Spoilers… but if you don’t know the story of “dune” yet, go to your local library and read it right away.
For nearly five years, when Legendary Entertainment acquired the rights to “Dune” in November 2016 and Denis Villeneuve was eyed for the project, we’ve patiently waited to see the fruits of his labor. What could the visionary director who gave us the edge-of-the-seat hitman, the riveting “Arrival” and the masterpiece that is “Blade Runner 2049” create from Frank Herbert’s original novel? and now we know.
Reading: What was the movie dune about
first published in 1965 as two separate series in analog magazine, it won the hugo award and the nebula award for best novel in 1966. it is the first installment, of which there are many, of the “dune saga” (opens in new tab )” and has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide. (opens in new tab) is considered possibly the greatest work of science fiction ever written and one of the most important contributions to the literature of the century xx “dune” was also a huge influence on george lucas when he was writing “star wars” (tattoos and arrakis, spice carriers, kessel spice mines, etc).
“Dune” is set 8,000 years in the future in the midst of a feudal interstellar society in which various noble houses control celestial estates, and tells the story of young Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto, ruler of House Atreides. For reasons deeply rooted in politics and paranoia, the Emperor of the Known Universe has ordered House Atreides to take over administration of the planet Arrakis, replacing his sworn enemies, House Harkonnen.
Note: If you’re wondering how to watch the new movie outside of theaters, check out our “dune” streaming guide for tips on where to watch.
arrakis is a sparsely populated and inhospitable desert wasteland. however, it is the only source of a spice called melange, which in addition to offering many health benefits and enhancing cognitive abilities, is essential for folding space, the only method in existence for crossing great interstellar distances. consequently, this seemingly worthless world is actually the most important planet in the universe.
What follows is a multi-layered story with interactive elements of politics, religion, ecology, technology and human emotions, as an intergalactic chess game unfolds in a struggle for survival, control of the arrakis and the spice .
Like “foundation” currently airing on apple tv+ (opens in a new tab), “dune” was considered by many to be unfilmable or at least extremely difficult. In December 1974, a French consortium bought the rights to the film with the intention of having Alejandro Jodorowsky in the director’s chair. pink floyd and the french progressive rock band magma provided the music; artists hr giger, chris foss and jean giraud had been approached to provide set and character design, and an impressive cast was to include salvador dalí, orson welles, gloria swanson, david carradine and mick jagger. However, despite some concerns about Jodorowsky’s ambitious ideas, after two and a half years of development, the project eventually stalled for financial reasons. There’s an amazing documentary called “Jodorowsky’s Dune” available to watch on Amazon Prime (Opens in a new tab) that tells the whole story.
ridley scott considered giving it a try in the early 80’s and even got to preliminary art by hr giger. however, “blade runner” was not the box office success the studio expected in 1982, so that was it.
then came david lynch’s “dune” in 1984 (opens in new tab), the movie everyone is comparing to this new one too. And that’s understandable, because it’s the only other film production of Frank Herbert’s novel. however, it’s critical to remember that these two performances of “dune” are exactly that, performances, made by two different directors with different visions, some 37 years apart. this absolutely should be considered as comparing two different productions of shakespeare’s “henry v” and “dune” is exactly that, sci-fi shakespeare.
Lynch’s “Dune” was nearly three years in the making and also featured an impressive cast, including Sean Young, Patrick Stewart, Max von Sydow, José Ferrer, Jürgen Prochnow, Dean Stockwell, Francesca Annis and Kyle Maclachlan. This new movie also features an impressive cast, including Stellan Skarsgård, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Timothée Chalamet, and Rebecca Ferguson.
related: ‘dune’ hits space as astronaut celebrates frank herbert’s iconic sci-fi novel
The 1984 film took a different approach; lynch took some liberties with the story (it doesn’t rain on arrakis at the end of the novel), added the nice but not necessary weird modules, and redesigned the whole look of the technology used. Just as Ridley Scott popularized cyberpunk in “Blade Runner,” Lynch did the same with steampunk, a style that suggests advanced technology actually has older components, typically from the Victorian era. this is particularly visible, for example, when we see the perspective shot of paul atreides (kyle maclachlan) from inside the hunter-seeker during an assassination attempt inside his bedroom.
villeneuve, on the other hand, has gone for a more retrotech aesthetic, similar to the “star wars” universe, for example, and it looks beautiful, especially on a big screen, but neither is right or wrong and we love both . . Thirty-seven years is a long time in film production and both special and visual effects have evolved a lot, so it’s much more possible today than it was in the early 1980s. This is probably most apparent with the giant sandworms. of arrakis.
In addition to the different approaches to visual style, there are many other differences between the two interpretations. “dune” really has the grandeur of a shakespeare play and lynch’s film felt much more theatrical. his film also used voiceover narration and immediately the absence of this is felt in this 2021 adaptation. again, this has pros and cons. Again using the hunter-seeker assassination attempt in Paul’s bedroom as an example; we hear kyle maclachlan’s inner voice explaining how the jockstrap field will make it slippery underneath. adds to the scene without spoon-feeding the audience any information to help the flow of the story.
villeneuve removes that entirely. instead, he relies much more on the use of dramatic incidental music and instrumental montages to build tension in the scene. and it is done very well. Both of these significantly different approaches are equally successful in creating an effective piece.
The new film also drastically reduces the screen time of Dr Yueh (played by Chen Chang and Dean Stockwell in the 1984 film). again, there are pros and cons to this, but mostly cons. In Lynch’s film, the strong relationship and respect that Duke Leto and Lady Jessica have with Yueh is constantly built upon, which makes his betrayal, and the breaking of his Imperial conditioning, all the more significant. however, he establishes him as the prime suspect of being “the traitor” referred to by baron vladimir harkonnen earlier in the story.
In Villeneuve’s version, his character is barely seen, so even though we don’t suspect anything of him, because he’s barely said two words, the magnitude of his marcus brutus-esque betrayal is completely lost. Plus, Stockwell gives an Academy Award-worthy performance when he’s finally killed by Piter de Vries (Brad Dourif). unfortunately, chang does not.
on the other hand, villeneuve’s film greatly increases the screen time and story of duncan idaho (jason momoa). poor richard jordan was spectacularly underused in lynch’s film.
however, both films did not show the scene of the death of dr. liet kynes, played by max von sydow in 1984. the role has changed gender for the 2021 film and is played by sharon duncan-brewster, but liet kynes is chani’s father, so maybe this is his mother. In the book, Kynes is severely beaten by the Harkonnens during the attack on Arrakeen and is taken deep into the desert, sans stillsuit, to die. he begins to hallucinate and has an imaginary conversation with his father before being swallowed by the desert in a hit of spice. It’s a beautiful and moving chapter in the book, and Villeneuve pays homage to it by having Kynes swallow the desert in the wake of a worm, taking some Sardaukar troops with her.
Speaking of the Sardaukar, we get a brief glimpse of Salusa secundus in this film, the home of the dreaded Sardaukar terrorist troops and that adds up to a lot of points. but interestingly, villeneuve, who has chosen to expand many more elements of the story and thus create this two-part story (the 1984 movie was 2 hours and 17 minutes long and this one is 2 hours and 35 minutes long). ), has not yet shown the character of feyd rautha, famously played by sting in the movie lynch. and this is strange since feyd’s story runs parallel to paul’s in the book; he is essentially the anti-paul.
villeneuve has still made his own modifications to the story; one of the most notable is the rescue of the harvester crew after, in this version, the roof rack malfunctions. in the novel, the harkonnens managed to overpower the carryall’s crew and in lynch’s movie, they are supposed to have destroyed it. This is an important piece in the story as Kynes begins to admire Duke Leto, against all better judgment. it also contributes to the gradual and continuing thread that suggests the harkonnen threat to the arrakis is still very real. but the malfunction feels forced and there was really no need to make this alteration. Plus, Oscar Isaac just doesn’t have the forcefulness that Jürgen Prochnow has when he yells “you men run! run!”
this is the thing; any movie that’s part of a larger story should still be able to stand on its own… and I’m not sure this will. It’s obviously been written with part two in mind and the choice to end where it ended, before Paul embarks on the next chapter of his life and begins to fulfill prophecy, is interesting. basically there is no third act.
Lynch’s “Dune” had so many memorable scenes and lines delivered with seldom-seen flair that they’re so quotable, even now. pretty much everything everett mcgill (stilgar) says to patrick stewart, leading a counterattack, holding a pug and yelling “long live duke leto!”
However, very little will stand out in this film in the same way, sadly. The dialogue is written in a much more casual, conversation-like manner, and despite a great cast and strong performances – most notably probably Charlotte Ramplaling (Reverend Mother Mohiam) and Dave Baptista (Beast Rabban Harkonnen) – nothing stood out. particularly.
with one or two minor exceptions, this movie follows a similar story to lynch’s, but really veers off after the harkonnen attack on arakeen. It almost feels at times like decisions were made to make it deliberately different from the 1984 version, so that it’s possible to love both movies.
once you get over the way “harkonnen” is pronounced, it’s nice. there’s a really interesting angle taken early in the movie, which is very indicative of the times we live in, as we hear from chani’s (zendaya) perspective of all the times arrakis has been occupied and the fremen have been hunted . Villeneuve has opted for a much more Middle Eastern feel to the set design, rather than the colonial aesthetic that Lynch was going for. however, both work well and the 2021 film pays homage to the original novel as there are many Persian influences in the book.
“dune” is a good movie and, like lynch’s, it has its ups and downs, but is it villeneuve’s best movie yet? No. that was “blade runner 2049” without a single shadow of a doubt. this version of “dune” could be better, yes. could “blade runner 2049”? no, that’s a perfect movie. Denis Villeneuve hasn’t put his stamp on this movie as much as fans of his work would have liked to see. If it were a school report, I’d say something like “we know Denis can do better, and while her work is still at the top of her class, we think she can do better.”
As of this writing, “dune” has opened in the US with $40 million. that’s for the best for director denis villeneuve which is great news and there’s no reason why part 2 shouldn’t get the green light. By the way, at $165 million, “dune” was $35 million cheaper to make than “jungle cruise”… drop it.
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