I have to confess, when I first read Frank Herbert’s Dune novel about a decade ago, I didn’t really connect with the story. Although I appreciated the experience of reading such an important sci-fi classic, I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed it. I decided not to continue with the other books in the series, and I considered my involvement with Dune to be done.
Then, to my great surprise, Denis Villeneuve’s big-budget film adaptation of Dune became my most anticipated movie of 2021. As soon as that first trailer dropped, I was in. Denis Villeneuve is one of my favorite directors working today, and with a filmography that includes ambitious sci-fi projects like Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, how could I NOT pay attention to his version of Dune? Also, the cast included a number of actors from many of my favorite franchises – Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Rebecca Ferguson, and Josh Brolin, to name just a few.
I loved the Dune trailers so much that I began to wonder if maybe I’d read the Dune novel at the wrong time in my life. I decided to give the story a second chance, and I’m really glad I did.
Watching Dune in a theater on an IMAX screen was a breathtaking cinematic experience. I immediately felt immersed in the world, and I didn’t want the movie to end (the film’s opening warns that this is only part one, but honestly I wasn’t even aware that two and a half hours had passed and I was already ready to see more of the story).
One of the things that I loved most about the gorgeous cinematography and special effects was how the world of Dune felt realistic and grounded, but also incredibly alien. Dune could have easily come across as derivative of other big-screen sci-fi franchises like Star Wars, which I know is an inherently unfair statement, because the book predates those other series and in fact inspired many of the sci-fi stories that came after it.
Every single scene feels lovingly crafted with painstaking care; the characters feel like real people inhabiting a real world, which is filled with dangerous political intrigue that rivals even the most tense episodes of Game of Thrones.
Dune is a slow burn film that doesn’t feel slow, if that makes sense. It wasn’t rushed, and to me at least, the pacing felt purposeful rather than plodding. Although it’s not necessarily an action-packed film, the action that is included feels exciting and important to the plot.
I’m not going to try to be spoiler-free here, because I feel like if you’re reading this, you’ve probably either seen the movie already or have read the book. (And if you aren’t familiar with the story and are curious, I definitely encourage you to check it out, even if you’re feeling a little skeptical, as I used to be.)
I feel like one of the things that helped me connect more with Dune this time around is the fact that I’m such a big Game of Thrones fan now, and I loved the dynamics between the competing houses in that show. I latched onto House Atreides the same way I latched onto House Stark: both are noble, loyal families who respect tradition, only to have that loyalty betrayed.
I also want to learn more about the Bene Gesserit; I’m sure George Lucas drew at least a little inspiration from them for the Jedi in Star Wars, although he definitely takes the concept in his own unique direction. I love the idea of this secretive order led by powerful women, subtly influencing politics throughout the galaxy.
Speaking of the Bene Gesserit…while there were many characters I was intrigued by in this movie, my favorite character was Lady Jessica, played by Rebecca Ferguson. (Honorable mentions go to Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides, for filling the “angsty space prince” void in my fangirl heart left by the fact I probably won’t get to see Kylo Ren on the big screen again; Josh Brolin as the long-suffering weapons master Gurney Halleck; and Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides, because HELLO it’s Oscar Isaac).
Lady Jessica is a layered character who must grapple with competing motivations. She’s loyal to Duke Leto, because she loves him, but she’s also a Bene Gesserit, and must answer to the Reverend Mother of the order. She’s caught between the middle of these two powerful players due to her son, Paul, who’s the heir to House Atreides but also potentially the long-prophesied chosen one the Bene Gesserit have been waiting for.
We’ve seen the chosen one narrative depicted plenty of times in fiction before, but from what I understand, Dune is perhaps more of a deconstruction of that narrative device than a celebration of it. (Yes, I know I read the book so I should remember more about this topic, but I have a bad memory sometimes when it comes to recalling the details of movies. That’s why much of the plot of this film played as a surprise to me, which I guess is kinda cool because then it felt like a brand-new story?) Anyway, Paul reminds me a little of Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels (again, with the caveat that Dune predates Star Wars). He’s not necessarily seeking to be the fulfillment of a prophecy; rather, it’s a destiny that is being thrust upon him, and he may or may not prove worthy of it.
Part 2 of Villeneuve’s Dune has not been officially confirmed, and I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll get to see more of his version of the story. It’s been critically well-received and done decent pandemic box office numbers, and I feel like there’s lots of great thematic material to dive into here, particularly with Paul’s chosen one status and his relationship with his mother. Recently we’ve seen some great franchise films and TV shows focused on fathers and their children (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and The Mandalorian, to name a few). So I’m really excited to see the dynamic between a powerful mother and a gifted child, and what role these two will play in the galaxy at large.
I also love that Villeneuve doesn’t deviate from the wilder/weirder aspects of the source material. At first I wondered, “What kind of name is Duncan Idaho, anyway?” but after about 30 seconds I just accepted it and thought, “Well, of course he’s Duncan Idaho – who else could he be?” (Also, Jason Momoa may not be the most nuanced of actors, but I adore him and thought he was great fun in this role.)
I was really excited to see the giant sandworms, and they did not disappoint. The film does a great job selling them as an intimidating threat lurking beneath the desert, and I loved that we got a little sneak peak of someone riding a sandworm. I need Warner Bros. to greenlight Dune 2 as soon as possible so I can see more sandworms on the big screen.
I’m torn between whether I want to go back and try rereading Dune right now, or wait until I’ve seen the second film, so I’m surprised by the story in the theater and then go back and reread the novel. Regardless, I’m definitely interested in this world now, in a way I wasn’t before. I’m planning to see this movie again in the theater, probably catch it a few times on HBO Max, and then buy the DVD, even though I don’t buy a lot of hard copies of movies any more.
I’ve seen a lot of discussion about Dune on social media over the past several days, which makes me happy, because it’s nice to have big blockbusters to discuss again. I saw one person call it a once-in-a-generation masterpiece, and another, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, say that it was too boring and slow, and honestly I love films that inspire wildly different responses like that. If a movie tries to be too many things and appeal to too many people, it will end up exciting no one. Dune really worked for me, and it’s a film that must be seen on the big screen, if you’re comfortable venturing into the theater. And again, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for part 2!