Based on the celebrated novel by Frank Herbert, the 2021 version of Dune is one of the most anticipated films of the year.
In the far future, the known universe is ruled by The Padishah Emperor. Many great houses rule territory through the patronage of The Emperor. The most valuable planet in the Empire is Arrakis, the only source of spice, the substance that makes faster than light space travel possible.
The Emperor gives the stewardship of Arrakis to House Atreides. House Atreides immediately makes an enemy in the form of Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) due to this. Whilst Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) must deal with all the political tensions, his son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) starts to have dreams about a young native woman on Arrakis.
Dune is considered The Lord of the Rings of sci-fi. The novel was a dense piece of work because of the world-building and plot, and it has a lasting influence on the sci-fi genre, especially space operas. But the novel isn’t the easiest to read because of Herbert’s writing style and the use of terminology. It was a novel that had a glossary to explain what terms meant.
Adaptations of Dune have been a mixed bag. The 1984 adaptation was a troubled production that its director, David Lynch, has disowned. Yet that film has earned a cult following. The miniseries adaptations were well received but were made for a niche audience. The 2021 version had a huge weight of expectation upon it because of the quality of the cast and director.
Dune was a fantastic-looking film. The crew went all out with the cinematography, special effects, and production design. There was a sense of grandeur through the film, like the ceremony when the Herald of the Emperor hands Arrakis to House Atreides.
The buildings and costumes on Arrakis had an Arabic influence. The buildings were big blocks that were designed to keep out the heat of the day, and the clothing Middle Eastern influenced. It made the world of Dune feel lived in.
The Arabic influence also played a major role in Dune’s themes. Arrakis was a stand-in for the Middle East because both were desert locations that has the resource that make their worlds tick. Arrakis has become an arena for the great powers and their struggles with the locals suffering. It was a story about imperialism and foreign interests in an area. As Chani (Zendaya) says in the beginning voiceover ‘who will our next opposers be?’
There were some interesting designs for the vehicles. The aircraft that were used on Arrakis flew like mosquitos which were unique. The special effects were of such a high standard that all the action and equipment looked real.
Fans of the novel will be satisfied. This film does follow the events of the first half of the novel closely. There were only a few minor changes. Whilst non-fans can think of Dune as the sci-fi version of Games of Thrones.
The story of Dune was one of the great houses clashing in a dynastic struggle. House Atreides was seen as the noble house that opposition to the Emperor could rally behind, so the Emperor needs to eliminate them. Duke Leto knew there were risks going to Arrakis, there was also an opportunity to ally with the Fremen, the harden natives of the planet.
Non-fans can also see Dune as an inversion of Star Wars. Star Wars starts with a young man going from a remote desert planet to becoming involved in imperial politics. Dune was about nobles getting drawn to a hostile desert planet.
The Emperors in Dune and the first Star Wars film were not shown but their presence was felt because of the power they wield. But these comparisons with Star Wars and Games of Thrones does lead to an unintentional issue for Dune: people will think of the properties that it has influenced. It was a similar issue that Disney’s John Carter had.
Dune has a richness in its world-building and its themes about colonisation, but there was a feeling of coldness to the film. Denis Villeneuve is a highly regarded director, and he has made two great sci-fi films: Arrival and Blade Runner 2049.
But Villeneuve is known for making thoughtful films and he brought this approach to Dune which was meant to be a fun space opera. His direction resulted in Dune being an overly serious film with laborious pacing. It made Dune a tedious watch. An example of the film’s slow pacing during the action scenes. In Dune people fought like knights of old and their strikes had to be slow and meticulous.
This adaptation of Dune wants to be seen as the sci-fi version of Lord of the Rings and Games of Thrones. But it was also a film that was made for fans of the book more than for general audiences.
People who hadn’t read Lord of the Rings or Games of Thrones could still be swept up by the characters, the struggle, world-building, and action in the screen adaptations. Dune felt like it was made just for fans of the book.
Dune was a film that can be easy but hard to love. The craftsmanship was fantastic and there were great details regarding the world-building, yet it was disappointing as an engaging story.