OCTOBER 22, 2021
However, for our purposes, the story of the new Dune film is based solely on Frank Herbert’s classic novel. As the story unfolds, a galactic feudal society ruled by several noble families and an all-powerful monarch is established. Dune’s Duke Leto Atreides agrees to relocate to the harsh desert planet of Arrakis to oversee the mining of the vital spice Melange, which is only found on Arrakis. There’s no denying that melange is the universe’s most potent chemical, and it’s what makes space travel possible. Arrakis’ massive sandworms make mining the spice a risky business.
Paul is Leto’s son. Jessica, Leto’s concubine and member of the mysterious Bene Gesserit sisterhood, is Paul’s mother. This isn’t what it seems, as the paranoid Emperor Shaddam IV is dealing with the corrupt House Harkonnen, and the native Fremen people of Arrakis have had enough of the Empire’s meddling. Even if we spoke more, we’d be unleashing a plague of spoiler works.
Frank Herbert’s Dune, a futuristic tale of anti-corporate, pro-environmentalism, and Islamophilic politics, and Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land popularized the term “grok.” Aside from the scope of this assessment, it’s worth asking why mega-producers and mega-corporations have pursued the perfect film adaptation for so many decades.
Because I wasn’t a big sci-fi reader as a youngster in the 1970s, especially countercultural sci-fi, Dune missed me. I wouldn’t have read it if it were not for Dino De Laurentiis and David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of the book. It didn’t matter to me that it was a Lynch film since I was a pompous twenty-something film enthusiast who wasn’t quite ready to be a professional. But I like much of it, especially how it balanced its social criticism with enough action and suspense to fill an old-time serial.
That’s precisely what Denis Villeneuve, who wrote the script with Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts, does in his new film adaptation of the book. Dune is set in a distant future where humanity has evolved scientifically and has mutated spiritually. Many of you know this already.
It would be an understatement to say that I did not like Villeneuve’s previous works. He’s indeed produced a more-than-satisfactory film adaptation. Or two-thirds of the book. This is based on the filmmaker’s estimation, which I believe to be accurate. This epic two-and-a-half-hour film is titled “Dune Part 1,” and it’s not shy about implying that there’s more to the story. So much so, in fact, that Herbert’s own vision matches Villeneuve’s own storytelling preferences that Villeneuve didn’t feel the need to graft his own ideas onto this work as if he had to.
It’s hard to follow these descriptions if you’re not familiar with Dune. Pay attention, and you’ll notice that the script does an excellent job of exposition without having it look like EXPOSITION. Overall, yes. “Dune,” on the other hand, may not appeal to you if you’re not a fan of science-fiction movies. Particularly in the case of George Lucas, the book had a profound effect on him. People, this is a DESERT WORLD. This little thing called “The Voice” exists among the higher mystics in the “Dune” universe, and it eventually evolved into “Jedi Mind Tricks.” And so on.
Herbert’s characters, who tend to be more archetypes than people, are exceptionally effectively embodied by Villeneuve’s large ensemble. As Paul Atreides, Timothée Chalamet relies heavily on callowness initially but shakes it off convincingly once his character realizes how to Follow His Destiny. Rebecca Ferguson plays Paul’s mother, Jessica, with mystery and fierceness, and Oscar Isaac plays Paul’s father, the Duke. Chani, Zendaya is a perfect fit. In a departure from Herbert’s book, the environmentalist Kynes is portrayed by Sharon Duncan-Brewster, who plays her with threatening intensity. And so on.
Villeneuve said the movie was made “as a tribute to the big-screen experience” when he complained about Warner Media’s deal to stream “Dune” at the same time it hits theatres. When I first heard about it, I thought it was a stupid excuse to create a movie. “Dune” helped me grasp what he was saying, and I sort of agree. Allusions to films in the style of High Cinematic Spectacle abound throughout the film. “Lawrence of Arabia” comes to mind, of course. Apocalypse Now also appears in the moment when Stellan Skarsgard’s Baron Harkonnen, bald as an egg, first appears. 2001: A Space Odyssey comes to mind. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1957) by Alfred Hitchcock and Antonioni’s “Red Desert” are two examples of films that could be considered outliers but are classics.