Dune (2021)

(aka, Dune: Part One)

I read Dune when I was in High School.

A lot of us did at that time, and for the same reason I did — one of my friends told me that I had to read it.

The third book had come out only a few years earlier, and it was one of the few epic works of Science Fiction or Fantasy which offered something remotely comparable to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

It is complex and densely thought out, creating a strange new universe, and loading it down with history, footnotes, biological essays, and whatever else it took to make Arrakis a compelling location for his epic tale.

Okay, the second book wasn’t up to its standard and contradicted it on a few points, and the later books went in strange new directions, but it the original novel remains a truly unique classic.

I also have a soft spot for David Lynch’s film version.  You could spend all day listing all its flaws (which is true of some of my other Eighties favorites) but it was weird and stylish, with a lot of incredible visuals, a good cast, and some utterly bizarre design work.  It even did a reasonably good job of presenting the overly complex story.

As someone put it, it was the best trailer for a twelve hour movie ever made.

And I suppose I should mention in passing the pretty good (for TV) Sci Fi Network version.

So my reaction to the news of a new upcoming version of the film was somewhat mixed.  It’s one of those books which is too dense, complex and generally massive for a by-the-numbers Hollywood effort.  True, the director, Denis Villeneuve, had made the stunning (if ultimately extremely absurd) Arrival (2016), and the moody and evocative Blade Runner 2049 which was good enough that you stopped asking why we needed a sequel to Blade Runner (at least for a few hours).  But it was one of those stories where it was easier to fail than to produce a moderately average sort of adaptation.

What’s rare for me, I actually went to see it on the big screen at our local theater.

My reaction?

It’s stunning.

Beautiful and awe inspiring, it has its own look and feel which has little to do with David Lynch’s version.  An incredible effort went into the design which feels very grounded and lived in.  Despite being made for less than the original budget Villeneuve asked for, it looks incredible, with several very different worlds, well imagined costumes, impressive hardware, and an awesome version of the Sandworms.  I particularly liked his version of the thropters, which have been poorly portrayed in every version to date.  These are very like a helicopter, only with a wing layout borrowed from a dragon fly (which is one of the most accomplished flyers on earth, with the ability to fly fast, stop quickly, hover and even fly backwards).  However, they give the impression of a real machine, with a lot of effort put into the mechanical details and controls.

And, yes, this time the wings actually flap.

It’s been a long time since I read the book, but the story seems reasonably accurate aside from the usual mucking about we expect these days.  It is told in a very epic sort of way, which, yes, means at a stately, thoughtful pace.  It fits the material, and seems appropriate, but I have to wonder how it will play in our world of notoriously short attention spans.

We all know how quick a lot of moviegoers are these days to run around saying things are boring or slow.

A lot of people have criticized it because it ends so abruptly.  Now we knew this was going to be just part one of the story, but I’ll confess I half expected that it would end soon once Paul made contact with the Fremen.  It seems the logical place to break the story, and there is an important incident which takes place at that point which marks a major shift in Paul’s destiny.  However, I can’t remember from the book (or the earlier film versions) whether this is supposed to take place before or after they reach the Freman city.  A lot of people think we should have got at least a quick view of their underground city, but I suspect that this may have been a casualty of the limited budget.  After all, they would have had to spend a lot of money visualizing it and creating those shots.  We do get a momentous revelation at that point although I think this is at the cost of not mentioning one of the curious details of Freman culture prior to this point, something I’m fairly certain was revealed far earlier in the novel.

And it is a rather major element to keep secret.

I find it hard to say much more about the film than this.  It is an epic effort, and does a stellar job of bringing the book to life.  While it is a great literary adaptation, I’m not sure how well it plays as a standalone movie.  I suspect it really helps if you have some idea about the basic story and characters going in.  Nor am I certain that we learn enough about some of the details of this harsh future: while we see many of the curious “castes” of the original, like the Mentats, they are often introduced with little comment, and without some of the bits of explanation which will be important in the later films we’ve been promised.  There are a lot of important science fictional details which are shown without comment, like the massive Space Guild ships which are basically container ships on a grand scale, with the “passengers” ships docked inside.

At any rate, I’m looking forward to the next film, which seems a lot more likely now.  I’m sure, after I’ve seen it, I’ll have a better idea what I think of this one.

Although it is definitely an epic film, one that has all the sweep and splendor we expect from Frank Herbert’s novel…

Buy the original novel from Amazon (paid link):

Buy the 1984 version from Amazon (paid link):



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The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!



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