- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2022

The second cinematic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal science-fiction masterpiece taxed the creative might of director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) and delivered a critically acclaimed hit late last year on both HBO Max streaming service and IMAX theater screens.

Now available on the 4K disc format, Dune (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 155 minutes, $49.98) takes viewers back to the desert planet of Arrakis and war between powerful houses of a feudal-like empire over the most important substance in the galaxy.

Specifically, the addictive drug Melange (aka the spice), which expands consciousness and is critical to helping navigators conquer interstellar travel.

The film starts in 10191 as the emperor decrees that House Atreides must take control of the spice production on Arrakis, displacing House Harkonnen and creating a bitter rivalry that can only lead to war that will weaken both houses.

Knowing this, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) arrives on the planet and attempts to align with the Freemen, the indigenous residents of the planet, hoping it’s the key to peace on Arrakis and protection of the spice production.

All potential calm collapses when House Harkonnen’s army — led by the unrepentantly evil Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) and enhanced by Emperor Shaddam IV’s soldiers — attacks House Atreides.

However, hope still exists as the duke’s son and heir to his throne, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), and Paul’s mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) escape and survive.

Due to his mother’s Bene Gesserit (a witch-like highly religious, political faction) origins, Paul wields the mystical powers from the group and embraces visions of a holy war as he begins a transformation into the “Mahdi” (the one who will lead us to paradise”) and set Arrakis truly free.

Viewers should know that this is only the first of two movies to bring the source material to life and leaves us hanging.

Thankfully, with the expanded format, Mr. Villeneuve can take advantage of deeper character development, take time to clearly explain the conflicts, use exceptional modern special effects (wait until you see a sandworm) and deliver action-packed explorations of the triggers of Paul’s transformation.

This “Dune” almost completely eradicates the arid, meandering vision and miscues of David Lynch’s 1984 film adaptation.

He also has one heck of a cast to work with besides Mr. Chalamet Mr. Skarsgård, Mr. Isaac and Miss Ferguson.

Additionally, he enlists Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck (weapons master and Paul’s trainer); Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho (Paul’s friend and fierce warrior for House Atreides); Dave Bautista as Glossu Rabban (homicidal nephew of Baron Harkonnen); Javier Bardem as Stilgar (a Fremen tribe leader); and Zendaya as Chani (a young Fremen woman in Paul’s visions).

Suffice it to report, and already proven, it’s fairly impossible to bring Herbert’s complete work to live action, but Mr. Villeneuve and his team have done a sweeping and entertaining job.

My only disappointment is having to wait in a never-ending coronavirus pandemic for a second film.

4K in action: Culled from native 4K source, the film wastes no time in setting the ultra-high definition visual tone through a winding symphony of undulating sand and spice set against a sea of beige structures on Arrakis, delivered crisp and packed with subtle shadings.

Cinematographer Greig Fraser moves from sand to a parade of various shades of pale facial tones brought to grotesque life through high dynamic range enhancements and highlighted by the Baron’s rotund layers of sweaty facial fat.

Areas for viewers to appreciate include focusing on the fluttering wings of the wild aircraft called ornithopers (looking like a mix between a dragonfly and attack helicopter) or for panoramic, Paul overlooking a bay on his ocean planet Caladan with a massive ship rising from the water.

Keep enjoying more moments such as desert dunes that looked like whipped meringue or a red-and-orange saturated firestorm providing a backdrop to an Atreides army under assault by the Harkonnen forces.

And, for examples of detailed subtlety afforded by a 2160p experience, examine tentacles of descending fireballs eradicating the Arrakeen compound, drops of water slithering down the interior of a desert mouse’s ear and a high-beamed laser cutting through a stone wall that crumbles like a sugar cookie.

All comes to aural life through a booming Dolby Atmos soundtrack that will guarantee to shake and engulf home entertainment rooms.

Best extras: Viewers will find roughly 70 minutes of bite-sized featurettes that balance a dissection of the production with the mythology of the source material.

Those new to “Dune” will first enjoy short introductions to House Atreides, House Harkonnen, the Bene Gesserit, the Fremen, the Spice with a lecture-style narration.

Next, cast and crew offer perspectives on the movie with segments covering the creation of the ornithopers and the space harvester; designs for the sandworm; shooting in desert locations; costuming; effects; and the actors explaining their characters.

Missing is an optional commentary track with the director and his key crew that would have helped further explain how this massive undertaking was accomplished.

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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