There will never be another movie like this one. While this director’s other science fiction epics are notable on their own terms, neither will have the same long-lasting impact as his latest work. It’s easily the biggest science fiction movie of 2021, and perhaps the most pivotal sci-fi film of the past five years.
We’re talking, of course, about Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, which is leaving HBO Max on November 22, 2021. Here’s why you need to watch this instant science fiction classic while you still can — and why it’s worth rewatching even if you’ve already seen it once before.
Warning! Mild spoilers ahead for Dune: Part One.
The case for watching Dune on HBO Max
While film aficionados will tell you the only way to truly appreciate the new Dune is to watch it on an IMAX screen in a theater with industry-best sound, I’m not sure that argument precludes you from watching Dune on HBO Max.
If you’re a hardcore Dune fan, you’ve already seen it, and you’ve made your peace with how you’ve seen it. This article isn’t really for you. The truth is, whenever a big sci-fi movie comes out, there’s a portion of the sci-fi fan community that, for whatever reason, doesn’t get around to seeing the movie.
And if Dune: Part One was only playing in theaters, I could see why someone with just a passing interest in the movie might skip it. Everyone knows the film lacks a concrete ending. And, unfairly or not, Dune has a reputation for being dense and hard to follow.
So if you’re a sci-fi person and perhaps even quietly a Dune detractor, here’s the kicker: You have to watch Dune: Part One on HBO Max, because you’ll regret it later if you don’t.
Why Dune is great for casual sci-fi fans
As there are myriad characters and complicated space power-struggles, and the first book is really long, it’s easy to forget the most accessible element of Dune’s basic thrust, despite this arguably also being its masterstroke.
Dune is, first and foremost, a work of soft science fiction. This means that, although the books might seem nerdy and complicated, they’re not even remotely close to hard science fiction, which typically spends much of its narrative going deep on the various technologies involved. That’s not Dune.
In fact, what makes Dune: Part One so exceptional as an adaptation is that it rarely cares too much about the particulars of its nifty sci-fi vehicles and settings. Nearly everything technologically advanced or overtly scientific is presented as a given within the film’s world; the characters are, for the most part, unimpressed by all the big sci-fi tech around them.
This approach mirrors the way Frank Herbert lays out information in his novel. With the film Dune: Part One, the focus is always on the characters, no matter what. The result is somewhat rare: A casual fan doesn’t have to understand everything in Dune: Part One to get into the film.
For so long, various big-budget sci-fi action movies have claimed to really be about the characters, and that their sci-fi action is merely a feature. But outside of TV series like For All Mankind or Star Trek: Picard, this is almost never the case. Especially with movies.
Although seeing Dune in the theater is cool (I’ve seen it on both HBO Max and in a theater) there isn’t one specific special-effects scene in the movie that demands to be seen huge. There’s no Death-Star-Trench-Run, in other words. There’s no “Avengers Assemble” moment. In other words, at no point does Dune take you out of the characters’ story to deliver a money shot. That’s not to say Dune isn’t visually wondrous, because it certainly is, but it’s understated about its majestic moments. Even the sandworm appears at night in the movie, rather than being dolled up for a clear close-up, and it’s on-screen in full only for a moment.
Dune: Part One is the rare science fiction film that dares to be misunderstood. It doesn’t try to emulate countless other franchises but instead uses the visual language of science fiction deftly enough to feel instantly familiar. It’s a big movie that also feels small; by the end of it, you feel like the story is just getting started.
With Dune: Part Two on the way in 2023, we’re very much at the beginning of this journey. Even if you’ve already seen Dune in the theater, giving it another watch before it leaves HBO Max is worthwhile. There’s nothing quite like this film, and we’re not getting the rest of Villeneuve’s saga for another two years. The spice is scarce! Get it while you can.
Dune: Part One streams on HBO Max until November 22, 2021.