Whether it’s evidence of the streaming market becoming more flexible about what can be streamed where remains to be seen, director Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 Dune adaptation has just expanded its reach from Max to Netflix. The 1965 novel by Frank Herbert is revered as one of the most influential pieces of sci-fi medium for its time, alongside the works of authors like Arthur C. Clarke.
Without it, other beloved creators like George Lucas may not have come along to create Star Wars, but Herbert’s work garnered notoriety for being immensely difficult to adapt effectively. However, Villeneuve’s rendition of Dune was given the space to breathe to develop this tale of tense galactic feudalism into the start of an epic two-part production, making it one of the best movies on Netflix between its spectacular visuals and powerful ensemble performance.
Like other acclaimed contemporary directors including Christopher Nolan, Villeneuve’s productions seem to have the Hollywood pull to gather some of the best actors working today. This is evident from Sicario and Prisoners to Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival, and Dune is no exception.
The latter’s all-star cast includes Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides, Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides, Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica, Zendaya as Chani, and many more. Given the density and breadth of Herbert’s first book, the star power on screen could even be seen as another major challenge to balance, but the collective ensemble performance was stellar from beginning to end. Chalamet, Isaac, and Ferguson are particular highlights in what’s an overall well-rounded cast.
Another high mark of the Canadian filmmaker’s movies is top-quality cinematography. In Dune, the talented Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Batman) is behind the camera and continues to live up to his reputation.
Sci-fi in general demands imaginative camera work to make these awe-inspiring worlds feel convincing and lived-in, Fraser’s work here accomplishes just that. On top of being a methodical and tantalizing story, Dune is a feast for the eyes that does well to capture the scale of Herbert’s universe as best as any movie can. Even for those not well-versed in the canon of this series, Dune is far from lacking in the immersion department.
Denis Villeneuve has spent the last several years establishing himself as a masterful sci-fi director with the likes of Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival, and 2021’s Dune further cements that reputation. It seems like a passion project of his, and this project was surely a tall order given the struggles to properly adapt Herbert’s novel in decades past.
David Lynch famously distanced himself from his troubled 1984 movie, but the filmmaking climate seemed right for Villeneuve’s, as it effectively depicts the first half of this sci-fi landmark. There will always be concessions in book-to-movie adaptations, but Dune succeeds in capturing the sheer scale and depth of this gritty world and its lore. This triumphant adaptation is a culmination of the direction, writing, acting, and visuals on display, breaking this story’s theatrical curse.
Dune is now streaming on Netflix. Warner Bros. Pictures and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two is set to be released in theaters on March 15, 2024.
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