Early Dune Reviews Question Narrative Choices Amid Dazzling Visual Spectacle

The big draw at this year’s Venice International Film Festival is the world premiere of Dune. Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited re-imagining of Frank Herbert’s beloved 1965 novel finally had its first screening earlier today. And critics have already begun posting their full reviews online.

Overall, the consensus is mostly positive–Dune is currently sitting at 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. Much of the praise is given to Villeneuve’s visual flair, previously honed on modern sci-fi classics like Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. But even the most flattering reviews aren’t without their caveats about the movie’s narrative structure. Check out a few highlights below.

One of the most glowing reviews comes from io9’s Germain Lussier. Calling the movie “hugely ambitious,” he lauded Villeneuve’s attention to minutiae: “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.”

Lussier added that the film can be “too” ambitious. “A tad too slow. Even a bit incomplete.” But in general, none of these flaws distract from the larger story.

We’ve known for a while that Dune only covers the first half of Herbert’s original novel. And EW’s Leah Greenblatt makes this sound like a weakness, because “the plot is mostly prologue: a sprawling origin story with no fixed beginning or end.” Regardless, these flaws are often masked by Villeneuve’s “breathtaking” style, which delivers “a sensory experience so opulent and overwhelming it begs to be seen big, or not at all.”

In another glowing review, Empire’s Ben Travis calls Dune “the adaptation you always dreamed of,” claiming it will dazzle longtime fans and newcomers alike. And there’s rarely a dull moment: “the sense of scale conjured up is, from moment to moment, frequently astonishing.” Whether or not it spawns a franchise depends on the film’s box office performance. But in Travis’ view, “if Part Two never happens, it’ll be a travesty.”

Writing for RogerEbert.com, Glenn Kenny gave the film three and a half stars. He also singled out the work of cinematographer Greig Fraser, editor Joe Walker, and production designer Patrice Vermette. Because of their combined efforts, Dune “manages to walk the thin line between grandeur and pomposity.” Moreover, Kenny praised the screenwriting team of Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts, and Eric Roth for handling “exposition without making it seem like EXPOSITION.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Justin Chang appreciated Dune’s real-world corollaries. As he tells it, the film presents an “astonishingly vivid, sometimes plausibly unnerving vision of the future.” Regarding its visuals, “it’s hard to deny the excitement of feeling swept up in this movie’s great squalls of sand, spice and interplanetary intrigue, realized with a level of craft so overpowering in its dust-choked aridity that you may want to pull your mask up a little tighter in the theater.”

IndieWire’s David Ehrlich wasn’t as kind. Awarding the film a C-, Ehrlich felt Dune “only resembles a dream in that it cuts out on a note so flat and unresolved that you can’t believe anyone would have chosen it on purpose.” And here’s the real gut-punch: “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.”

Similarly, The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney suggested that the film is primarily for fans. Unless you’re already familiar with the ins and outs of the novel, “chances are you’ll be glazing over not too far into Dune.”

Rooney also claimed that the book’s headier themes get “mulched” in the script. ”What the film doesn’t do is shape Herbert’s intricate world-building into satisfyingly digestible form. The history and complex societal structure that are integral to the author’s vision are condensed into a blur, cramping the mythology.”

Dune opens in theaters and on HBO Max on October 22.

What do you make of these early reviews for the film? Tell us what you think in the comment section below!

Recommended Reading: Dune (Penguin Galaxy)

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