“Dune” and “The French Dispatch:” New Denis, new Wes and plenty of Timothée Chalamet to go around

Despite their many stylistic and narrative differences, the two highly-anticipated films offer audiences an escape from their present reality.

by Macy Harder

Cinephiles, sci-fi fans and anyone who likes to keep their finger on the pulse of Timothée Chalamet’s ever-expanding filmography have long-awaited the last few weeks in cinema.

Oct. 22 was an important day for some of Hollywood’s biggest names, marking the release of the highly-anticipated “Dune” and “The French Dispatch.” Although different in every sense of the word, both of these films play on a similar sense of escapism in their own way — whether transporting audience members to other planets or immersing them in the whimsical beauty of the small things in life.

Director Denis Villeneuve’s take on “Dune,” the 1965 science fiction novel by Frank Herbert, is one of fierce and undaunted intensity. This adaptation’s star-studded cast brings us the story of a universe vastly different from our own. We enter the world of Arrakis, a desert planet rich in an extremely valuable hallucinogen and energy source called “spice.” Arrakis has been colonized by House Harkonnen, who inflict an oppressive regime against the planet’s Indigenous people, the Fremen. The story begins when we find out that the all-powerful emperor has granted governance of Arrakis to the seemingly-more benign House Atreides, headed by Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and their son, Paul (Timothée Chalamet).

The 2.5 hour journey details the not-so-peaceful transfer of power to House Atreides, riddled with epic sword fighting, massive killer sandworms and Paul’s realization that he could embody the arrival of a long-awaited Messiah.

Villeneuve’s film adaptation effectively squelches the novel’s notorious reputation of being “unfilmable.” The plot is slightly difficult to follow at times, especially for those that haven’t read the book. Although there isn’t much background provided, Villeneuve supplements the onslaught of highly-specific plot details with enough intensity and action that the film keeps viewers in a tight grip for the entirety of its running time.

Theater speakers rattle in an impressive effort to relay the film’s booming and ominous score, one that works perfectly in conjunction with the on-screen suspense, but treads close to being overstimulating. Although, perhaps this contributes to what, in my eyes, is the film’s most significant achievement: fully immersing the audience in the “Dune” universe.

There isn’t a moment in which your senses don’t lie on the planet of Arrakis; every audio and visual effect is impressive and intentional, making for a full sensory experience. It’s cognitively stimulating for the entire duration, and will prevent you from taking a breath until the end credits roll. “Dune” was also released on HBO Max, but this film might not be the best fit for a chill night on the couch — the dark, enclosed environment of the theater is the ideal setting to experience this movie in all of its immersive glory. Villeneuve finds great success in taking the audience out of their present reality, and ultimately, what more can we ask of a movie?

Compared to a “Dune” showing, going to see “The French Dispatch” feels like a much needed mental respite. Directed by Wes Anderson, this film is structured as a three-part anthology that provides an inside look at the final issue of The French Dispatch, a Sunday supplement of the Liberty, Kan. Evening Sun newspaper. The Dispatch is essentially a fictionalized version of The New Yorker, covering food, politics and other areas of culture in a fictitious French town called Ennui-sur-Blasé. The whimsical comedy brings three feature stories to life, as told by the journalists who wrote them.

The amount of recognizable names and faces in this movie is right on par with the “Dune” cast — Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton and Timothée Chalamet, to name a few. This movie takes every element of Anderson’s recognizable film style and increases it tenfold; aesthetically, it might be his most “Wes Anderson” movie yet, decorated with a stunning pastel color palette, striking symmetry and plenty of center-frame and overhead shots.

Whereas “Dune” captivates the audience with an overpowering theatrical intensity, “The French Dispatch” feels like a bit of a palette cleanser, as Anderson keeps viewers engaged through the film’s beautiful simplicity. As with many of his other films, action and violence are often integral parts of the plot, but these elements come to life in a light-hearted and comedic fashion. The stark contrast between Anderson’s candy-colored, fairytale-like aesthetics and his dramatic plot points are a crucial element of his best films, and “The French Dispatch” definitely hits this nail on the head.

Much like “Dune,” it’s easy to get lost in “The French Dispatch,” but the two films utilize escapism in a completely different way. “Dune” lets us dream up a different world, a fantasy that we can run away to for the entire 2.5 hours. But at the end of the day, life on Arrakis isn’t all fantasy — issues like colonization and the exploitation of Indigenous people still exist, as they do in our own society.

On the other hand, “The French Dispatch” doesn’t bring us beyond our conceptions of space and time, but it reminds us that a romanticization of the little things in life can feel like an escape from reality in and of itself. Anderson turns a Midwestern newspaper, something so seemingly insignificant, into a fantastic subject of child-like wonder. In doing so, “The French Dispatch” grounds us in the simplistic beauty of life’s small pleasures. Ultimately, “Dune” embodies the endless possibilities of fantasy, but “The French Dispatch” immerses us in the fantasy of everyday life.