Dune (2021) Blu-ray Review: Although Half the Story, Denis Villeneuve Delivers an Entertaining Science Fiction Spectacle

Director/co-writer Denis Villeneuve wisely chose to only adapt the first half of Frank Herbert’s landmark novel Dune, even though the marketing team made little mention of it, including the current packaging of their home video releases.

Set in the year 10191, an Emperor rules the universe and the main focus of his empire is the desert planet Arrakis, home to the spice melange, a critical element that allows for navigation of interstellar space travel. The planet had been overseen by the Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) of House Harkonnen, but the Emperor has decided to replace him with Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) of House Atreides, ruler of the ocean planet Caladan. Leto not only has to be concerned about an angry Baron, who won’t stand for this changing of the guard, but dealing with the indigenous Arrakis people, known as the Freman. Amidst this galactic political intrigue is the coming of age of Paul Atrides (Timothée Chalamet), a young man who has lofty expectations cast upon him. His father expects him to lead House Atriedes. The Freemen wonder if he could be their fabled messiah Lisan al-Gaib. The religious order the Bene Gesserit, of which his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is a member, wonder if he could be the Kwisatz Haderach, a new savior to lead humanity that they have been planning for through the years.

Villeneuve gives the story the scale and scope it deserves. The sets are large and the desert locations are vast, both contribute in creating a realism of these worlds. The action sequences, such as the rescue of the spice harvester crew and the attack by Harkonnen forces are grand spectacles, well executed by the cinematography team, led by Greig Fraser, and stunt team. Han Zimmer’s evocative score is integral, up front in contributing to the viewing experience rather than in the background.

As big as the film is, Dune is grounded in its many characters whose actions and motivations are believable, no matter their affiliation, and even when the choices are in conflict with those affiliations, the reasons make sense mostly. There is one betrayal that I questioned, but the character clearly felt he had no choice.

The Blu-ray has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The colors appear in rich hues. Blacks are inky without crushing. The image delivers depth and such fine detail, grains of sand can be seen blowing in the wind. Shadow delineation is strong, which is good as there are a number of low-lit interiors and exteriors set during nighttime/pre-dawn.

The audio is available in Dolby Atmos, which defaults to Dolby TrueHD 7.1. Dialogue is clear throughout although the Bene Gesserit’s “voice” and the guttural speech of the Navigators rumble in the surrounds and subwoofer. There’s a wide dynamic range, which is showcased early on by cutting from Chani’s (Zendaya) soft-spoken narration to the rumbling of the spice harvester.

After the Blu-ray loads, three of the Special Features play on the menu page to entice viewers to check them out. The titles reveal the subjects they cover.

  • The Royal Houses (8 min)
  • The Spice Melange (8 min)
  • The Sardaukar Battle (4 min)

The rest of the Special Features are on the next page and their titles are self-explanatory. It’s unfortunate there’s not one large feature rather than this group of smaller featurettes as I can’t imagine a fan not interested in all of them.

  • Building the Ancient Future (6 min)
  • My Desert, My Dune (5 min)
  • Constructing the Ornithopters (6 min)
  • Designing the Sandworm (6 min)
  • Beware the Baron (5 min)
  • Wardrobe From Another World (3 min)
  • A New Soundscape (11 min)
  • Filmbooks (10 min)These are like the tutorials Paul watches in the film. Helpful exposition but not necessary.
    • House Atreides
    • House Harkonnen
    • The Bene Gesserit
    • The Fremen
    • The Spice Melange – the same as appears above
  • Inside Dune (12 min) – Three more featurettes, although why they are grouped separately isn’t clear.
    • The Training Room
    • The Space Harvester
    • The Sardaukar Battle

Dune: Part One sets Paul on his journey to see if he is the one so many have been waiting for and does so in impressive fashion. Denis Villeneuve and his team in front of and behind the camera immerse the viewer in the story, and the Blu-ray’s high-definition presentation immerses the viewer in the film.

Fans will have to wait a while for Dune: Part Two as Warner Brothers didn’t make the same commitment New Line made with the Lord of the Rings trilogy so the green light wasn’t given until after the film’s release and well-received reception.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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