Cult Movies: Denis Villeneuve's epic Dune a 'sumptuous sci-fi spectacle'

Dune: Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica Atreides
Ralph McLean

Dune (2021)

FRANK Herbert published Dune, his literary opus, in 1965. Since then, many a film maker has tried to adapt it for both big screen and small only to be met with that predictable suggestion that the material is 'unfilmable' and, by implication, best left well alone.

Not every adaptation has fallen face first into the sand however. While some versions of Herbert's sprawling sci-fi masterwork, like David Lynch's sorry stab at it in 1984 – which the director himself continues to disown to this day – are genuinely woeful, others are more successful.

Denis Villeneuve's impressively regal take on the tale grandly cruised onto movie screens last year and might just be as close as modern cinema will ever get to a definitive re-telling of Herbert's sweeping story of power, mythology and mankind's ultimate survival.

Freshly released on Blu-ray, it's now possible to enjoy the sumptuous spectacle of Villeneuve's version in all its complex and multi-layered glory.

Here, Timothee Chalamet is Paul Atriedes, the gifted son of Duke Leo Atriedes (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). When the family take over the control of Arakis, also known as 'Dune', that planet's most valuable asset – a spice that makes your eyes turn blue when consumed – leaves them open to attack from raiders. Soon, Paul and his mother must flee the comfort of their noble life for the mysteries of the vast desert outside.

If that plot sounds simple the story that Blade Runner 2049 director Villeneuve weaves here is anything but. This is a slow-burning epic that challenges you to immerse yourself fully in the world it creates.

Much more than the straight ahead and kid-friendly sci-fi universe offered by something like the Star Wars franchise, this is a cerebral experience that won't appeal to everyone –but if you go with the leisurely flow, there is a lot to savour in this complex example of superior cinematic world building.

The performances are uniformly impressive, with Chalamet particularly good as the wildly talented key player in the piece, and the huge budget is clear to see onscreen with the vast vistas of the desert setting captured to breathtaking effect throughout.

Villeneuve packs a lot of exposition and character study into a running time of two-and-half hours and his passion for the source material is evident in every frame. Yes, the pace is painfully slow at times and there are a multitude of characters to take in – but if you're willing to get on board for the journey, what emerges is an almost Shakespearean tale of power, community and one boy's coming of age.

A visual feast at the cinema when it was released to a mixed and strangely muted response last year, Dune might find its ideal audience in the living room rather than the multiplex. It certainly retains its power to entrance on the small screen, and this Blu-ray edition – packed as you'd expect with more extras and bonus features than any sci-fi obsessive could ask for – is the perfect way to soak in this allegedly 'unfilmable' story in all its grandiose glory.

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