Over the course of 21st-century cinema to date, Denis Villeneuve has steadily established himself as one of the industry’s leading directors. Films such as, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 have set him aside as the sort of classy auteur who transcends usual genre boundaries, imparting the often marmite realm of sci-fi with enough depth and striking design to stir up any old philistine.
A few months ago, it was up in the air as to whether Villeneuve was set to add to his canon of greatness or incur his first disaster with the troubled-sounding production of the notoriously difficult to adapt Dune due to hit cinemas very soon. However, it would seem from early reports, that he has pulled a victory from the tortuous flames of Dune too.
The adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel has proved notoriously difficult to adapt on previous occasions. The plot sees “the son of a noble family entrusted with the protection of the most valuable asset and most vital element in the galaxy.”
The son in question is played by Timithée Chalamet this time out, as he battles to retain dominion over a drug called ‘Spice’ which prolongs human life and gives users special abilities. While it might sound a little bit slapstick sci-fi, there is a depth to the novel that elevates it beyond the plots outline and Denis Villeneuve’s cinematography work alongside Greig Fraser, once again, promises to be astounding.
Chalamet is joined in an all-star cast by Oscar Isaac, the up-and-coming Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Charlotte Rampling and Josh Brolin and Javier Barden reunite for the first time since their successful pairing in No Country for Old Men.
If the worry was that the film would suffer from the same convoluted plot issues as the previous adaptation attempts, then this mere three-and-a-half-minute short film from Villeneuve’s early days will do nothing to reassure any viewers. The short film sees him document life in rural Nepal for a ‘La course Europe-Asie’ project for Radio-Canada in 1990-91, but it is backed by surrealist philosophical musings and some difficult to follow story about a pilot who goes well-and-truly AWOL.
Interestingly, despite the short film being very much shot in the vein of a documentary, Villeneuve’s obsession with orange-saturated vistas is already on display. Another notable detail is, of course, the use of Toto’s ‘Trip to Arrakis’ that featured on David Lynch’s ill-fated attempt at adapting Dune. Lynch, who spent three fraught years making the original Dune, rather unsurprisingly stated that he has “zero interest” in the latest incarnation.
The director also revealed: “I always say, ‘Dune’ is a huge gigantic sadness in my life. I did not have final cut on that film. Total creative control, I didn’t have it. The film is not the film I would’ve made had I had that final control. It’s a bit of a sadness.” Let’s hope Villeneuve, who has paid homage to Lynch in at least crafting the aesthetic of Dune by including the haunting Toto tones in Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack, doesn’t end up shouldering the same regrets. And for fans, let’s hope his version of Dune makes a little bit more sense than this bewildering short film.