A staggering amount of special features and an unrivaled 4K transfer ease a long wait for ‘Dune: Part Two’
Dune follows Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the heir to one of many powerful houses that exert a tenuous rule over the reaches of space. Ruled over by a powerful Emperor, each of the houses vie for control of the Spice—a substance that fuels everything from psychic powers to interstellar travel. Spice is only found on the massive desert planet Arrakis,once commanded by Baron Harkonnen (a very Captain Kurtz Stellan Skarsgård), who is suddenly removed by the Emperor and replaced with House Atreides. Facing a power vacuum the universe has never seen before, Paul and his family seek to earn the trust of the Arrakis natives, the Fremen, in order to form an alliance that could upend the balance of power forever. The Fremen also have their own prophecy of a Messiah—the Lisan al Gaib, an off-world prophet who may deliver them from the bondage of their oppressors. With Paul’s vivid dreams coming to shocking reality once he’s on Arrakis, the day of reckoning may soon be coming for all the houses vying for ultimate control of the universe.
For all intents and purposes, I’m very much a Dune neophyte in that my only brushes with Frank Herbert’s source material have been with its varied cinematic adaptations. The early 2000s SyFy adaptation was ambitious in its own right, a fun bit of multi-night popcorn TV that did its best to tackle such dense material on a very made-for-TV budget. Despite its very vocal detractors, I’m a fan of David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation, which melds its director’s signature grotesque and insular vision with a grand, operatic scale that often feels more Lean than Lynch, with a Toto-composed soundtrack as an awesome bonus. Despite never ultimately making it to the screen, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune feels like it would have been armrest-gripping and mind-melting, with its many liberties to the source material in the service of further interrogating the emotional and cultural connections its audience has with the original work. Herbert’s messianic sci-fi saga has provided inspiration for everything ranging from Star Wars to The Matrix to Harry Potter, but Dune in its own right has proven to be material that auteurs can vividly bring to life with their own signature approach—should they be up for the daunting task.
Naturally, the internet went ablaze when Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve rose to the challenge, fresh off the success of 2016’s Arrival and 2017’s Blade Runner 2049. Here, Villeneuve ambitiously promised a sprawling, two-part film event akin to financier Warner Brothers’ recently-greenlit second half of Stephen King’s It, though much more in succession to Peter Jackson’s beloved Lord of the Rings. Where previous versions had been handicapped by length or budget, here was the potential for a Dune adaptation with the resources and patience it deserves. As with most things, though, there was a catch: while he was given a stellar ensemble and a sizable budget, the go-ahead for a Dune finale was conditional on the box-office success of Villeneuve’s first entry. A pandemic and a day-and-date agreement to simultaneously release Warner Brothers’ theatrical films on HBOMax later, signs pointed to a dire fate for Dune.
Right off the bat with its Part One subtitle, though, Villeneuve’s adaptation doesn’t go quietly into that good night, and instead swings for the fences with intricately detailed worldbuilding, lived-in production design, scorchingly precise cinematography, and bombastic score. For all of its modern sleekness, Villeneuve and designer Patrice Vermette lean Dune: Part One directly into a timeless feel. Combining a neo-futuristic brutalist architecture, a nomadic and arcane natural aesthetic, and an endlessly retrofitted approach to technological advancement, the worlds of Dune: Part One feel like they bear the weight of centuries of progress and regression. A dedication to practical sets and effects, captured in staggering detail by cinematographer Grieg Fraser, makes Arrakis feel gritty and tangible, with blazing, windswept desert vistas that threaten to swallow defiant structures whole like the statue of Ozymandias.
All of this design is in service to a story that is given ample time to organically develop emotionally, despite miring audiences in thick discourse over interstellar political intrigue. Villeneuve and co-screenwriters John Spaihts and Eric Roth manage to keep a delicate balance between visual spectacle and nitty-gritty scenework, knowing that big-budget bombast means little if we can’t latch onto why we give a damn about powerful dynasties fighting over sand. What’s more challenging is how Paul, as one of the original sci-fi everymen thrust into cosmic greatness, is pretty bland until he’s set onto the messianic path. The amount of time given to exploring Paul’s nascent positions of power, though, allows Spaihts, Roth, and Villeneuve to engage with his reluctance to assume a role he’s been groomed to take centuries before his birth. Nestled within this, too, is a reckoning with his concurrent role as part of a ruling class whose status is built on aggressively taking resources from conquered planets. With this version of Dune, Paul’s messiah isn’t just one who comes in to selflessly right wrongs as ordained: He’s a boy who must accept and learn from the flaws of those who bore him into the world, and determine what’s right from that rocky, sand-strewn path. As a result, this iteration of Dune becomes an emotionally satisfying standalone work, one that could succeed on its own merits regardless of how studio whims ultimately determined its fate.
Warner Brothers’ 4K UHD release of Dune: Part One is a fantastic way to spend the next two years awaiting for a thankfully green-lit Part Two, with a lengthy library of in-depth special features that detail the immense intricacies of a mammoth production and champion a rarity in bold, big-budget genre storytelling.
Warner Bros presents Dune in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio in 2160p 4K resolution on the 4K UHD, and 1080p on the accompanying Blu-ray disc.
Audio-wise, for the 4K UHD there are Dolby Atmos tracks available in English, German, and Italian; 5.1-Channel Dolby Digital tracks in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish (Latin & Castilian); 5.1-Channel Descriptive Audio tracks in English (U.S. & U.K.); and a 2.0-Channel Descriptive Audio track in German. Included subtitles are in English SDH, Cantonese, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Korean, Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Spanish (Castilian & Latin), and Swedish.
On the Blu-ray, the English Atmos and 5.1-Channel tracks are duplicated, as are the 5.1-Channel Czech, French, Hindi, Hungarian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish (Latin), and English Descriptive Audio tracks. Included Blu-ray feature subtitles are in English SDH, Bulgarian, Czech, French, Hindi, Hungarian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Romanian, and Spanish (Latin). Blu-ray Special Features are subtitled in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Hungarian, and Polish.
For my money, this may be one of the most (if not the most) impressive home video presentations this year. While 4K and Atmos options were available during Dune’s day-and-date streaming period on HBOMax, this disc’s reference-quality 4K video and audio easily blow digital options out of the water and ensure that the theatrical experience prized by Dune’s creators has an honorable analog on home video. The sprawling architecture, chipped ship metal, and fine textures of Patrice Vermette’s production design and Jacqueline West and Robert Morgan’s costumes are all captured with exacting detail. This is no small feat, as the film must also contend with towering sandstorms made up of fine particles of spice and earth, as well as the thin, interlacing scales of monstrous sandworms. The HDR transfer particularly highlights the moments when Villeneuve and Frasier play with the vast color palette at their disposal, from the haunting blue eyes of the Fremen to the interplay of fire and shadow during the film’s midpoint Sardaukar battle sequence.
The film’s Dolby Atmos track is equally stellar, finding a nuanced balance between the dialogue, Hans Zimmer’s primal and visceral score, and the complex layering of electronic noise and natural desert Foley work that brings Arrakis to life. It’s a mix meant for as many speakers as possible—and will welcomely push many home video enthusiasts’ setups to their limits.
[Note: all of the film’s special features are on the 4K UHD’s accompanying Blu-ray disc. Press notes state that on DVD-only copies of Dune, only the Royal Houses special feature is included.]
- The Royal Houses: Villeneuve and the cast breakdown the overarching political conflict of Dune between House Atreides and House Harkonnen, and detail how their individual characters play their roles within them.
- Filmbooks: Stylized after the virtual learning tools used by Paul before his arrival on Arrakis, these mini-mythology lessons in Dune lore provide a deeper dive into the sprawling universe Frank Herbert originally created, while also providing equally intricate glimpses into the extent of the film’s production design in realizing these details for the screen. Divided into House Atreides, House Harkonnen, The Bene Gesserit, The Fremen, and The Spice Melange.
- Inside Dune: Villeneuve, the cast, and the crew guide us through three of the film’s stellar action sequences on a thematic and practical level. In the Training Room, choreographer Roger Yuan notes the specific styles of Kali martial arts that went into shielded sword fighting in order to reveal the characters through their specific approach to battle. In the Spice Harvester, the film’s concept artists and visual effects designers discuss how the sequence was broken down into its practicality, not just in terms of the film’s lore (how would a spice harvester really work?), but also in how the timing and length of each shot was carefully choreographed to preserve the film’s budget while delivering powerful imagery. The Sardaukar Battle highlights Jason Momoa’s dedication towards perfecting his legion-on-one fight sequence at the film’s climactic second act. Divided into The Training Room, The Spice Harvester, and The Sardaukar Battle.
- Building the Ancient Future: The meticulousness of the film’s production design is on full display, with most efforts done practically, from the expansive concrete and wood of the film’s interiors to the hulking metal of the various air and spacecrafts featured throughout. It’s amazing to see the film’s crew dwarfed by the size of the sets in a world where a tenth of these sets are usually built to save time and money.
- My Desert, My Dune: Villeneuve details how important nailing the natural elements of Arrakis were to the overall film, which has its own origins in respecting the original designs at the heart of Frank Herbert’s book.
- Constructing the Ornithopters: The genesis behind the insect-like flying machines of Arrakis is broken down, from the deliberately low-tech impulses behind their creation to the insane amount of detail realized by the film’s VFX and production teams.
- Designing the Sandworm: Decades of potential designs of Dune’s legendary desert creature went into the physicality and biology of this current design, skewing more towards realism in order to create a paradoxically fantastical emotional response in the audience.
- Beware the Baron: Stellan Skarsgård’s brief yet terrifying antagonist is profiled, using prosthetics and Skarsgård’s natural talents to create a memorable villain that overshadows the action of the film.
- Wardrobe From Another World: We dive into the inspirations and the logistical efforts behind the film’s sprawling costume designs, guided by designer Jacqueline West. Further detailed are the textures and colors specific to houses and characters.
- A New Soundscape: Key to Villeneuve’s approach is to create a world that no one has seen before, an ambitious scope that extends to the film’s soundtrack and sound design, all of which were developed in tandem with the production process rather than after-the-fact.
Dune is now available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD courtesy of Warner Bros.