Normally, we don’t follow the advanced critical response to upcoming films, but Dune is not a normal film. Consequently, the response to Denis Villeneuve‘s adaption of Frank Herbert‘s novel, screened at the Venice International Film Festival last night, is polarized. Some laud it as a stunning achievement of filmmaking while others pan it in terms eerily similar to David Lynch‘s 1984 adaptation while also making time to lambast that earlier film as impenetrable.
Variety, for example, praises its world-building, but notes that aspect of the production “packs more punch than its transcendental neo-noir noodlings.”
Of course, those familiar with Lynch’s film or Herbert’s novel series know noodling in terms of style, metaphysics, and the deconstructed hero’s journey is woven into its tapestry. A faithful adaptation of the text will behave in ways unlike a tentpole blockbuster or even a film festival critical darling. With that in mind, though, it seems familiarity with Dune is still a prerequisite as a number of reviews blithely reference Star Wars as its ancestry despite the novel first going into print in 1965.
But, clearly, this will always be an issue when any filmmaker or studio tries to adapt Dune. It defeated Alejandro Jodorowsky and Ridley Scott after all — to say nothing of the attempts made to develop a feature from it in more recent times. And though some would still pan Lynch’s attempt, we’ll argue it’s the best possible single-film version of the book one could possibly make in the 1980s. For further proof, just look at the criticism of Villeneuve ‘s Dune feeling incomplete despite all the work Warner Bros. has put in to telling critics and audiences that this is this is the first of a two-part film. Of course, we recognize that a film like this should still feel satisfying on its own — just look at The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for a film in Warner’s own library that starts a unfinished tale and still ends on its own terms as the credits roll. Nevertheless, Dune has a pretty natural place to pause and make a “Part 1” film feel whole. If some of the response is to be believed, this film does not do that. And the worry that Dune Part 2 may never get made certainly hampers the appreciation of any cliffhanger.
Not having seen the film, we can’t really say if that’s true. But it is worth keeping this critical appraisal in mind when Dune finally comes out next month.