Dune review – Denis Villeneuve’s awe-inspiring epic is a moment of triumph

Dune review – Denis Villeneuve’s awe-inspiring epic is a moment of triumph

Villeneuve’s take on the sci-fi classic starring Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac and Zendaya has been given room to breathe, creating a colossal spectacle

If there can ever be a moment of triumph for a director, when the anxiety of influence is vanquished – for a bit, anyway – then Denis Villeneuve might have achieved it. This eerily vast and awe-inspiring epic, a cathedral of interplanetary strangeness, is better than the attempt a generation ago by an acknowledged master.

David Lynch’s Dune from 1984 was an interesting, rackety, flawed movie that attempted to cram the entirety of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel into its running time – the result was like Flash Gordon without the laughs. Villeneuve, with his co-writers Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth, has used less than half the book (with a second episode to come) and allowed it room to grow: to breathe and drift through unimaginably vast reaches of fictional galaxies, with images of architecturally enormous spacecraft moving into view, or delicately lowering themselves on to alien landscapes of parched and austere beauty, particularly the ravishingly pure desert landmass of “Dune”, the contested planet itself. Star Wars’ debt to Dune, and now Dune’s debt to Star Wars, has been extensively discussed (amusingly, Dune gives us moving holograms rather like the one in which Princess Leia first begged Obi-Wan Kenobi for help). But this blockpulverising film feels more like TE Lawrence’s imperious version of The Phantom Menace. This is how it ought to have been.

Dune’s story takes place millennia into the future, in which the ruling class live like Renaissance Italian princes, occasionally impressing wax seals on documents with signet rings as if they have just arrived at Hampton Court by boat. Timothée Chalamet plays Paul Atreides, son and heir to the distinguished Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), whose family has just been ordered by the emperor to take up the lucrative governorship of the desert planet Arrakis, or “Dune”.