Avant-Garde Space Opera Dune Transcends Traditional Sci-Fi

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Graphic edited by Laura Renfroe; photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Newest variation of the long-running Dune franchise, this film explores the art of visual immersion balanced with incredibly complex storytelling.

Laura Renfroe, Staff Writer

The skies of Arrakis blaze with corruption, greed, and the smoldering sunset on the desert’s horizon. The planet simmers with heat as streaks of spice shift along the sand’s surface and dragon-fly-winged spacecrafts hum in the atmosphere. 

The blue-eyed natives of the planet watch the skies with uncertainty from their crouched positions in the shade. Are these newcomers here to bring safety to Arrakis or, like all invading predecessors, to promote their personal propagandas? 

Under the desert’s dunes lurk deadly worms and even more malevolent avarice. The precious drug-like spice commodities of the planet, once harvested, are symbols of wealth and status. As conflicts explode in desperation for these resources, Paul must decide his true calling: his inherited responsibility or the destiny of the wasteland’s people.

As the newest rendition of Frank Herbert’s 1965 interstellar classic, Dune rises as the number one film in box office currently, and its multi-layered artistry strays far from traditional science fiction with its eccentric auditory and visual components. 

The beautiful film, directed by Denis Villeneuve, premiered October 22, 2021, and only a few weeks into release, has managed to leave viewers’ heads whirling long after the credits rolled. The complexity and experimentation of Dune are perhaps what have made it such an artful success among sci-fi finatics. 

Viewers can truly taste and feel the details of Dune on their very skin. The immersivity is on a whole new industry-defining magnitude. From one’s theater recliner,  movie-goers can feel the spice coat their outstretched hands and the heat seethe against their sweat-oiled faces.

The film commences with protagonist Paul Atreides, portrayed by the alluring Timothée Chalamet, who is haunted by dreams, vision-like prophecies of a far-off planet and, most commonly, a bluish-eyed girl (Zendaya) beckoning him. Flashing images of blood-coated blades and raging sandstorms give Paul some unspoken connection to the desert natives.

In his oceanic home of Caladan, the desert wind seems unreachable. Soon, however, Paul is sent with his father Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) to seize control of this desert planet, Arrakis, and oversee spice production. 

The addictive particles of the planet had long been utilized to benefit health and lifespan. The high demand of this spice left the tribal people of Arrakis under constant genocide as previous controllers established their own gluttonous monopilies.

Though the Duke had vowed not to harm the Fremen (people of Arrakis), his concubine and son feel wary that an unavoidable trade war is near. 

The concubine Jessica has mastered superhuman powers of mind control under a pious sisterhood, in which only the females are able to utilize spice to enhance their powers.

Paul has inherited these mystical powers from Jessica nonetheless, and his mother urges him to delve deeper into his dreams and find out what the Fremen want. 

After assassination attempts cause chaos in Arrakis, the mother and son must face the unforgiving desert together in hopes of survival.

Dune’s visual language laced through every striking landscape and nifty aircraft stands out the most. The atmosphere of the film is nuanced, featuring abstract usage of camera angles and low-saturation lighting and colors. The vast grays and deep oranges of the film truly plant the audience in this barren world.

The eye-catching production, landscape, and costume designs are perhaps the most enjoyable essences of this operatic fantasy. From desolate sand dunes to lush mountains, Dune offers a breathtaking variety of details.

The film flaunts ingenious hardware and aircraft configurations. The Fremen’s “stillsuits,” for example, are robust fluid-recycling ensembles worn by those who plan to traverse the desert for extended periods of time. Certain designs in the film stand out, such as the concubine’s studded headpiece glimmering from under her chiffon gown or the insectoid spaceships thrumming its wings in the sky.

The film is a perfect specimen of cinematographer Greig Fraser’s artistic touch and flawlessly showcases how visual immersivity makes a movie that much more memorable. As the cinematographer who brought us Rogue One and The Mandalorian, Fraser weaves familiar faded hues into his camera shots.

The visuals of Dune exceptionally redefine the art of color subtlety. The dim ambience of the film balanced with the melodramatic plot makes for an unforgettable viewing experience.   

It is not the visual language alone that speaks volumes, however. The sublime soundtracks stimulate the needed energy for such a colossal space opera. Hans Zimmer’s soaring orchestra backed with the wide camera shots delivers a full visceral package.

Even despite the visual and auditory feasts of the movie, Dune upholds a certain heavy premise, one grounded in our earthen reality.

Dune was written 60 years ago, but its themes hold up today,” actor Timothée Chalamet told The Hollywood Reporter. “A warning against the exploitation of the environment, a warning against colonialism, a warning against technology.”

Within this stark story, viewers find many themes camouflaged among the labyrinthine plot points. At its core, the film centers around the negative effects of societal selfishness from overusing natural resources to manipulating native establishments.

The storytelling of Dune is undoubtedly not cookie-cutter in any form or fashion. The many societal and ecological layers of the plot are a bit hard to digest to any casual sci-fi connoisseur.

In a world of tyrannies and freedom-fighters, Dune in no way falls short of a science fiction epic and is much deserving of its success.

Even if one is like me and is sorely unversed in the decade-old Dune chronology, the film is still worth the watch, if for the aesthetics and design alone.