Dune (2021) – Soundtrack Review

Hans Zimmer’s score for Dune while entertaining in part sadly pales in comparison to the earlier released “sketchbook” installment, with sporadic appearances from the established themes, an unsatisfying finale and an overall dullness to the expansive musical ambience that overall simply does not a good film score make. Where the sketchbook album promised the world, the actual film score just fails to deliver.

Today marks a welcome return to the wondrous musical world of Arrakis, as we tackle the second installment of Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack trinity being released for Denis Villeneuve’s new Dune movie; this time the actual film score. Where the first release was a lengthy “sketchbook” dive into Zimmer’s initial thematic thoughts and ideation for the film’s music (and you can find my review on that here) and the third will apparently be an artbook accompaniment that further expands on said ideas and themes, this second release dives straight into Zimmer’s actual film score, where (presumably anyway) all of the now established themes and styles will weave together to form the narrative of the film itself. In all honesty, it’s this album above the others that I had been anticipating the most for Dune (due to it being the actual “meat” of Zimmer’s work here), and that hope combined with the prior “sketchbook” release having some pretty stellar tracks (see the jaw-droppingly epic House Atreides for example) drove my excitement practically skyward, and made the past two weeks of waiting between the two soundtracks almost unbearable. Still, now it’s finally here. After all the endless delays and feverish anticipation, Hans Zimmer’s Dune is finally in our hands. So let’s not waste any more time, and dive right in.

The soundtrack begins with Dreaming Of Arrakis, with rapidly rising electronics playing through the first few seconds until loud percussion then bursts into the fray, in a manner very similar to that of the mysterious, almost ominous-sounding musical style of Paul’s Dream from the sketchbook album. Long, drawn-out electronic ambience then fills the musical void for the next minute or so, with some heartbeat-esque synth playing slowly at first before then quickening in pace, becoming more and more frantic until a loud percussive crescendo is reached and some rather eerie chanting creeps into the music, just before it then fades to a quiet close. All-in, Zimmer has managed to set the scene pretty damned well with this first cue, immersing us back into his thickly atmospheric musical world for Dune so seamlessly it’s like we never even left the sketchbook. Herald Of The Change then continues this bridging of the two albums, with the return of the overarching and rather mystical Kwisatz Haderach theme. It was a continually recurring motif through the sketchbook, acting as close to a “main theme” for Dune as I think we’re going to get (which makes sense, given that the Kwisatz Haderach is a central thematic idea in both the book and film) and here it plays in typically morose, mystical form on quiet, solemn strings and low-pitched brass, accompanied by the ever-present electronic background.

Ominous, chanting vocals then open Bene Gesserit, reprising the theme for the sisterhood first introduced in Song Of The Sisters from the previously released sketchbook. Overall it’s quite an unnerving, creepy motif that does a pretty solid job of representing the ever malevolent Bene Gesserit, and while it unfortunately doesn’t stick around for too long here (as the theme then fades to unnerving, whispering ambience in the back half before then quickly crescendoing to end the cue) it certainly does leave an impression. Gom Jabbar then sets a rather agitated tone with low-pitched electronics, acting as a pseudo-ambient theme of sorts for the titular poisoned weapon used by the Bene Gesserit. The vocal motif from the back half of Paul’s Dream then briefly reprises towards the end of the track, then building to a dramatically electronic crescendo before closing out. The One then plays the main Kwisatz Haderach theme in quiet, almost menacing form on low-pitched, moody strings before Leaving Caladan kicks things up a notch, with a loud, synthy-sounding electric guitar playing the main theme alongside some particularly emphatic backing percussion, all together rising in both volume and intensity until then annoyingly fading away (rather than crescendoing) at just under the two minute mark. The similarly two minute Arrakeen then emphasises a change in scenery to the legendary Dune planet itself, with the frantic heartbeat-like motif from Dreaming Of Arrakis reprising alongside similarly dramatic percussion, though this time playing with a touch of worry as some high-pitched, almost horror-like strings occupy the background.

Ripples In The Sand re-introduces the imposing, loudly electronic theme for the monstrous Sandworms of Arrakis, which debuted in Shai hulud on the sketchbook. This time however the track also mixes in the mystical Kwisatz Haderach theme, with the former motif playing on low-pitched, near deafening electronics and the latter floating high above on some rather ethereal-sounding vocals. Together the two motifs go pretty well hand-in-hand here, and that combined with some rather tense though sadly brief action score in the cue’s back half makes this one of the highlights of the score. Visions Of Chani then pulls the music back into ominous atmosphere, with pensive woodwinds, gentle strings and some rather mysterious vocals setting a decidedly solemn tone for much of the track’s five minute runtime, with the Kwisatz Haderach theme making a brief appearance toward the end. Night On Arrakis then builds on this established ambience, with low strings and the occasional menacing whisper of vocals setting a gentle but also rather worrisome mood. Next track Armada however is where things then get interesting; it’s the album’s first major action setpiece, and it opens with a loud burst of brass accompanied swiftly by chanting, ominous vocals. As tensions start to rise, the brilliantly bagpiped Atreides theme then bursts into the fray, providing a welcome moment of triumph in the otherwise rather anxious piece. The motif sadly doesn’t stick around for long though, as the near-victorious mood it evoked then fades worrisomely away with quiet, menacing vocals gradually pushing their way into the forefront until the track then ends on a particularly ominous note.

At this point, I have to say – despite the rather epic nature of Armada, I am finding myself feeling rather so-so with Zimmer’s score for Dune so far. We’re at about the halfway point here, and what we’ve had so far amounts to little more than dramatic ambience and mood-setting, with surprisingly limited emphasis placed on the grand themes introduced in the initial sketchbook album. Sure, they do appear here, but in fleeting and sporadic appearances that aren’t particularly satisfying, and I’m still waiting for that one big track that usually makes it all worth it with Zimmer’s film scores. Still, we are only halfway through, so let’s continue. A dramatic rumble of percussion opens Burning Palms, with fast-paced electronics then continuing the same frenetic action style of Armada, this time with an even bigger emphasis on panic and adrenaline with low-pitched, villainous brass and the continual momentum of worrisome percussion. Things then slowly descend into darkness as the track continues, with electronics reaching a rather defeated-sounding crescendo towards cue’s end. The short Stranded then provides a brief moment of quiet and mournful vocal reflection before the two and a half minute Blood For Blood brings back the aggressive action with bursts of malevolent brass and low-pitched, moody vocals. Slow, sombre strings then open The Fall, providing a minute or so of quiet, thoughtful pensivity before loud, distorted vocals then enter the fray, singing mournfully for a few further seconds before the track then comes to a solemn finish. This mood also continues somewhat into Holy War, with quiet strings emphasizing sorrow at first before whispering vocals and increasingly imposing electronics then start to creep into the fray, becoming louder and louder and turning the tone almost villainous by the end of the four minute cue.

Some deep, rather Blade Runner 2049-esque vocals open Sanctuary, with quiet guitar notes playing the first appearance of the main Kwisatz Haderach theme in quite some time before the music then segues into Premonition, and the tone starts to turn dark and mysterious. Low-pitched, ominous synth notes and some rather eerie vocals hint toward the Kwisatz Haderach theme in the opening minute, before then becoming louder and quite menacing in the back half as the vocals start to chant and the instrumentation reaches a powerful crescendo. The dramatic percussion from Paul’s Dream then opens the short Ornithopter, and the music turns rather frantic with rapid, distorted vocals and rumbles of ominous, low-pitched brass. Sandstorm then picks up where this leaves off, with the emphatic percussion playing in the opening few seconds until the music reaches an ethereal, almost wondrous segment at around the halfway point. Here, light, rather mystical-sounding electronics and some quietly hopeful strings inject a welcome bit of optimism into the score, though one that sadly doesn’t last for very long as deep vocals and menacing woodwinds then take over at the start of Stillsuits. With said vocals occupying the foreground, quiet brass then starts to hint toward the main Kwisatz Haderach theme and ominous electronics start to build in the background until the track then quietly fades out with a whisper of woodwinds. My Road Leads Into The Desert then continues in a similar vein for the first minute or two, with quiet, mournful strings and eerie vocals taking centre stage until a loud burst of brass announces a particularly emphatic rendition of the Kwisatz Haderach theme with vocals practically screaming it from the rooftops, and it’s here that the score then simply… ends.

Overall, Hans Zimmer’s score for Dune is honestly kind of underwhelming, despite the high thematic promise shown by the earlier released sketchbook, and that’s essentially the problem; where that album thrives in lengthy thematic performances, expansive narrative exploration and musical world-building, the actual film score oddly falls short. It consists primarily of wandering, empty ambience and atmospheric build-up in the first half with some sporadic renditions of the established themes dotted here and there, but none that really shine or stick around for any notable length of time. The brilliantly bagpiped Atreides theme from the sketchbook for example appeares literally once on the entire score, and even then it stays for thirty seconds at best. The main Kwisatz Haderach theme does appear a little more, but never in a bigger or more interesting manner than that of the sketchbook, and to expand on that point even further, nor are there any massive action setpieces (bar Armada maybe) or honestly any particularly standout cues. The back half is also an absolute slog to get through, and there’s no satisfying conclusion to make it all worth it either; it just kind of ends. Dune almost feels like half a score, and I can’t help but feel that a big end credits suite would’ve gone a long way toward improving this, wrapping up and concluding the story in a (hopefully) loud, thematic finish to bring the score full circle. Who knows though, perhaps the final Art And Soul Of Dune album will provide this.

I can see now why they elected to release the sketchbook album first, as the actual film score just pales in comparison. The themes in particular set up such potential which the score then barely uses. What a missed opportunity.



Score: 6/10

Standout Cue: 11. Armada

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3 thoughts on “Dune (2021) – Soundtrack Review

  1. I saw this Dune teaser trailer with music I was sure would be the main theme. I have left the link here, but I was hoping to hear this in the movie soundtrack as the main theme. It seems it wasn’t. It’s a shame, as I was looking forward to this one the most. It does sound like it was composed by Hans ZImmer. It even appeared again in the official trailer as well briefly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiGdHLQD300

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