I’ve grown weary of filmmakers thinking that every one of their movies needs to be over two hours long. The majority of the time it doesn’t need to be. But every once in a while a project comes along that deserves to take its own sweet time getting where it needs to go.

Adaptations of Frank Herbert’s classic novel “Dune” have been attempted a couple of times , first with David Lynch’s 1984 film and with John Harrison’s 2000 Syfy channel miniseries, both notoriously missing the mark. In fact, the book has been called unfilmable due to the intricacies of Herbert’s original story. Now, in 2021, after being delayed due to COVID theater shutdowns, Denis Villeneuve seems to have done the impossible because he was given the time and the budget necessary to do it justice.

The Quebecois director and co-writer (along with Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth) weds his own brand of sci-fi storytelling with Herbert’s original 1964 novel beautifully, allowing the richness of the world fully come to life without seeming like its an effort to bring such a heady text to the screen.

“Dune” is only part one of what will officially have a sequel (as announced Tuesday) and covers only the first part of the original book. It perfectly builds up the world (or worlds — there’s a few) that we’re going to be spending time in, and the power struggles within.

In this first chapter, we learn about the desert planet of Arrakis and its natural supply of a material called spice, which makes space travel possible (it’s also a kind of a narcotic that also heightened the senses and could extend life expectancy) and the control “outworlders” have had over the planet and its native population in a sort of futuristic galactic feudalism.

We then learn that the group that had had control of the fief, House Harkonnen, has been ordered to leave by the Emperor and control will instead be given to their rivals, House Atreides.

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Though the deal seems dubious, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) agrees, and they move from their ocean-rich home world to the desolate Arrakis. Meanwhile his son, Paul (Timothee Chalamet) has been having visions of the dune world and the native Fremen who live there, though he has never stepped foot off-world before.

It’s clear as soon as House Atreides set foot on Arrakis that something is up. With scenes of House Harkonnen’s reaction to it all, we learn that the Emperor fears the upward mobility of the Atreides, and sets them up for a bloody end while murmurs of a Muad’Dib, a kind of messiah, float on the wind along with the coveted spice.

With the amount of subplots and subterfuge that occur within “Dune,” it’s no surprise that the runtime is what it is, but thanks to deliberate pacing, rich world-building and perfect casting, the film never really feels its length.

While some may argue that it should have been made into a miniseries, I counter that we already had one (which didn’t work) and the reason why the film works so well is the simple scope that putting it on the big screen entails. No miniseries can repeat that cinematic quality that Villeneuve and his team have brought.

It is with that that this deserves and needs to be seen on the big screen. The visuals are stunning and reminiscent of art you’d find on the covers of those 1960s sci-fi novels, a fitting homage to the original if ever there was one. And they don’t look dated or out of place. Everything fits together like a giant, sand worm-filled jigsaw puzzle.

As a kind of side note, the screening I saw this in was the fullest I have seen in an auditorium since the start of the pandemic, and it was also the quietest of any film I have seen in recent memory. No loud talkers, seat kickers or even candy munchers in the lot. The reason I’d give for the latter is the necessity of paying attention to the film. If your attention deviates for too long, you’ll be lost. But then again, you don’t want to let your mind wander from “Dune” — it’s too good for that.

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Reporter: 541-383-0304, mwhittle@bendbulletin.com

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