Giant worms and inter-planetary battles rocked the Venice Film Festival on Friday as “Dune”, one of the most hotly anticipated blockbusters in years, finally landed for its world premiere. It brought several gondolas worth of stars to the city’s glitzy Lido island, with fans packing the waterfront for a glimpse of Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem. Based on a landmark of sci-fi literature about warring clans fighting for control of a desert planet, the film boasts a $165-million budget and a critically adored director in Canadian Denis Villeneuve.
With its release delayed nearly a year by Covid, anticipation had reached a fever pitch. No one could deny the sheer spectacle of its massive world-building sets and pulsating soundtrack, which locals said was rattling nearby windows on the Lido. In a five-star review, The Guardian said the “slow-burn space opera fuses the arthouse and the multiplex to create an epic of otherworldly brilliance”. But some critics quibbled with the story-telling, with many miffed that this was only “Part One” of the story. “An awful lot of what we’re watching feels like laborious setup for a hopefully more gripping film to come,” said The Hollywood Reporter. Chalamet told reporters the experience had been “the honour of a lifetime.” “I hope we get to do a second one, that would be a dream.”
‘A physical experience’
Through hits like “Sicario” and “Arrival”, Villeneuve has put himself alongside Christopher Nolan as one of the few directors who can deliver deadly serious cinema that also pulls in the punters. He has previously proved his worth to sci-fi fans with “Blade Runner 2049”, a lauded sequel to the Ridley Scott classic. The build-up has not been all roses, however. Villeneuve has clashed with Warner Bros. over its decision to release the film on streaming platforms at the same time as cinemas.
At the press conference on Friday, he pleaded with audiences to see it on the big screen. “It has been dreamed, designed, shot thinking IMAX,” he said. “The sound and everything-it’s a physical experience, we designed it to be as immersive as possible.” But he said the toughest issue lay elsewhere. “The biggest challenge of making this movie was to deal with and master Timothee’s hair. It’s alive!” Villeneuve said.
Set many millennia in the future, “Dune” follows the tribal battles for control of “spice”, a powerful resource only found on the planet of Arrakis, which also happens to be infested with giant worms. The brainchild of author Frank Herbert, “Dune” was first published in 1965 and became a six-volume space opera of massive influence, not least on “Star Wars”. Brolin said he was proud they had matched the vision from the books, recounting the experience of showing the film to a long-time fan. “He started screaming at the top of his lungs: ‘That’s what I saw as a kid.’ When you see that kind of reaction, you realise it hit someone on a very visceral level,” Brolin said.
‘Ahead of his time’
Fans have long praised the book’s visionary edge, anticipating debates over global warming and the impact of technology. “The author was ahead of his time, already concerned about what the world was heading towards,” said Bardem when asked about its environmental concerns. Despite its ready-made audience and clear cinematic potential, previous transfers to film have been famously difficult. One attempt by cult Franco-Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky fell apart after four years of work in the 1970s.
Another attempt by horror auteur David Lynch in the 1980s turned into an expensive flop, though it still has its fans. “I love that version and I watched it about two months before shooting,” Chalamet said. “But when Denis Villeneuve asks you to do a movie, you forget all that and make yourself humble to the source material.” – AFP