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Dune

Life certainly has a way of sneaking up on you. If I am lucky enough to still have this job next summer, it will serve as the twentieth year that I have been writing reviews for this magazine. I’m not quite sure how I got to a point where I could possibly be doing anything professionally for multiple decades, and yet, here we are.

In those years, I’ve seen the evolution of the medium, both in execution and presentation. While it seemed as if home viewing options were constantly changing (VHS, Laser Disc, DVD, Blu-Ray, etc.) there was only so much progress that could be made in relation to the cinema. The screens could get bigger, the sound could get sharper, and the picture could become clearer, but beyond that, how much farther could you possibly go?

The answer to this question can be found right here in Syracuse at Destiny USA. The 4DX theater at Regal Cinemas is a destination that needs to be sought out by any film fan in your life.

Once you decide to check out the 4DX theater, it is important to understand that you aren’t just buying a movie ticket, you are purchasing an experience. Boasting an expansive screen with stunning, crystal-clear clarity and featuring a sound system that allows you to hear every subtle nuance of the score, dialogue, and action, the presentation alone was enough to win me over within the opening seconds of the first trailer that I saw.

Then, a few minutes later, the seats started moving.

What unfolded over the next three hours was an experience that was succinctly summed up by my 12-year-old daughter who, with wide-eyed amazement as the end credits for DUNE began to enroll, shouted “I will never forget this for the rest of my life!” She immediately began compiling a list of the future films that we needed to see in this newfound format, while excitedly proclaiming that her brother is “going to absolutely love seeing SPIDER-MAN like this!” As we made our way into the lobby she simply stated, “real-life just seems so boring now.” At that point, it was pretty tough to argue with her.

When you walk into the 4DX theater, it is important to understand that you are not just going to sit down and watch a movie; you are going for a ride. For however long the duration of the film will be, you will be immersed in the world on the screen. Not only will your seat move with the action, but there are other effects such as wind, rain, smells, lightning, fog, and bursts of air that will take you by surprise and make you jump each and every time.

Heading in, I was mildly concerned that these effects would serve as a distraction, and take away from the movie itself. In an ingenious preemptive move, the motion and effects kick in during the last few trailers in an attempt to give audience members a moment to acclimate themselves to the experience. It was, in a way, a communal event, with everyone reacting with laughter and exclamations of surprise and joy. It was smart to get this out of the way early, and served as a perfect segue into a film that demanded and commanded your attention from start to finish.

When Warner Brothers announced that they were going to be releasing their films in theaters and on HBOMax simultaneously, director Denis Villeneuve was one of the most vocal opponents. He decried the decision, insisting that his three-year labor of love, DUNE, was meant to be seen on the big screen. Now that I have watched the movie in both formats, I can certainly see why. DUNE is a spectacle regardless of format but the sheer magnitude of the scope and vision of the production makes it a must-see on the big screen.

By now, it is probably safe to assume that most sci-fi fans are familiar with the story of DUNE. Frank Herbert’s sprawling, complex novel is considered one of the essential works of the genre and has been adapted in virtually every medium including film (David Lynch in 1984), television (a mini series produced in 2000), graphic novels, and beyond. Casual movie fans will be most familiar with the Lynch adaptation, which was loved by some, and despised by others (including Lynch himself.) It was a film that boasted tremendous aspirations, but didn’t really live up to any of them. Facing insurmountable financial and running-time limitations, it could never be the film that Lynch hoped it would be, which is plainly apparent in the finished product. Flash forward thirty-seven years, and Villeneuve obviously did not face the same obstacles.

Given the sheer volume of names, planets, and factions, not to mention a complex backstory that is essential to understand the main plot of the film, DUNE can be difficult at times. To even attempt to summarize it all would take up most of the space I have allocated to me here, and to be honest, whatever I came up with would be far from riveting. Essentially, it is the story of Paul Atreides (Timothy Chalamet). He is the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica Atreides (Rebecca Ferguson). Intelligent, strong, and intuitive, he is extremely cunning, but troubled by mysterious visions and dreams. When his family is sent to the planet Arrakis to oversee the production and harvesting of Spice, the most valuable substance in the universe, it sets off a chain of events that will impact every living creature in existence.

Though much of DUNE takes place on the stark and sand-covered surface of Arrakis it is a beautiful, hypnotic feast for the eyes. Despite its presentation in stunning 4K clarity, the effects are seamless and realistic. Villeneuve is known for his impeccable ability to dazzle audiences with his wonderous vision (ARRIVAL, BLADE RUNNER 2049) but DUNE goes so far beyond its lofty expectations, that it becomes essential viewing for any serious film fan. From costumes, to makeup (the grotesque Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, played by Steelan Skarsgard is an obvious standout) to the set-pieces, to the sound, there is no technical aspect that fails to excel.

DUNE boasts far more dialogue than it does action, but when the action sequences come, they do not disappoint. I think those familiar with the tale will be ecstatic to see the sandworm, which was every bit as gigantic and monstrous as anyone could hope for. This moment is just one of many that amazes. Without divulging too much of the action that unfolds, there are a number of rousing sequences that will satisfy virtually any action fan, and within the confines of a theater, deliver in a way that’s impossible to recapture at home.

While there will surely be some who will find things to criticize with DUNE, I am not going to be one of them. Perhaps it was the 4DX experience, or perhaps I was just happy to be at the movies again, but at the end of the day, I was transfixed for the duration. And, I am certainly not alone in this regard. At one point, I shifted in my seat, and this slight movement startled my daughter to the point where she gave a little jump. She was so immersed in the experience; she had literally forgotten I was there. This not only made me laugh, but also made me realize that Villeneuve’s world (and the 4DX experience) was far more engaging than your typical sci-fi adventure. To go one step further, once the final line was spoken, I actually checked the time, because I couldn’t believe it was over already. To my surprise, despite the amount of time that had passed, we were both instantly ready for more.

That is when you know you have found something special.

DUNE
GRADE: A

RATED: PG-13
RUN TIME: 2h 35min
GENRE: Action, Adventure, Drama
STARRING: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya
DIRECTORS: Denis Villeneuve
WRITERS: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth

 

Brian Miller