Dune

Dune: Part One

Dune: Part One is almost three hours long, and somehow it still feels too short. Yes, it is a “part one,” so the story isn’t finished—it will be, thankfully, in 2023—but the main reason the film ends before you want it to is that the world Villeneuve and company have crafted is so rich and detailed, you want to stay in it longer. Every room, every vista, every interaction between different cultures, whether those interactions are friendly or hostile, is an obvious work of love reminiscent of the esteem for source material you can detect in Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I’ve seen the film twice now, once in L.A.’s largest IMAX theater and once at home streaming on HBO Max. Both experiences were immersive, because while it’s always fun to see a movie on the biggest screen with the loudest sound possible, true cinematic immersion is a factor of good storytelling. (Maybe I should watch Dune: Part One a third time on my phone just to complete the screen-size cycle.) Villeneuve is a great storyteller especially when he spins this kind of science-fiction yarn. Science-fiction like Dune and Blade Runner are built on environments and their effects on individuals. Villeneuve has always excelled at this dynamic. It’s the kind of thing you don’t notice about a filmmaker’s work until they do something like Dune, where the motif is the story. Then you can look back and see it as the dominant motif of their filmography.

In that respect, in the ways environment shapes people and relationships, Dune: Part One is an inherently ecological tale. It’s about the preeminence of the natural world in the workings of our governments, economies, religions, and even our family dynamics. It is a prescient story. The release of the film was long-delayed due to the global pandemic, but it is quite appropriate that the film is making sand waves in theaters as the COP26, the UN Conference on Climate Change, is taking place in Glasgow, Scotland. If you are following those negotiations, you’ll notice that the discussions are not about the legitimacy of climate change, but about the economics of its effects and the politics of how the world might manage them.

The dynamics of our environments have always caused societal change on every level, forcing people to migrate from one areas to another. The mixing of people sparks new varieties of government and religion, new ways of doing business with one another. Our efforts to mitigate climate change are, yes, efforts to avoid massive environmental damage and species loss, but they are also an effort to manage the kinds of sweeping social change that will result as vast numbers of people move to escape rising seas, parching heat, extreme winters, and volatile weather of all kinds. In the United States, working to mitigate climate change is seen as part of the progressive agenda. This has long puzzled me. It should be about stewarding the earth and loving our neighbors, but managing climate change is actually about maintaining the national and global status quo.

I have wandered away from Dune, or maybe I have journeyed back to it, because at its core, the space opera is about powerful people, some of them unseen, maneuvering to maintain their wealth and authority by abusing a world and its people and about the revolution that rises up as a result of that abuse. Dune is a warning. I anticipate watching how it ends.

In closing, I know it can feel dispiriting to read the prognostications of climate scientists about the changes coming to our world. It can be frustrating to see societies refuse to act. My one consolation is that humanity has always been subject to the environment. I find it incredible that we believe we can do something about it now. We have the knowledge and ability to make changes that will effect our environment, and therefore, our communities, for the better. We’ve never been able to do that before. We’ve only been able to built arks, sacrifice oxen, and chant at the stars. I do pray we don’t waste this opportunity. “This is only the beginning…” is how Dune: Part One ends. If we learn from it, I believe that is true.

Dune: Part One is almost three hours long, and somehow it still feels too short. Yes, it is a “part one,” so the story isn’t finished—it will be, thankfully, in 2023—but the main reason the film ends before you want it to is that the world Villeneuve and company have crafted is so rich and detailed, you want to stay in it longer. Every room, every vista, every interaction between different cultures, whether those interactions are friendly or hostile, is an obvious work of love reminiscent of the esteem for source material you can detect in Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I’ve seen the film twice now, once in L.A.’s largest IMAX theater and once at home streaming on HBO Max. Both experiences were immersive, because while it’s always fun to see a movie on the biggest screen with the loudest sound possible, true cinematic immersion is a factor of good storytelling. (Maybe I should watch Dune: Part One a third time on my phone just to complete the screen-size cycle.) Villeneuve is a great storyteller especially when he spins this kind of science-fiction yarn. Science-fiction like Dune and Blade Runner are built on environments and their effects on individuals. Villeneuve has always excelled at this dynamic. It’s the kind of thing you don’t notice about a filmmaker’s work until they do something like Dune, where the motif is the story. Then you can look back and see it as the dominant motif of their filmography.

In that respect, in the ways environment shapes people and relationships, Dune: Part One is an inherently ecological tale. It’s about the preeminence of the natural world in the workings of our governments, economies, religions, and even our family dynamics. It is a prescient story. The release of the film was long-delayed due to the global pandemic, but it is quite appropriate that the film is making sand waves in theaters as the COP26, the UN Conference on Climate Change, is taking place in Glasgow, Scotland. If you are following those negotiations, you’ll notice that the discussions are not about the legitimacy of climate change, but about the economics of its effects and the politics of how the world might manage them.

The dynamics of our environments have always caused societal change on every level, forcing people to migrate from one areas to another. The mixing of people sparks new varieties of government and religion, new ways of doing business with one another. Our efforts to mitigate climate change are, yes, efforts to avoid massive environmental damage and species loss, but they are also an effort to manage the kinds of sweeping social change that will result as vast numbers of people move to escape rising seas, parching heat, extreme winters, and volatile weather of all kinds. In the United States, working to mitigate climate change is seen as part of the progressive agenda. This has long puzzled me. It should be about stewarding the earth and loving our neighbors, but managing climate change is actually about maintaining the national and global status quo.

I have wandered away from Dune, or maybe I have journeyed back to it, because at its core, the space opera is about powerful people, some of them unseen, maneuvering to maintain their wealth and authority by abusing a world and its people and about the revolution that rises up as a result of that abuse. Dune is a warning. I anticipate watching how it ends.

In closing, I know it can feel dispiriting to read the prognostications of climate scientists about the changes coming to our world. It can be frustrating to see societies refuse to act. My one consolation is that humanity has always been subject to the environment. I find it incredible that we believe we can do something about it now. We have the knowledge and ability to make changes that will effect our environment, and therefore, our communities, for the better. We’ve never been able to do that before. We’ve only been able to built arks, sacrifice oxen, and chant at the stars. I do pray we don’t waste this opportunity. “This is only the beginning…” is how Dune: Part One ends. If we learn from it, I believe that is true.

Portrait of Fuller Seminary alum Elijah Davidson

Elijah Davidson is Co-Director of Brehm Film and Senior Film Critic. Find more of his work at elijahdavidson.com.

The Last Duel isn’t a subtle film. Ridley Scott’s latest is a medieval #MeToo movie with a dash of Rashomon.