Why Dune Should Win the Oscar for Best Picture | Oscars 2022

DFrench-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s long-seasoned version of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, une, is a deeply offbeat blockbuster. I mean that as a compliment; Villeneuve’s adaptation of what many consider to be the epitome of futuristic sci-fi stays true to the book’s disinterest in pandering, but transforms what could not possibly be mind-bending, alienating material into world-building at its finest.

The film is full of odd, unnerving details – the black oil baths and throat-singing on a rainy planet of mercenaries, human computers whose eyes roll back – whose utter seriousness is captivating rather than chilling. (Not that the Academy will be responsible for this, but Dune is a great movie for memes.) In a bold move, Villeneuve opted to only adapt the first half of the novel before the second film was even greenlit, which was to leads to a film that defies the usual three-act structure and crashing resolution of the typical big-screen blockbuster. Instead, watching Dune is an immersion into several classic storylines – inheritance, political intrigue, resource wars, angsty coming of age – that slowly and richly unfold in a society that actually feels alien.

In other words, it’s a vibe in the world’s least reckless sense. A masterful and strange piece of collaborative imagination, Villeneuve’s Dune is an epic that conveys proportions few great films do and a vision of a future society that in a disturbing and then exhilarating way evokes the awe of encountering the otherworld. This is all the more impressive when you consider the source material; Herbert’s novel is dense, cerebral, dismissive of strangers, and notoriously “unadaptable.” The book plunges you into the geopolitical maneuvers of a feudal interplanetary society 20,000 years from now and expects you to keep up. (It took me four months and multiple views of the film to get through the first 250 pages.)

Somehow said maneuvers are vague rather than boring, and the acting sharp enough to hold the emotional center. Paul Atreides, a lonely aristocrat steeped in prophecy who ranges in age from 15 to 24 depending on the scene, is the role Timotheé Chalamet was born to play. Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac are excellent as his beleaguered parents. Most importantly, Villeneuve’s ability to convey massive scale differences, as exemplified by the skyscraper-high, elongated spaceships in his 2016 film Arrival, is consistently breathtaking, especially when viewed on a big screen — giant sandworms, the sand waves consume, imposing interplanetary aircraft carriers in front of a gigantic planet, distant assassins the size of a palm.

Dune is perhaps too mysterious in the film, too uninterested in nostalgia or topicality, to register with the academy voters in, say, Belfast. There is also fair criticism of the film’s use of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) imagery and culture for the Fremen, the native people of Dune (the planet), without using a MENA actor. (The plot of Dune reads like a thinly disguised Middle East oil parable in 2022.)

But if the Oscars are theoretically an opportunity to reward excellence in the collaborative art of filmmaking and to celebrate the visual narrative heights such a medium can achieve, then there’s a case for Dune. All films are a masterpiece of collaboration, some more so than others, but Dune is a testament to the fact that countless people work at the highest level. Costume designers, set scouters, visual effects, stunt work, sound design – all levels of filmmaking are at their best in Dune. Unfortunately, it’s rare to watch a movie and be impressed by the sound processing, but Dune’s sonic range, from the grandiose, heart-rending music of Hans Zimmer to pinprick-like silence, was a catharsis all its own.

More than any other film I’ve seen in the past year, Dune conjured up a distinctive, mesmerizing effect feel – a cinematic experience that evokes a serious appreciation for simply living in a time when such scale is possible on screen. That’s not, I suppose, the Academy’s seriousness, but they could do worse than acknowledge the outer reaches of cinematic scale and ambition.

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