Welcome to the Duniverse

Madeline Carpinelli, Co-Editor-in-Chief

After two years and $165 million dollars in production, director Denis Villeneuve’s Dune has awed watchers worldwide with its one- of-a-kind audiovisuals and shocking story. Starring heartthrobs Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya, Dune (2021) is an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel, published in 1965.

The movie:

There’s no doubt that what truly makes this film special is the audiovisual experience created by Villeneuve and film score composer Hans Zimmer. Every single shot was a new stunning and captivating visual for viewers to feel engulfed in, and Zimmer’s audios only made scenes more mesmerizing. Hilbert’s dark and meaningful story combined with Villeneuve’s eerie and magical landscapes creates a deeply immersive world for watchers. A fan favorite is the gom jabbar scene; an eerie setting with mystically ancient props conveys the terror and mystery of the Bene Gesserit powers.

The ornithopters’ dragonfly-like design in the film were especially fun to watch. I really appreciated how Dune avoided that minimalist futuristic aesthetic that so many sci-fi movies use. Costumes and sets were incredibly immersive because they had this modern medieval look, or as costume designer Jacqueline West calls it, “mod-ieval” (Patrick Brzeski, The Hollywood Reporter).

The action in this movie was especially mesmerizing due to its magnitude, especially in scenes including the infamous sandworms. For me, every scene with a sandworm had my heart pounding in an instant. On the other hand, the knife fight scenes weren’t well- choreographed had hoped. In some particular scenes, fighting felt comical; watching Timothée Chalamet spin and jump didn’t feel quite as authentic as I’d hoped. In a Marvel- dominated film industry, most audiences expect more action and violence than what Dune delivered. While readers of the original series know that Dune: Part Two has the conflict that watchers are craving, this could be one of the reasons Dune: Part One might not do as well as it hoped.

Dune’s very dark and serious plot also contributes to this potential dissatisfaction within newer audiences. Other than Jason Momoa’s few moments of teasing Timothée Chalamet, this movie has no comedic relief of any kind. While this stays true to the original novel, new audiences are much more used to quirky and hilarious side characters to lighten the mood, like Awkwafina’s character in Marvel’s Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings.

Finally, Dune’s narrative can be very easily interpreted to be the white savior trope, a theme where a white main character enters a struggling community of indigenous people or people of color and “saves” them, because they are too “weak” or “uncivilized” to help themselves. Paul’s instant position as a messiah and leader when he arrives on Arrakis can be interpreted as portraying the Fremen, the native people of Arrakis, to be too weak to save themselves.

Despite criticisms, director Denis Villeneuve has a different point-of-view: “It’s not a celebration of a savior. It’s a condemnation and criticism of that idea of a savior,” Villeneuve tells Mike Manalo at The Nerds of Color. “Of someone that will come and tell another operation how to be and what to believe… it’s a criticism.”

The adaptation:

Dune is an undeniably difficult novel to bring to the big screen due to its abstract power system of the Bene Gesserit and unique narration through the use of stream- of-consciousness. The story has had many previous adaptations, including a television drama from 2000, a film from 1984 and a failed film adaptation by Alejandro Jodorowsky from the 1970s. The most famous of these is David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation; while it follows quite true to the story, calling the film’s special effects outdated is an understatement.

“[The newer Dune] has a lot more diversity and the CGI is a lot better,” senior Dylan Iki said. “It also takes the time to explain everything so you feel a lot more immersed in it.”

Therefore, fans around the world were ready for a new film to give Dune the adaptation it deserves. Still, for new watchers, the lore of Dune remains complicated and difficult to follow.

“I feel like you have to have some background knowledge [to understand the movie],” senior Sophia Doyle said.

“I did have to explain a bunch of it to [my friend],” senior Leo Rava, who read the original novel, said. “But I think if you pay attention hard enough, then you’ll get most of the story.”

The Voice, shields, and other “unfilmable” aspects of this story were brought to life beautifully by Villeneuve. Shields were futuristic and simple and much more visually pleasing than the chunky ones from the 1984 adaptation. The Voice, a power that Paul and his mother share which allows them to manipulate the pitch of their voices to control others with words, was especially unique in this movie, with intense effects that conveyed the absolute terror of the phenomenon.

“I think the visuals really enhanced [the story],” Rava said. “[Before,] I had no vision of what everything looked like and I think the movie did a great job with that.”

Villeneuve truly takes his time with this adaptation. At two hours and 35 minutes, Dune: Part One still only covers the first half of the first book in the Dune series. It feels wrong to criticize this film for straying slightly away from the original plot (since it was quite accurate), but there are some aspects that I was sad to see missing (warning for spoilers). First of all, most readers would notice that Dr. Yueh’s betrayal was much less shocking on screen. A significant conversation between Lady Jessica and Dr. Yueh was missing, where Yueh revealed his hatred for the Harkonnens for taking his wife and Jessica empathized with him. In addition, in the book, Leto and his family already knew there was a traitor among them before Yueh’s treachery. I understand Villeneuve’s decision to remove this, but I also think it would have helped new watchers understand the Atreides family’s pain and betrayal much better.

“[Dune] is so long and there’s a lot of moving parts, which is why I have a little bit of a problem with the movies,” Rava said. “It missed a lot of really important character building.”

Additionally, Paul’s Mentat abilities are completely neglected. There’s a period of numbness that Paul goes through, starting when he learns of his father’s death. It creates a rift between him and his mother as he struggles with learning how to grieve. During this time, we can really see Paul’s Mentat abilities grow as well as his reliance on them to escape from difficult emotions. Fans can only hope that his budding Mentat abilities and their effect on his character growth will be included in Dune: Part Two.

Other smaller aspects were still missing, despite some being great artistic opportunities for Villeneuve.

“The books had songs in it that the characters sang and they didn’t have any of that [in the movie],” Rava said.

The sequel is scheduled to be released in 2023, assuming that it isn’t delayed by almost a year like part one was (due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the complications it created). With the missing scenes and cliffhanger at the end of the first movie, new and old fans alike are anxious for Part Two’s arrival. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s overall impact on the film industry, the movie’s future is still unpredictable at this point. Overall, this movie deserves all the praise it’s getting, but that doesn’t make it feel any less unfinished to audiences.

“The first [movie] left things hanging… it just laid the setting out,” Iki said. “[I’m ready] to see the actual action [in Dune: Part 2].”