Dune 4K disc is half way to being a true Sci-Fi epic
By Jim Bray
Fans of classic science fiction literature are sure to be familiar with Frank Herbert's Dune, an epic if there ever were an epic. And now, finally, there's a film version that comes close to bringing Herbert's vision to the screen.
Alas, it's only half way to being an epic – at most – because it only deals with the first half – at most – of the book, so we have to wait for more Dune goodness to come out. But based on this first film, it should be worth the wait.
Still, while director Denis Villeneuve has created a movie epic that's amazingly faithful to the original novel, there's just something missing – a spark, a grandeur, something like that. It's hard to put my finger on.
Oh, there's plenty of grandeur. Heck, this Dune looks and sounds terrific, the potential for which is why I was so pleased when Warner Brothers' 4K disc review copy showed up at my front door.
I'm a Dune fan from long back; I first read the book on my honeymoon back in 1973 and, much to my new wife's chagrin, I couldn't put it down. Then she read it and I was just as ignored, so it worked out – and 48 years later we both still love Dune. I haven't re-read it for a couple of decades, but it's a story that sticks with you – and it always cried out to be made into a good movie.
Then there was the David Lynch Dune of the 1980's. I was so excited about it that I dragged my two best friends to it, telling them it was one of the greatest books ever. Afterward, they looked at me as if I were some kind of nut, the Lynch Dune being what it was.
But it had one thing that this new, much superior for the most part, Dune isn't: that sense of gravitas in from a story that spans solar systems and Great Houses and is populated by many larger-than-life figures.
I suspect it's the casting for this new version, because everything else seems to work so well. For example, while I really like Rebecca Ferguson (heck, she's a babe and I'd love to bear her children), she didn't have the presence here that Francesca Annis had in Lynch's version. And for Duke Leto Atreides, the part really calls for a Charlton Heston, but we got Poe Dameron instead.
I'd also have swapped Jason Momoa's and Josh Brolin's roles, if only because there's a merry glint behind Momoa's eyes that Brolin doesn't have, and I think that would have worked better for the Halleck role, a soldier who was also a musician. Which reminds me, where the heck was his nine-stringed baliset?
Thanks to those issues, we're left with a movie that is grand in scope and execution, with gorgeous visuals and great sound, but which is somehow a tad sterile. But it's still better than Lynch's version or even the pretty good BBC miniseries from a couple of decades back.
Anyway, I've sat through this new Dune twice now and it just gets better, my casting caveats notwithstanding. So, I can recommend it highly to anyone who's either a fan of the Dune universe or just likes a great epic motion picture. This is both, though as mentioned its "epicness" falls a tad short of such other epics like Lawrence of Arabia, Ben-Hur and even Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The story revolves around political intrigue and power lust in the galactic Padishah Empire, some 10,000 years after an anti-thinking machine revolution ("The Butlerian Jihad" in the book) that's so far in our future already that it's hard to imagine. The spice melange is at the heart of it all – the most valuable substance in the universe for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it makes interstellar travel possible.
The spice is native to only one planet, Arrakis, also known as Dune (probably because it's easier to spell). The evil House Harkonnen has rule Dune with an iron fist, maximizing its profits at the expense of the native Fremen population, who mostly live out in the deep desert and aren't really known well by their supposed masters.
Then the Emperor decrees that the Harkonnens leave Dune and that it be taken over by the folks from House Atreides, the good guys – who must now leave their homeworld of Caladan and take up residence on Dune.
And that's the first 10 minutes or so…
Needless to say there's a lot of betrayal, intrigue, espionage and the like as things turn out to not be as they seemed on the surface – that there were plans within plans within plans operating. And the next thing we know, Duke Leto Atreides is dead and his son and mother running for their lives.
This is an incredibly superficial description of Dune in whatever format you get it (book, either movie, etc.) but I don't want to spoil it for you, nor do I want to make this review longer than necessary.
Suffice it to say it's a big, sprawling tale that really requires the epic treatment it has (almost) received and I can't wait for Villeneuve and company to finish it.
And as mentioned, I'm amazed at how faithful this movie is to the original book. Oh, I'm sure I missed some changes they made, but Villeneuve has kept the spirit of the book, and the feel, intact – in much the same way Jackson stayed faithful to J. R. R. Tolkien's work with his LOTR movies.
And that, to me, is why we only get the first half, or so, of the story: this section clocks in at 155 minutes, which gives Villeneuve time to let the story unfold organically and it's such a huge canvas it takes that long. It's a feature, not a bug.
How is it as a 4K disc? Superb. Well, it isn't the absolutely greatest 4K disc I've seen but I'd still give it top marks for picture quality. The 4K image, with Dolby Vision, was apparently shot digitally with IMAX cameras and the producers have managed to give it a terrific, film-like appearance. The colours really shine, whether the watery surface of Caladan, the blackness of the Harkonnens' Giedi Prime or, where most of the action takes place, the sandy and rocky environs of Arrakis itself. Some shots look a tad soft, but overall, this is a terrific presentation.
I sometimes find 4K discs with HDR to be excessively dark, but such wasn't the case with Dune – fortunately!
That doesn't mean the audio isn't rich and full, either, because it is. This is yet another title that'll give your home theatre a good audio workout, but without causing your neighbours to petition you to leave the area.
There's even a reasonable selection of extras on the Blu-ray that comes in the package (there's a digital download code, too). It's pretty good stuff, and quite interesting, but I think it's aimed at people who are new to the Dune universe, kind of an encyclopedia of Dune Stuff.
I'd have liked to have seen more "Dune nerd" stuff for folks like me who've been Duneaholics for a long time and already know the drill. Maybe that'll happen when the rest of the movie is released.
Meanwhile, you get "The Royal Houses", a look at the various players involved, "Inside Dune", a trio of featurettes with the cast and crew talking about making the film. There are also looks at designing "the ancient future," designing the ornithopters (which are very cool even if they don't fly like birds) and the sandworms, and how they got Baron Harkonnen to be so fat. There are also looks at the musical score and the costumes.
My angst about gravitas and casting notwithstanding, this is a really nice realization of a great piece of classic science fiction literature and if you're a fan, you'll definitely want to own it. If you aren't a fan, this might just make you one.
I can't wait for the climax!
Copyright 2022 Jim Bray