Cast of ‘Dune’ impresses more than plot

Written By Rachel Ross, For The Globe

3 Globes

2021’s “Dune” drew me in by the same means I’m sure it did many others: the cast. It offered me incentive to watch a movie that I anticipated being difficult to follow or completely understand, having gone through my “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” stages as a kid and knowing that complex world building that is a staple of films like these. The studio is well aware of this I’m sure, with the main poster for the film almost solely serving to show off the star-studded ensemble cast. Besides them, it offers the title of course, in sleak, futuristic lettering, as well as the movie’s tagline: “It begins.” Here lies the problem that I ended up having with “Dune”: begin is about all it does.

The film follows Paul (Timothée Chalamet) as his family, who are a form of royalty in this world, move from the planet of Caladan to Arrakis, which they have been given the opportunity to rule over, so long as they harvest its very hot commodity: “spice.” When the operation unravels by devastating means, Paul’s strength is put to the test, both mentally and physically, as he is forced to fight to stay alive and come to understand his destiny.

It became abundantly clear within the first five minutes that I was right to assume there would be a plethora of finer details and vocabulary. However, I wouldn’t say that any of it was so complicated that I was completely lost with what was going on; I managed to follow along with the main story pretty successfully.

In terms of performances, I thought everyone did fine; Timothée Chalamet is obviously the standout, which is good sometimes and bad at others. At times, he definitely does outshine his co-stars, but there will also be instances where it feels like everyone else is really trying to commit to the bit of being in this futuristic world, maybe with accents or very formal speech delivery, and he’ll act like he just hopped off the New York metro. Hearing someone say, “You good?” in a dystopian world was just a little bit unsettling. Overall, I thought he brought a good energy to the role.

Without getting into specifics, as to avoid spoilers, I feel compelled to mention my frustration towards one of the actors being extremely over-hyped and advertised for the length of screen time they actually had in the film. They were very clearly used to bait more people into seeing this movie. The advertising was very misleading for their actual role in this particular film.

As for the visuals, I would say that they were impressive in the same way all of those big budget studio movies are; they helped in building this grand world, but I wouldn’t say anything was awing or stunning. Some of the indoor locations were cool, and others just felt like vast empty spaces. In their defense, I guess there’s only so much you can do with the desert. What stood out to me more than the effects was actually the music; I thought that it provided a good aid on several occasions for making the world feel more immersive.

Then we arrive at the problem I alluded to above; my biggest gripe with this film. In the opening title sequence, the movie is presented as, “Dune: Part 1.” Clearly, they already know that they’re making more, which would be fine, if these subsequent movies weren’t used as a safety net, which they are. In my opinion, this movie does little more than set up for things to come. Maybe that will make the experience of future movies better, but it made this one feel padded and sometimes boring. I think it’s best compared to the two part finale problem that a number of series based on books have fallen victim to, from Harry Potter to Twilight to Hunger Games; they split the finale into two sections, with the first one being all set up and the second one being all action. Barely anything happens in the first section, besides getting all of the events they don’t want to waste time on in the second section out of the way. This felt exactly like that. It’s frustrating enough at the end of a series, and so you can imagine how much worse it would be as an introduction to one. With that being said, I felt as though the runtime of this movie was unnecessary. It was watchable; I wasn’t eager to get it over with or anything, but it gets a little boring when you keep talking about visions of wars and battles. Instead of actually seeing any of it, we’re just walking around in the desert. They’re asking too much of your patience; the end of this movie should have been the middle. I understand that it’s an adaptation of a book, and they want to try to be authentic to the source material, but a film has different beats to hit than a book; it doesn’t really have the time to flesh things out like a book would. When it tries to, you get into a situation like this, where it comes off as padded.

Although there are certainly impressive elements of “Dune,” such as the world building and most of the performances, I can’t help but feel as though it’s wasted on an installment with very little substance. It’s quantity over quality; let’s stretch it into all these movies, even if that means some of them are just shells of exposition. I would say 2021’s “Dune” is only worth a watch if you intend to stick with it for the subsequent sequels. “Dune” is currently playing in theaters, as well as streaming on HBO Max through November 21.