Denis Villeneuve has carved out a swath of absolutely stunning films over the past decade of his career, aided largely by legendary cinematographer Sir Roger Deakins. The rain-spattered mire of Prisoners or Enemy‘s hazy metropolis (shot by Nicolas Bolduc), up to the vibrant contrasts of Blade Runner 2049‘s future Los Angeles. All following the trail of spice to Dune, the first part in Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s canonical science-fiction epic, and another visual feast of blockbusting proportions.
It would be easy to talk about “cinematography” in Dune and become distracted by the film’s tremendous special effects lead in part by Paul Lambert and the team at British VFX studio DNEG. Our award goes to Greig Fraser for framing and having his team light the action and scenes in a way to best highlight the work of all these other departments.
There’s something spine-chillingly impressive in seeing the wide shots of ornithopters down for maintenance, or the cross-fades of the planet Arrakis and the seemingly endless, dry desert. Fraser and Villeneuve use the vast barrenness of the planet and spaces to allow adequate room for the visuals to come across. In more intimate scenes, like an early assassination attempt on Paul Atreides’ (Timothee Chalamet) life, we’re treated to complex lighting and brilliant use of focus pulling. Dune‘s visual prowess shows in the ability to capture big and small moments.
Dune‘s imposing visuals are a feat of collaboration, taking the confidence of actors to pull off the terrific costumes, the painstaking detail of hundreds of VFX artists, and a sense of pacing inspired by its director and editor to keep the audience on their toes. It would all be for naught if we couldn’t see all of that though, and Fraser and his team, working in harsh and unpredictable deserts as well as constructed sets, deserve all the praise they can get.