Jump to sections:
Why am I excited for the upcoming film?
When I heard Denis Villeneuve was adapting this Science-Fiction classic in 2019, I had a few reasons to be excited:
- He was coming off the back of Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival, two fantastic Sci-fi flicks that pushed the genre cinematically and thematically in an age of action blockbusters.
- Hans Zimmer was scoring!! Simply outstanding, especially because he parted ways with Christopher Nolan for the first time who hired Ludwig Göransson (an excellent composer in his own right). Off-topic, but I was glad the partnership had taken a pause as it gave both Nolan and Zimmer the chance to create a different soundscape with a new collaboration.
- The cast was amazing - I had heard about Timothy Chalamet and initially thought he was just supported by a young (female) fandom, but couldn't deny the talent across the board with Oscar Isaac, Jessica Ferguson, Jason Mamoa, Josh Brolin and Stellan Skarsgard, among others.
- Villeneuve was genuinely passionate about the property. He read and re-read Dune in his youth, visualising sequences with his friends and mentioning in prior interviews that it would be his dream adaptation. Going further, he managed to negotiate between two film studios. Legendary, who own the film and TV rights, were to work with Warner Brothers who would be financing a potential two-part deal.
At this point I knew I had to read the original novel before the film came out. Read Part 2 of this article to find out more about that experience - it's also linked at the end of this page.
However, I also wanted to dive deep into Villeneuve's filmography, and I've even managed to sneak in a review of a movie featuring Chalamet that I loved. There's some Spotify links embedded with my favourite tracks from each movie as optional listening while you read. So scroll on below for my reviews of Blade Runner 2049, Sicario, Arrival and The King!
Blade Runner 2049
"Within cells interlinked."
A beautiful sequel that pays respect to the original film, whilst posing new questions in this dark alterity. Watching this film in theatres was a whole other experience... Zimmer's mixture of diegetic noises and orchestral synthesisers against silences is compounded on what has to be some of the most stunning wide shots I've seen on any cinema screen ever thanks to Deakins.
This powerful atmosphere is so caught-up in the worldbuilding that the characters are mere figures against its physical traveling and philosophical pondering. Whilst I enjoyed that direction, it definitely hampers the film's pacing as we see Officer K tread carefully into contrasting landscapes which act as a vehicle for his investigations into the past. The acting is subdued but excellent from Gosling, Ford and the rest of the cast.
Honestly, it's hard to ask for a better follow-up to the original that utilises 21st-century technology and, in my opinion, is better than the seminal classic that inspired it - and it's a beautiful way to close the door on this story unless (or possibly until) studios want to mine it further for cash.
"You're asking me how the watch is made. For now just keep your eye on the time."
Now my favourite Denis Villeneuve film.
I was hooked from the start, and my goodness does Deakins just completely lift this movie out of the water with some stunning location shots and uses of natural light. The story itself appears simple but is full of tension and intrigue, as we learn only as much as what is given to leading lady and FBI Agent Blunt and her partner Kaluuya. Brolin is great but del Toro kills it in an amazing ambiguous role that will definitely change how I re-watch the movie. The plot is tight and made me go back to lower my Blade Runner 2049 entry to 4.5/5 because I realised Villeneuve can do a good story that isn't slow.
Unfortunately, Sicario raises a light to the ugly real issues relating to the US-Mexican border and living conditions on the South-side, which just elevated the movie's importance for me. Score was exactly what was needed. Bring on Dune!
"There are days that define your story beyond your life. Like the day they arrived."
WHY: Hype for Dune's impending release, craving for a sci-fi film and hazy memories of this Villeneuve piece drove me to suggest this for a watch with the missus.
STORY: Linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks joins military forces at Montana, one of 12 global landing sites for unidentified alien objects. Her goal to communicate with the heptapods in a team with physicist Ian Donnelly and Colonel Weber is haunted by flashbacks of her 12-year old daughter, now dead. What initially seems like a straightforward film about grief and alliances becomes a SPOILER-bending piece about choice and the power of language after an awesome revelation.
TECHNICAL: Amy Adams brings a melancholic, subtle performance supported by a grave Whittaker and generic Renner. The cool colour palette coupled with some amazing natural land shots lends an awesome sense of scale and setting to Arrival's cinematography, and acts in accordance with its protagonist's arc. In addition, the visual language is striking. The pacing is slow however, emphasised by the unsettling score and at times overbearing flashbacks (especially on a second viewing).
WHO: This isn't the typical sci-fi film, as there is a purposeful lack of action and instead a move towards understanding and communication. The tension is slowly built and character remains the focus, as well as a broader theme of humanity coming together. For those interested in more thoughtful films, Arrival is a technical showcase that finds a smart niche within the genre for fans outside of it.
"For all our rejoice of courage and valour, nothing stains the soul more indelibly than killing."
Am I a sucker for epic historical fiction? 😮
This movie just draws you in with the beautiful cinematography and camerawork, from the opening shot on a battlefield to all the blues, greens, reds and browns. The dialogue is immaculate throughout - like seriously, the dialogue was great. Thinking back on it, the story unfolds pretty typically for what I would expect in a movie about a young prince becoming king, but experiencing it and seeing it unfold on-screen was a whole different thing.
Every actor brings their A-game from start to finish, even the ones with smaller roles. Brutal & highly-realistic action is featured, but the film is surprisingly slow as it builds atmosphere, no doubt helped by the amazing score. There is not just a consistent build-up but a reflection upon themes of war, power, family/friendship and monarchies. Checking on the real history of King Henry V, this is an adaptation of an adaptation - his life story was dramatised in a series of Shakespeare plays that form the basis for this film - but I loved The King nonetheless.
Villeneuve has a solid track record, especially within the sci-fi realm. He's got a knack for excellent and out-of-the-mainstream worldbuilding, and a visual style that lends itself to otherworldly locales.
He's got Hans Zimmer supporting him, who has pushed himself creatively by inventing new "alien" instruments fitting of a futuristic setting. In fact, Zimmer has announced he will be releasing two additional albums beyond the mainline film's release because he has enjoyed the creative process so much.
Similarly, Greig Fraser has been appointed as cinematographer. Whilst he doesn't have the track record of Roger Deakins, his past work includes Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which had a magnificent sense of scale between people, spaceships and planets in its shots.
Finally, Villeneuve and the whole cast seem passionate about this film. It's been a long wait, and regardless of whether it gets a 5/5 rating from me, I hope for three things:
- That the film does justice to the magnanimous novel
- That audiences are able to safely see it with a cinema experience
- A sequel gets greenlit and underway in production in the first half of 2022
Continue on to Part 2 of this article to find out more about the books that inspired the upcoming film, as I talk about the review and discuss the themes of Dune and Dune Messiah.
In the meantime here's the original and in my opinion better (for fans of the book) trailer:
🎞️ Thank you for reading the article!
🎥 As always, you can find more film reviews on my Letterboxd account here 😄