Dune (2021) review (4K)

While 2021 was another slow year at the box office due to the ongoing pandemic, a few gems did sneak in. James Bond’s latest adventure finally arrived in the fall, the holiday season saw Spider-Man emerge victorious, but the biggest movie of the late summer was probably Denis Villeneuve’s take on Dune. After earlier streaming releases, it has now come to home cinema on a 4K UHD disc, which we’re reviewing today.

I remember my first viewing of Dune in the theater, and seeing “Part One” appear in the opening moments, which at the time was a surprise to me as I wasn’t aware that Frank Herbert’s story had been cut up into more parts this time. After all, there had been no mention of a “Part Two” anywhere – a film that has since been announced. It was also the moment where I instantly realized that Dune, despite its two and a half hour length, was going to be more about world building and introducing the various houses than about reaching a climactic finale, thus leading to a slower paced film than I was originally anticipating. It turned out I was right, but Dune certainly wasn’t any worse for it.

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Going into my second viewing knowing more about the scope of the film, it becomes even easier to appreciate the audiovisual storytelling that’s at work here, zoom in on the excellent performances of the cast and the subtleties of the visual and audio design, all of which shine in this 4K adaptation. Dune comes with a 2160p UHD transfer that includes HDR10 and Dolby Vision support, and is presented in a wide aspect ratio of 2.39:1 – wider than what you would have seen in an IMAX theater, though that version was still used as the basis for this home release, retaining the same look and feel we got in theaters.

Part of that is Dune’s excellent use of colors and contrast, both between blue skies and the orange sand beneath it and between the industrial looking fortresses sitting atop a mostly desolate planet surface. When energy shields flare up, they look glorious on an HDR10/Dolby Vision-enabled screen, especially against the dark metal/stone structures near them. Dune’s iconic blue eyes, as a result of exposure to spice, have never popped more than they do here, while the film’s many darker scenes come across at atmosphere-rich rather than “hard to see”.

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While 4K is always great at highlighting even minute facial features, it’s the costumes that really stand out here – and of course the big action sequences, though low in number, are absolutely spectacular here as well. The large scale attack in the middle of the film is an especially big highlight, both visually and in terms of dramatic effect.

Part of that is definitely the film’s Dolby Atmos sound mix, which in a slower paced film like this one has a lot of opportunities to shine and add nuance to scenes. When the ornithopters fly overhead, their power can be felt. When the sand worms draw near, it’s like the surface of your own floor is hiding one of them. Music is used in a subtle way to create an often foreboding atmosphere, and the surround sound effects work extremely well both in big fight and action scenes and when a sandstorm swells up. Sound becomes integral to the storytelling when it’s used to convey how the Bene Gesserit use the “voice” as well, something that’s equally haunting and intriguing. This is one of the most impressive audio tracks we’ve ever heard on a home release, and recreates how impactful it was in the theater perfectly.

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With such a stellar main feature, the included bonus materials feel a tad underwhelming, even though there is over an hour of extra content here. Most of it stays on the surface of things though, with short five to ten minute features on things like sandworm and set design, as well as wardrobe choices and makeup. This would have been a great film for audio commentary due to its slower paced nature, but in that regard the fans are left wanting more – and we’re sure that more in-depth features and interviews will also emerge in the coming years as we see subsequent films and discs getting released.

The main attraction is what matters most though, and Dune is a benchmark 4K release that makes excellent use of the latest in home theater technology. If you have a TV that support Dolby Vision and a surround setup capable of outputting Dolby Atmos, this is a showcase disc.

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