Movie Of The Year 2021
There were a lot of great movies released in 2021, but Denis Villeneuve’s Dune was GameSpot’s favorite.
2021 was the year that we finally got to see most of the blockbuster movies that should’ve been released a year earlier. The pandemic led to dozens of films shifting back an entire year, and even when they did finally arrive, there was no guarantee that they would find the audience they would’ve done in any other year. No more was this true than Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part One.
Villeneuve’s adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel might have been the Sicario and Arrival director’s dream project, but the difficulty in adapting such a dense, revered work–combined with the fact it would only tell half the story–meant there was no guarantee that the film would succeed, either artistically or commercially.
But we shouldn’t have worried. Dune was a hugely impressive achievement, that went far beyond the previous two screen adaptations (David Lynch’s 1984 movie and the 2000 SyFy mini-series) in bringing Herbert’s groundbreaking and hugely influential vision to life.
The movie looked and sounded incredible–which might not be surprising given what Villeneuve similarly achieved with his previous movie, Blade Runner 2049. But that was a film that used Ridley Scott’s original as a visual and sonic template. Dune, while obviously based on what Herbert had created in his book, allowed Villeneuve to craft his own world of desert planets, rival families, mysterious cults, deadly assassins, intergalactic political intrigue, sandworms, and rare narcotics. The scale of the movie was immense, the production design often jaw-dropping, and the sound design–especially if you saw the movie in a theater–was teeth-rattlingly loud, deep, and immersive.
Of course, none of the technical achievements would have mattered if Dune: Part One didn’t also work on a story level. On the face of it, the movie had an instant disadvantage–Villeneuve was only adapting the first half of Herbert’s novel, meaning the traditional narrative arc we would expect was absent. And undoubtedly, some viewers were left disappointed by the way the film ends–especially since the second movie wasn’t initially announced.
However, the decision to split the book in half was clearly the right one in terms of developing the characters and storyline. Whereas Lynch’s film raced through much of the book’s first half to get to the more eventful sequences, Villeneuve and co-writers Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth were able to build the relationships between the characters, as well as establish the political landscape and the conflict between the Houses of Atreides and Harkonnen and the Padishah Emperors who rule over the galaxy.
Inevitably, even with 2 1/2 hours to play with, there is still a lot of detail from the book that was omitted, and Villeneuve himself admitted that there was a conscious decision to streamline some of the political aspects in place of the movie’s more personal content. The result is a film with a strong dramatic core–the relationship between Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet ) and his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) provides the movie’s emotional core, and the steady development of Paul’s character through his experiences on Arakiss is well handled. And of course, the rest of the cast are perfectly cast, from Jason Momoa’s flamboyant swordmaster Duncan Idaho and Oscar Isaac’s world-weary Duke Leto Atreides to Charlotte Rampling’s mysterious Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother and Stellan Skarsgård’s terrifying Baron Harkonnen.
Dune is a stunning achievement, an utterly compelling and visually astonishing slice of adult science-fiction that works for both fans of Herbert’s novel and those viewers who are new to this world. Had the movie failed at the box office and Dune: Part Two not been greenlit, it might have gone down as one of the year’s big disappointments, with the second half of the story never to be finished. But with the second film set for release in 2023, Dune stands as an amazing experience and GameSpot’s favorite movie of the year.
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