The first reviews for Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” are in, and the reactions are split. Ravenous sci-fi fanatics waited with bated breath as cast members Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson and Javier Bardem walked down the Venice Film Festival red carpet before the first-ever screening on Friday.
After being delayed for more than a year, the Frank Herbert adaptation was finally unleashed to a small crowd of festival-goers, journalists and critics. What did the first critics to lay eyes on the latest version of the sandworm have to say? Does the spice flow for “Dune”?
So far, critics are excited about the scope and scale of the feature, but don’t seem as convinced that Villeneuve stuck the landing story-wise. Despite those gripes, the bulk of the reviews were positive and “Dune” currently has a strong 85% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Here’s a roundup of reactions:
Gleiberman wrote that “Dune” is “spectacular and engrossing … until it isn’t.”
“Here’s one useful definition of a great sci-fi fantasy film. It’s one in which the world-building is awesome but not more essential than the storytelling. In the first two ‘Star Wars’ films, those dynamics were in perfect sync; they were, as well, in ‘The Dark Knight’ and the ‘Mad Max’ films. ‘Blade Runner,’ in its way, is an amazing movie, but its world-building packs more punch than its transcendental neo-noir noodlings. Viewed in that light, ‘Dune’ is a movie that earns five stars for world-building and about two-and-a-half for storytelling.”
Ehrlich had a slightly colder take, calling hype “the mind-killer” and tweeting that the pic was a “massive disappointment.”
“For all of Villeneuve’s awe-inducing vision, he loses sight of why Frank Herbert’s foundational sci-fi opus is worthy of this epic spectacle in the first place. Such are the pitfalls of making a movie so large that not even its director can see around the sets.”
Collura was also let down by the second act of “Dune.”
“This is a technically brilliant, visually amazing movie with a top-notch cast and deep sci-fi concepts. A shame, then, that it feels like a drag in its back half.”
Lawson hoped that the new movie would be a chance to re-set “Dune” from it’s much-maligned, former film adaptation. According to him, it was not.
“With ‘Dune,’ Villeneuve has the chance to right the wrongs of David Lynch’s 1984 misfire (a misfire according to some, anyway) and truly honor Herbert’s text. But Villenueve can’t help but lacquer it all up into something hyper polished and hard to the touch. Even ‘Arrival,’ his most successful big-budget film, groans under the tremendous onus of his construction. He’s an overloader, and only the keenest and most urgent of scripts can survive beneath that weight. ‘Dune,’ unfortunately, is not one of those. Maybe the source material, with its unending glossary of terms describing places, peoples, religious traditions, and political systems, is just too dense to hone into something cinematically agile. Villeneuve’s film is somehow plodding and hurried at once, flurries of exposition and table-setting ringing around set-piece monoliths.”
That’s not to say the reviews were overwhelmingly negative. Empire’s Travis seemed truly thrilled by the ride and is hoping for a sequel.
“An absorbing, awe-inspiringly huge adaptation of (half of) Frank Herbert’s novel that will wow existing acolytes, and get newcomers hooked on its Spice-fuelled visions. If Part Two never happens, it’ll be a travesty.”
Chang praised Villeneuve’s style and ability to tame the sprawling source material into something cinematically coherent. He was less enamored with the film’s truncated conclusion.
“Until the movie slams to an abrupt, unsatisfying halt halfway through the events of Herbert’s novel, there’s pleasure in watching this particular game of thrones play out, though perhaps more pleasure than depth or meaning.”
Greenblatt was largely positive about this version of “Dune,” even if she, like Chang, bemoaned the fact that the narrative was split in two in the hopes that the success of the first part will inspire the studio to make a follow-up.
“The sheer awesomeness of Villeneuve’s execution — there might not be another film this year, or ever, that turns one character asking another for a glass of water into a kind of walloping psychedelic performance art — often obscures the fact that the plot is mostly prologue: a sprawling origin story with no fixed beginning or end.”
Loughrey found lots to love in the new adaptation, tweeting that “‘Dune’ absolutely fucking slaps.”
“Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ is the sandworm exploding out from the darkness below. It is a film of such literal and emotional largeness that it overwhelms the senses. If all goes well, it should reinvigorate the book’s legacy in the same way Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy did for JRR Tolkien’s work.”
The best site for science fiction takes, io9, gave “Dune” a rave.
“Nothing in ‘Dune‘ is an afterthought. Every single frame, every single sound, every single choice, feels like it’s been deliberated for months and the filmmaking proudly relishes each detail. Establishing shots linger a few extra seconds. Costumes are introduced fluttering in the wind for maximum beauty. Characters who aren’t on screen for more than a second feel like they deserve their own spin-off movie.”
The critic at Time Magazine didn’t consider themselves a big “Dune” fanatic by any means, however it seems the appearance of the appearance of the beloved sandworm may have swayed them.
“Villeneuve lays it out before us without smirking or winking; his go-for-broke earnestness feels honest and clean. And the effects, while lavish, also have a tasteful, polished quality. Particularly impressive is the massive Arrakis predator known as the sandworm, a fearsome creature that first makes its presence known as a giant ripple of action beneath the sand, before poking its lamprey-like head aboveground to sweep its prey—machinery, people, whatever—into its toothy gob. The sandworm is the stuff of nightmares, but Villeneuve’s vision of it has a shivery elegance.”
Meanwhile, the social media takes were overwhelmingly positive:
Denis Villeneuve’s #Dune is made for the fans, without feeling purely like fan-service. Go for the stunning visuals and the heartfelt performances by Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson & Oscar Isaac. And worth noting — Jason Momoa steals every scene as Duncan Idaho, what a star.
— Angelique Jackson (@angelique814) September 3, 2021
.@dunemovie is spectacular. Denis Villeneuve has crafted a visual masterpiece. Greig Fraser’s cinematography is a sight to be seen,simply gorgeous. You can’t take your eyes off the screen. Timothée Chalamet is outstanding. Don't be surprised by a crafts sweep pic.twitter.com/MDUAWDs3GF
— Jazz Tangcay (@jazzt) September 3, 2021
#Dune is fantastic. I went in knowing nothing and was completely hypnotized by the strange world. It’s thrilling and emotionally authentic and, I don’t know, it was 8:15AM in Italy and I was overtired and three espressos in, but I even cried?
— Lindsey Bahr (@ldbahr) September 3, 2021
#Dune is a visual spectacle. A new world is born for people like me, with no knowledge of the source material, and an achievement by Denis Villeneuve. Suspect Oscar noms in every tech category, director, picture. It opens with title card DUNE PART ONE. We better get PART TWO. pic.twitter.com/SkwjJCTlBo
— Clayton Davis (@ByClaytonDavis) September 3, 2021
I’ve watched #Dune & it’s among the most immersive moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had w/ a sci-fi film. There is masterful filmmaking on display here. When paired w/ its big, monstrous sound, the film wondrously transports you to a new, exciting, horrific yet beautiful world pic.twitter.com/Z0oNUJbiNE
— Erik Davis (@ErikDavis) September 3, 2021
#Dune is a cinematic thunderclap. Maybe my favorite film of the year.
Denis Villeneuve & co. created a phenomenal adaptation of Herbert's work. It feels alien in the way the best sci-fi does and balances visceral violence and cruelty with resilience and hope. An absolute banger. pic.twitter.com/TIJ6qHaHWD
— Dan Casey (@DanCasey) September 3, 2021