Nothing’s gone the way I thought it would at the movies. I thought I’d be bored with “Dune”– I was thoroughly engrossed. I thought I’d find “The Last Duel” compelling–I was disengaged. I thought I’d simply be entertained by “No Time To Die”–I was also moved!

For now I’ll focus on DUNE. I never read the book and knew almost nothing about the plot and characters save for what I dimly remember from that first dismal big screen outing 37 years ago. This is the second screen version of Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic since David Lynch’s leaden and laughable 1984 extravaganza starring Kyle MacLachlan, Sting, and featuring young actress Alicia Witt (and real life child genius from Worcester, MA) who I suggested should have directed this film which I deemed a “dull, strangely anticlimactic, and rather confusing…mess.”

DUNE 2021 is a masterful and moving adaptation with a brilliant cast orchestrated by director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”  “Sicario” “Prisoners”) who has co-written a script deftly illuminating a young man’s coming of age in a mythic universe where warring factions vie for survival and control of the most valuable substance in the cosmos, a “spice” found only on the planet Arrakis. Timothee Chalamet stars as Paul Atreides a young man who is suddenly thrust center stage to lead his family in a fight against corrupt forces.  Paul has been trained by the best: tutored to lead by his own father the wise and brave Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) noble head of the house of Atreides; trained as fighter by master swordsman Gurney Halleck (a slick Josh Brolin); mentored as a psychic and spiritual warrior by his mother Lady Jessica Atriedes in a killer performance by Rebecca Ferguson. Protecting them all is the splendid warrior Duncan Idaho embodied by Jason Momoa, as affable as he is monumental. Paul will need all of them if he is to fulfill his destiny and confront the repulsive head of the House of Harkonnen played by Stellan Skarsgard like a floating font of suppurating evil. The woman of his frequent dreams, literally, is the mysterious Chani played by Zendaya.

Timothee Chalamet, the most compelling actor of his generation, is perfectly cast here as the chosen one, the future head of the house of Atreides, and the heart of a civilization. As Paul, Chalamet’s androgynous features suggest a universal hero, on the precipice of adulthood, vulnerable and strong, effortlessly conveying not only the rashness and fervor of youth, but also a preternatural wisdom that is dramatically exciting on the big screen. This subtle and controlled performance anchors every scene of a young hero’s odyssey through a treacherous landscape.

And what a landscape! Villeneuve and his cinematographer Greig Fraser have created a sprawling organic canvas, physical and aural, where multi-winged aircraft lift and vibrate in the red air like giant dragon flies above an endless desert of shifting sands, rippled by wind above and colossal tubular worms below–mysterious portals in a universe connected by a potent spice. All of this reiterates the portals through which our hero must pass, propelled by the shifting tides of power into the desert and his destiny. Hans Zimmer’s score– somewhere between the human cry of an ancient chorus and the otherworldly harmonies of an interplanetary symphony– envelopes the action, the majesty of the visuals, and the subtle tension of something unseen always on the horizon. For this initiate into the convoluted history and hierarchies  of DUNE, there was just enough information discreetly distilled and still unfolding as we arrive at the end of the film, Part I of a saga I didn’t want to end. Part II has been officially greenlit for release in October, 2023. I can hardly wait.