosted on. Go and see Dune in a cinema. You will understand when you’ve done so.
So why is Dune so good? Why am I sat here, on my blog where I mostly talk about videogames and TTRPGs, talking to you about a film? I must ramble at you. The world is not exactly short of sci-fi media; we’re sat atop an absolute mountain of it nowadays, some good, most not. Even films that are not explicitly sci-fi cannot resist indulging in a bit of future-wankery. Holographic screens and keyboards that make no sense, devices and machinery constituted of millions upon millions of tiny gubbins, impossible to maintain and an engineering nightmare, but boy it looks shiny in the CGI don’t it? It would have been so easy for Denis Villeneuve (director) to have stepped up to the plate, and delivered yet another utterly milquetoast entry: another Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, another Elysium, another Passengers. A sci-fi film insofar as it contains shiny technology, CGI set pieces to distract you from worlds and storytelling that fundamentally could have existed in the modern day. It would have been hated by anyone passionate about Dune, it probably would have done well in the box office, and it’d be another chalk mark on the wall for failed attempts at bringing the book to the silver screen. Denis did not do this.
Every piece of technology shown in the film looks like it could have been used a hundred times before we saw it. Function is put before form, with compromises made only in the most ceremonial of circumstances. When you see something, you generally know what it does just by looking at it. On only a couple of occasions is there any explanation of technology at all, and only for the most important items (such as the body shields). Unlike most sci-fi which feels the need to have a simpering audience insert, asking the most stupid of questions so that everything can be explained via exposition, Dune (mostly) has faith that you’ll just get it from context. Or you won’t, but that’s fine. The general lack of exposition, and a fierce trust in the audience leads to a world that feels extremely alien. If you don’t know it from the books, you use your imagination. The mystique is there, the scale is there; not everything needs to be answered and explained, you just need to sweep the audience up in it and carry them away.
Something that constantly stands out to me is just how certain scenes are framed. Some moments that are fundamentally an interaction between two people, entirely acted with essentially no special effects are presented and filmed as though they were climactic finales. Meanwhile, scenes that contain the most action, the most sci-fi tech, are filmed as though it was a documentary or a news segment. Denis seems to understand that while Avengers-esque gigantic CGI battles are extremely popular with audiences, they are the equivalent of a sugary-snack. Sure, in the moment, it’s fantastic; but if you ate nothing but them, eventually it’ll just become as pedestrian as everything else. Action in Dune is short, sweet, and always contains something that reminds you that this is not your world. The motives and driving forces for characters are elements we can comprehend (mostly), even if the world is otherwise so utterly foreign.
The sound is a solid 70% of why I recommend seeing this in a cinema. The score is phenomenal, and sits squarely in Hans Zimmer’s Box of Bangers. The only fault is that it occasionally suffers from Christopher Nolan syndrome, where characters can be hard to understand because of the sound mixing. There are a couple of occasions where I completely missed what was said, but it wasn’t a constant problem like it was with say, Tenet. I almost don’t want to say more, because the sound feels like as big a spoiler as anything else. All I will say is that Salusa Secundus is utter sound perfection. It cannot be improved. Cinematic bliss.
That’s it. That’s my whole post. I would say more, but I’ll invariably spoil something. Go and see Dune in a cinema. The scale, the cinematography, the score, the effects, the acting. It’s all so fantastic, and throws Dune comfortably into my top ten list of films.