Last Call

You need to watch 2021's most important sci-fi epic on HBO Max ASAP

“Desert power.”

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Frank Herbert’s Dune was long considered unfilmable — even after the release of David Lynch’s controversial 1984 film adaptation.

The acclaimed sci-fi series’ reputation, and the commercial failure of Lynch’s disastrous (but interesting!) film, made Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation seem misguided at best.

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But while Villeneuve’s Dune: Part One has a fair amount of detractors, critics largely found that the supposedly unmakeable movie works. (As long as you split it in two.)

The Dune novels have become a poster child for complex, unapproachable sci-fi thanks to their deep dive into the politics and culture of a truly alien society.

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Dune: Part One wrestles with these same concepts, but has one major advantage in that it can simply show viewers their effects, rather than needing to explain their particulars to readers.

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That might mean you come away from Dune with a fuzzy understanding of sandworms or the Bene Gesserit, but it makes for a much less taxing experience.

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What makes this light-touch approach work is Dune’s focus on its characters.

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You don’t need to learn everything about the world of Arrakis to understand the journey of Paul Atreides and the Fremen.

By letting its most far-out concepts pass without explanation, Dune feels like a look into a living world populated by real people.

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Kind of like how A New Hope felt, back before every grain of sand on Tatooine needed its own Wookieepedia entry.

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For all its lofty ideas, Dune succeeds thanks to jaw-dropping visuals.

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Even with a muted color palette, Villeneuve delivers cinematic sights that need to be seen to believed (and still look great if you’re watching on a TV screen).

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It’s not just empty visual calories, either. Dune’s incredible cinematic flourishes help sell the majesty of Arrakis and how its society functions much quicker than pages of exposition would.

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Fantastic performances from Oscar Isaac, Timothée Chalamet, and Zendaya pull off a similar trick, fleshing out their characters without the need to dive into their inner monologues.

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Dune: Part One has understandably been criticized for its unsatisfying ending, but its focus on building a believable world and centering its characters’ struggles in it makes the movie a joy to watch nonetheless.

If you’re looking for closure, that will have to wait until Dune: Part Two, expected in 2023.

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Dune: Part One is streaming on HBO Max until November 22.

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