It was never going to take much rebooting to make an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s beloved “Dune” better than its 1984 disappointment, helmed by David Lynch.

Like “The Lord of the Rings” or comic book adaptions, the technology needed to be invented to match the imagination and world building found in the science fiction epic, long hailed as the greatest of all time.

Denis Villeneuve is one of the most articulate directors working today. There has been a meditative thoughtfulness in every picture he has directed. “Prisoners” still ranks as one of the most brooding crime mysteries around, with a star-studded ensemble.

You won’t find a more riveting suspense thriller than “Sicario,” another all-star cast. Then, Villeneuve moved us in ways we couldn’t have imagined in “Arrival.” All of these films have prepared the French-Canadian filmmaker for the enormous task of adapting “Dune,” and his ambition pays off in unexpected ways.

Arrakis is a planet much like our Middle East: Dangerous, barren and whoever controls it holds great power because of its resources. Instead of oil, the future of the human race revolves around “melange,” otherwise known as spice. Its value is great, its effects on human life is invaluable. Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) has just been handed the reins of Arrakis.

Atreides is smart enough to understand it’s likely a trap — why else would Atreides’ long-standing enemy and ruler of Arakkis, the Harkonnens, just abandoned their fortune? Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) accompanies his father to their new home along with his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson).

Paul has visions about an indigenous woman on Arrakis, and in the past, the young heir’s visions typically have come true. The Atreides’ rule over Arrakis barely begins before chaos cascades from the sky, sending Paul on a journey to fulfill a prophecy and his destiny.

It’s important to signify that this is Part One, so audiences can manage expectations rather than exiting cinemas in frustration, like they did back in 2001 with “The Fellowship of the Ring.” With major scenes shot with IMAX cameras, the few extra miles and dollars to see it as the filmmakers intended make the experience more substantial.

Epic is a cliché for these types of world-building films, and even that over-used word doesn’t describe the vast scale Villeneuve and his team have conceived. Like with his previous work, Villeneuve takes his time, yet the two-and-a-half-hour running time speeds by.

The script is careful at easing the audience into this world of names, races, planets and kingdoms, always keeping the narrative focused and clear.

Hans Zimmer’s score is another instant classic to add to his repertoire of iconic creations, that will forever allow us to visually recall what we have seen just by hearing that gut-vibrating melody.

Scenes of Oscar-nominee Chalamet trudging through the desert with sand-swept hair and flowing garments, on his way to a destiny he doesn’t yet understand, feels like the “Call Me By Your Name” star has finally arrived at inevitable global stardom. Villeneuve has explained the iconic scene referred to by fans as “the box scene” was the moment he knew he had cast the right actor for Paul.

As far as performances in Part One, however, it’s Ferguson, (“Mission: Impossible Fallout,” “The Greatest Showman”) an anchoring presence in her versatility, who steals the show. A beardless Jason Momoa (“Aquaman”) and the ever steadfast Isaac also are duly impressive.

Final Thought: Even in all its glory, “Dune” is an appetizer, a warmup to what will likely define the director and his star.

Dustin Chase is a film critic and associate editor with Texas Art & Film, which is based in Galveston. Visit texasartfilm.com.

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(2) comments

Ron Shelby

Personally, I enjoyed the 1984 version of Dune. But I will watch this as well.

Charlotte O'rourke

I enjoyed the book as well. I’m looking forward to watching this adaptation.

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