Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 Dune movie starring Timothee Chalamet is a visual masterpiece. Every frame is a spectacle to behold and with an original score from the legendary Hans Zimmer, watching the film in theatres is an experience of a lifetime. Adapted from Frank Herbert’s science fiction book by the same name, over the years Dune has been called a piece of literature that is unadaptable. Especially, after David Lynch’s epic failure to transform the book into a film in 1984. Yet Denis Villeneuve strikes hard to make his version stand out, be it through an ensemble cast or an unmatched production design.
The film has received immense respect and has been admired since its screening at the 2021 Venice Film Festival. The general consensus of the reviews is positive for the film and it is undoubtful that every person involved in this film has done their best to make the movie a success. In fact, after the legendary Lord of The Rings trilogy by Peter Jackson, which was made more than 2 decades ago, this is the film that comes closest to the brilliance of adapting a literary genius of such large magnitude. You can read a spoiler-free review of the movie, here.
However, it is hard to miss both for people who have read the Dune books and the ones who haven’t, how the film feels rushed and emotionally distant at times. It leaves information between the lines which you might only catch up on after a second watch and leaves loose ends running all over the place hoping to tie it all up in a sequel movie. The suspense builds to the level that now the audience will demand a second part, which is commendable. But does the film lose Frank Herbert’s Dune’s essence as it tries to strategically line up a path for a Dune Part Two?
– This article contains spoilers from the movie –
Harkonnens are evil and vicious and as Josh Brolin’s Gurney puts it “brutal”, but how is the audience supposed to understand how villainous the antagonist of the story is if all he does is hide behind prosthetics, fly around and take a bath in Melange? And moreover, if you don’t get enough time with the antagonist to understand his motivations, how are you supposed to sympathize with the hero and feel emotionally charged enough to pick a side?
Denis Villeneuve has mentioned how the first part of the film is going to focus mostly on Paul’s development and the Harkonnens are only shown due to geopolitical reasons and we will get to see more of the Baron in the sequel. Whatever we see of him in this film is very Marlon Brando from Apocalypse Now (1979). But, how will the audience care enough for Paul if the people he is fighting against are not fully explored, like the Baron’s vicious nature of preying on slave boys or even his motive to make Feyd Rautha (his younger nephew) take his place.
Lady Jessica’s Ancestry
A very jaw-dropping moment in the first part of the Dune book is Paul’s vision that lets him know everything which includes his mother, Lady Jessica’s ancestry. A scene that tremendously hits the readers in the book, was shockingly not seen in the film even though it falls under part of the first volume of Dune and the film covers the first 2 parts, indicating that Denis Villeneuve has deliberately missed out on it.
To complicate matters further, during the last part of the film when the Baron meets a paralyzed Duke Leto he calls him “cousin” leaving the audience thinking if House Atreides is related to Harkonnens but, in a wrong way. The film, due to no interaction between any royal houses, misses out to educate the audience that “cousin” in royal terms does not always indicate towards a second-degree relative and is often used as a greeting between 2 houses.
Frank Herbert just uses one line to establish this fact when the Harkonnens receive a letter from Duke Leto, and Piter says, “He’s most uncouth, Baron. Addresses you as ‘Harkonnen’ — no ‘Sire et Cher Cousin,’ no title, nothing.” Another reason why Frank Herbert’s work is unbeatable is when it comes to subtle ways of revelations.
A Seed of Doubt
There is a lack of screen time for all the characters except Paul and Lady Jessica, which hampers the establishment of character arcs that heavily determines the next part of the story. An essential one is the seed of doubt in Thufir Hawat’s mind against Lady Jessica being the infiltrator instead of Dr. Yueh. A very powerful scene that shows us the characters’ feelings towards each other is missed out on, which includes Lady Jessica being confronted by Hawat.
The fact that anyone, which includes Duke Leto, ever doubted Jessica is never shown or clearly mentioned in the film. A gravely problematic area for the sequel to show the inspiring events where Hawat is in Harkonnen custody and is manipulated. A seed of doubt that becomes a tree so strong that it never leaves him until you turn the last few pages of the book.
Racism & Facism
The Harkonnens hate Fremen. The Emperor does not accept them. House Atreides looks at them as a resource more and fellow-population-to-rule less. This constant treatment of Fremen as outsiders on a planet as unforgiving as Dune is never linked to the factor of racism which Herbert brilliantly touches in his book, making the Dune saga as relatable today as the day it was written. If anything a 2021 film should highlight the talks revolving around racism now more than ever.
Another point which the film tries to make but will be missed by many is the hint towards an authoritative rule. The religious war vision that distresses Paul visibly in the tent with Lady Jessica is just left there with no explanation whatsoever, making the audience miss out on a scene that will be rather fundamental not only in the making of the film series but also serves as a moral ground for us to truly understand Paul Atreides in the books.
If anything, Dune is a piece of literature that is devoted to the environment and ecology. It is a warning call for every generation to understand the consequences of greed. For instance, harvesting the spice till the very last moment can inevitably cost you your life if you don’t have a Duke Leto Atreides nearby. Dr. Liet Kynes, who is a character with a dream to save everyone with budding greenery on Dune is dead without even honouring her dream.
The effects of climate change, the consequences of greedy humans and the efforts of people who care are all reflected in the film. But, with Paul Atreides’ inconclusive vision lying all over the place, it is rather difficult for the audience to focus and understand that the Dune universe is dedicated to ecological development as much as it is in political advancement and religious wars.
Nonetheless, Denis Villeneuve does everything possible with the ball in his court and all we can hope for is a sequel to be greenlit for the Dune Universe to expand and give new meaning to the world of cinema. The film stars Timothee Chalamet as the protagonist Paul Atreides, Rebecca Ferguson as the Lady Jessica, Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto, Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck, Zendaya as Chani, Javier Bardem as Stilgar, Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho, Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Dr. Liet-Kynes, Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and several other known faces.
Dune is now streaming on HBO Max. You can also catch Dune Part One (2021) in the theatres near you.Instagram & Facebook to keep yourself updated with the latest news and reviews.