Dune's story is unlike most other science fiction we're accustomed with. For starters, the political workings are distinctly feudalistic in nature. Instead of Senates, committees, and dalliances with alien races managing the setting, there exists a set of Great Houses known collectively as 'The Landsrat', a group of nobles descended from great warriors and explorers whom provide the political foundation for Mankind's Imperium, a fancy name for the country humanity has established throughout the Galaxy. This tale revolves around House Atreides, a rising star amidst the Landsraat because of their kind attitudes towards the Galactic masses and their rejection of more authoritarian ruling styles. Alongside these victories, their armies are nearly equal in power and strength to those of the incumbent Emperor Corrino's 'Sardaukar' forces, a terrifying legion of soulless killers whose obedience and might has allowed them; and House Corrino by extension, to remain the dominant Galactic power for an indefinite period of time.
Yet trouble is brewing. With Atreides's popularity comes the envy of their opponents. Not only is the Emperor infuriated with their increasing status and popularity among noble and peasant alike, but also House Atreides's ancient enemy in the ruthless, monstrous House Harkonnen. Distinctly unlike Atreides, the Harkonnen lineage are heartless, immeasurably cruel, and monstrously alien. Their current patriarch is Baron Vladimir, a man so engulfed with his own selfish indulgences and pleasures that he's grown to a disgusting size, with bodily proportions of a nightmarish level. Played by Stellan Skarsgard, the Baron is arguably one of the most iconic focal points of the movie, literally towering over any other character he encounters and portraying a sadistic and calculated evil beyond reasonable doubt. There's also his nephew Rabban, played by the legendary Dave Bautista, most famed for his role as Drax in the prior MCU.
Yet the Atreides cast is equally memorable, with Timothy Chalamet portraying Paul, a young man set to seize the House's power after his father's passing. His father, Leto Atreides, is played by Oscar Isaac, who nails his role perfectly. Sadly, his ceaseless talents were never really made usage of throughout the Star Wars Sequels trilogy, a mistake which Denis was sure not to repeat. Each scene starring Leto crafts his character as that of an honorable man willing to sacrifice political and economical benefit in order to preserve that which is truly most precious in the Universe, that being human life. There's also Josh Brolin's Gurney, a former Harkonnen slave who rose from the ashes and became an Atreides warmaster and weapons trainer. There's also Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho, the Atreides elite commando responsible for the Aristocrat Family's protection and carrying out special reconnaissance missions on their behalf. To cap of this already wondrous cast for our heroic ensemble is Rebecca Fergusson as Jessica Atreides, a former Bene Jesserit witch and Paul's mother.
Amazingly, this movie encapsulates only the first segment of Frank Herbert's first book, meaning there's still part two and the highly anticipated 'Messiah' story to move through. It lays the groundwork perfectly whilst also retaining a fresh identity of its own. It greatly helped that the Director highly respected and admired Frank's work, with such reverence being displayed in every scene, from the brilliant cinematography to of course, the mesmerizing soundtrack that practically made this movie and granted it the unique identity and brand of science-fiction it champions. The Bene Jesserit, a society of space-witches using breeding programs to forge a Messiah that will champion humanity's advancement, have arguably the best theme of all, with a massive chorus announcing their mysteriousness and power over all the other characters and parties engaged in the storyline. The Atreides theme, complete with a beautiful crescendo of bagpipes, is honorable and laced with connotations of bravery, loyalty, and the glorious willingness to perish for the Atreides bloodline in battle. The Harkonnen theme is mindlessly cruel, terrifying brutal, and only serves to display just how inhuman and lordlythey've become over their subjects, and if allowed, the rest of humanity.
But perhaps most striking for me personally was the Sardaukar theme. Serving as the Emperor's finest warriors, they strike fear into the hearts of all that cross blades with them, and for good reason. Their theme is that of a Mongolian throat singing ritual, complete with gruesome imagery of human sacrifice taking place to anoint their impending slaughter of the Atreides forces. Whenever they appear on screen, the story is dominated by their indomitable presence, as they slice through the Fremen and Atreides forces that the Harkonnen armies struggle to eliminate even a single percentile of.
Speaking of, this movie does an excellent job of displaying how different Dune truly is from most others that share its genre. Arguably, it could be considered a sub-species of its own within the realm of imaginative space-fiction, as rather than relying on luxurious, eye-catching designs for spaceships and whirlwinds of blaster-fire to capture audience attention, the movie instead takes human war back full circle with the use of medieval sword-fighting and realistic, pragmatic designs for spaceships built to house, transport, and defend. If any movie could be considered a 'realistic' sci-fi in the modern day, set far into the theoretical future of humanity, this would be it.
This movie is a great service, and I believe a relief in the 2020s movie culture, growing more and more controlled by genres of superheroism and stories where enemies are poorly-laced stand-ins for political caricatures in our modern day. Dune promises and already has provided a story of complex, rich thought regarding human nature, our accordance for oppression and conflict, yet also our desire for idols and icons to command us through our darkest days and embody the best aspects of ourselves. There are still so many elements of this great film I haven't discussed, such as the literal human supercomputers in service to the Great Houses (the one for Harkonnen played by Suicide Squad Polka-Dot man actor David Dastmalchian), the Bene Jesserit organization, the Fremen society and their integral roles in the story to come, and much more. If there is any movie you're going to catch in theaters this year, please let it be this one. Dune is worth all your time and more.