Linda Cook review: Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ is anything but dry

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I think Frank Herbert would be proud.

The late author, whose science-fiction novel “Dune” first was published in 1965, would appreciate the way director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) handles his complex story of power plays, relationships and the commodity known as spice.

This first film – I don’t know how many more there will be – introduces viewers to the central characters involved in the Great Houses who want to control the harvest of spice. Spice is used for incredible achievements, from enhancing mental capacity to space travel.

The arid Arrakis, the titular “dune,” is the only planet where spice is mined. The Emperor removes the House Harkonnen control of Arrakis, and gies it to House Atreides.

Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) must move his family to Arrakis, where threats – not to mention the ghastly heat – lurk everywhere.

Duke Leto’s son is Paul (Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name”), whose special abilities with prophetic visions come Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson, “Doctor Sleep”) who is part of a group of women called the Bene Gesserit. Jason Momoa (“Aquaman”) plays a warrior for the House of Atreides and a mentor and confidante to Paul.

There’s a plot afoot involving the takeover of Arrakis and war looms between the Houses.

There isn’t a bad performance here, although the film largely belongs to the enjoyable Chalamet.

But that’s not all. The story is much more engaging and accessible than in the 1984 “Dune” debacle. It’s also wonderful to see – especially the gargantuan sandworms and the planet they inhabit.

It’s a sight to behold and also to hear: Oscar winner Hans Zimmer has composed another wonderful score for a movie that will appeal not only to “Dune” fans but also to fans of epic films from “Lord of the Rings” to the “Star Wars” franchise.

It’s epic in the old-school meaning of the word.

3 ½ stars

Rated: PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, and suggestive situations.

Running time: Two hours and 35 minutes.

In theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

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