TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET as Paul Atreides in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “DUNE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

Since the original “Star Wars” defined the space opera in 1977, many films have tried and failed to replicate the grandiosity of such a genre. “Dune” is not one of those films. It’s been a long time since a film has taken my breath away quite as often as Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the legendary 1965 sci-fi novel. The film is so colossal in scale that, staggering out of the theatre, the real world felt small by comparison. 

“Dune” showcases masters perfecting their respective crafts at the highest level. Villeneuve shows immense directorial restraint and precision, Greg Fraser’s cinematography is sparse and gorgeous and Hans Zimmer’s score is perhaps his greatest to date. Not to mention that the source material itself, written by Frank Herbert, is a literary masterpiece and one of the most important science fiction novels ever written. All of these elements put together make for a film that is astounding in its ambition and awe-inspiring in its execution. 

“Dune” is set in a galactic feudal empire thousands of years in the future, and centers around the noble House of Atreides and the heir of the family, Paul (Timothée Chalamet). Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) is forced into a war over the desert planet Arrakis, which contains Spice: The most valuable material in the universe because it is necessary for interstellar travel. It is also a sacred hallucinogen for the Indigenous Fremen tribe of Arrakis. After a betrayal, Paul and his mother (Rebecca Ferguson) make their way through the desert, where they come into contact with the Fremen. There, Paul meets Chani (Zendaya), a young woman with whom he has an inexplicable link. 

In a roundtable interview with the Wheel, Zendaya said her friendship with Chalamet helped establish the dynamic between their characters. “It felt very effortless,” she said. “It wasn’t like I had to go there and be like ‘Let me pretend to be friends with this person.’ [Chalamet] is someone that I really appreciate and that I feel is valuable in my life.”

“Dune” is first and foremost a coming-of-age story: a young protagonist learning the ways of the world, finding out that they are a chosen one and ultimately being thrust into a prophecy they cannot control. Though the character of Paul was first dreamed up over a half century ago, his story still carries the same universality that it did back then. My favorite character dynamic was between Paul and his mother, who reckon with their shared destiny as they travel across the dangerous sands. 

From left to right: Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem and Timothee Chalamet in “Dune.” Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

The plot involves intense political intrigue between the houses of Atreides and Harkonnen and social commentary about the nature of colonialism and exploitation. The noble houses bicker over a world that is not theirs, over their right to subjugate a people and use their labor to industrially harvest a substance with great spiritual significance. It crafts a world that is so fleshed out through its details that from the opening credits, you feel as if you’ve been dropped into a world that has a long and storied history. This film, officially titled “Dune: Part One,” covers about half of the novel, with a sequel currently in the works. Chalamet, Zendaya, and the rest of the ensemble deliver solid performances, but it’s Frank Herbert’s story and worldbuilding combined with Villeneuve’s masterful filmmaking that truly steals the show. 

Much like “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049”, “Dune” is a testament to Villeneuve’s ability to render scenes that feel massive in scale. Gargantuan, organically-shaped ships dwarf the mechanics below and the forms of Paul and his mother become little black dots against the vast and shifting sands below their feet. “It was great not to work on green screens the whole time,” Chalamet commented. “I was in a constant state of being awe-struck…” The incredible score by the legendary composer Hans Zimmer also contributes to the immense sense  of awe. Thundering drums, psychedelic string crescendos and wailing vocals echo like war cries across the dunes of Arrakis. While “Dune” is releasing in theatres and on HBO Max simultaneously, it would be a shame to watch this movie for the first time on the small screen. The IMAX experience was a feast for the eyes and ears and enhanced the already immersive nature of the film. 

The ending of the film, however, is likely to divide fans. Without spoiling anything, “Dune” ends on a very anticlimactic note seemingly halfway through the story. While this is a setup for the second film, Warner Bros has not even greenlit the rest of Villeneuve’s vision yet, as they are waiting for this movie’s box office numbers. A conclusion to Paul Atredies’s story is likely more than a few years away, which may kill any momentum built up by the first movie. I certainly left the theatre a bit unfulfilled by the abruptness of “Dune”s final moments, feeling almost like half my plate was taken away halfway through an amazing meal. When I asked them about a part two, Chalamet and Zendaya both expressed that they hope to be given the opportunity to continue to work together and further develop the characters of Paul and Chani in the second half of the story. Although it feels like only half of a story, I still believe that “Dune” is one of the best science fiction movies in years. Its awe-inspiring visual direction and complicated and nuanced storyline shouldn’t be missed. 

“Dune” premieres in theatres and on HBO Max on Oct. 22.