Dune. The famously unfilmable and unattainable book, now conquered by the director Denis Villeneuve. While movies like Mary Poppins and the Sound of Music were in production, Frank Herbert was developing a novel about a world dependent on psychedelic drugs and a war fueled by climate change. Contrary to the predictions of critics, Dune quickly gained a cult following, inspiring various directors to attempt adaptations of the political book.
The first director who tried to conquer Dune, Alejandro Jodorowsky, never made it past the editing stage. Jodorowsky tried to squeeze the whole book into one movie, resulting in a script that was 14 hours long, which Hollywood refused to release. Jodorowsky’s failure allowed for David Lynch to take a shot, but his interpretation is said to still give people migraines. So would the new Dune be any different?
Many viewers were eager to see if Denis Villeneuve would make the same mistake as his predecessors. The first scene, reading “part one,” indicated the good decision to split the long story into different parts.
The film portrayed overwhelming parallels to current issues, such as the marginalization of Native people, ecological disaster, and religious influence. Despite these themes, the storyline is still centered around the white male savior, which has been a persistent component of the storyline ever since Herbert wrote it.
Arrakis, also known as Dune, is an uninhabitable planet consisting of a desert with scarring weather and the ominous Sandworms. It is also the home of Spice, a drug that extends life, heightens awareness, and can achieve interstellar space travel. The entirety of Herbert’s world is dependent on Spice; no one can live without it.
The Atreides, a major royal house, is transferred to govern Arrakis, the previous home of the enemy Harkonnen family. The Atreides attempt to make peace with the historically oppressed Natives, the Fremen, who have been persecuted under Harkonnen rule. The story develops from rousing political tensions into an all-out war, wreaking havoc on Paul Atreides’ (Timothée Chalamet) life.
Villeneuve does a good job of keeping the characters true to the books. Timothée Chalamet plays the solemn character with almost evil neutrality, creating a cockier, but more likable version of Paul. This differs significantly from the 1984 Dune, in which Paul is aware of his unlikely abilities and perpetually serene, making it difficult for viewers to empathize with him. While the humanization of Paul contributes to his character development, Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother, is too easy to commiserate with. Her true power is not often shown as she is portrayed as agitated and skittish. Her absence of authority in Villeneuve’s addition leaves the floor completely male-dominated.
Villeneuve has not quite created a masterpiece, but has achieved something better than previous attempts (not that the bar is very high). You leave the theater feeling unsatisfied and confused by the abrupt ending, hoping that the unconfirmed second movie provides more answers and fewer questions.