Dune — A Brilliant Adaptation or a Lackluster Attempt at One?

The sci-fi movie Dune, previously thought to be “unfilmable,” has finally reached our screens, but does it live up to expectations? Read on for the thoughts of one viewer who both read the book and watched the movie…

By Oscar Bachmann

* Disclaimer: This article includes spoilers *

Recently, the world of harsh deserts, giant worms, and warring factions known as Dune has come to theaters to wide acclaim. The movie is based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 science fiction novel of the same name. Dune is notoriously long, with some copies exceeding 600 pages, and according to readinglength.com, it takes the average reader an estimated 12 hours and 35 minutes to read. Since its release, Dune has sold millions of copies, and some fans and critics consider it to be the greatest science fiction book ever written. It’s understandable that this popularity and influence would lead many to try to adapt the novel into a visual medium, but for a while, Dune was actually considered unfilmable. Attempts at adaptations included a film and miniseries based on the books, but these were not considered “proper adaptations.” Why? Dune has a lot of scenes and settings that are impossible to recreate without modern special effects. Now in 2021 where we have a variety of new technologies, director Denis Villeneuve has taken a shot at filming the unfilmable. But is he successful?

As stated previously, Dune is a very long book, so Villeneuve has mentioned that he wants to divide the book into three movies. This first movie only covers about a half of the book, yet it is already well over 2 hours long. Before we can even get into the summary of the movie, it is first important to understand the world Frank Herbert created. Dune takes place in a feudal interstellar society, ruled by an emperor who sits above multiple noble houses. The two most important houses in the story are the House Atreides and House Harkonnen. For decades House Harkonnen ruled over the desert planet Arrakis, the main setting of the novel. Arrakis is an extremely harsh and inhospitable planet, but it’s abundant with an extremely valuable spice that gives its users strange and powerful abilities. As a result, House Harkonnen is richer than even the emperor. House Harkonnen and House of Atreides begin to grow stronger than the emperor, so House Atreides is assigned to rule Arrakis in hopes of building tensions and starting a war between the two houses. The main character of Dune is Paul (played by Timothée Chalamet), son of the Duke of Atreides, Leto Atreides (played by Oscar Isaac). As time passes, Paul begins to have visions of the future, the result of a religious group with superhuman abilities known as the Bene Gesserit. The organization has attempted to fulfill a prophecy and breed a being able to bend space and time known as “The One.” When he arrives on Arrakis, the tough natives of the planet, the Fremen, begin to wonder if he is their messiah because they have heard of the prophecy. Unfortunately, a betrayal occurs in House Atreides, and the Harkonnen attack, resulting in the death of the duke and the end of the house. Paul and his mother (played by Rebecca Ferguson) manage to escape, and Paul’s abilities further develop as he is exposed to the spices of Arrakis, culminating in a vision of the future where a war is fought in his name. Paul and his mother are found by a small group of Fremen from some of Paul’s prior visions. After an important duel, the movie ends with Paul’s first steps to becoming the messiah of the Fremen.  

Even though this is a summary, it is important to realize that it is a very short one. There are a lot more characters and plot points in the movie. It is also important to note that while Dune does a lot of things well, its successes do not prevent it from feeling slow at parts. This movie is only the introduction of the novel, and in order to make up for some of the complex parts of the book, the movie has a lot of exposition during the first quarter. In fact, the movie only starts where the book does about 20 minutes in! However, despite all these issues, Dune does plenty of things right. The special effects are incredible throughout, and there are some amazing shots throughout the film. There’s also the incredible music composed by Hans Zimmer, which really suits the setting with its combination of instrumental and vocal performances. All the actors played their parts well, but there were a few scenes where characters spoke in whispers or low voices that were a little hard to understand. Then, does this mean that Dune is a good adaptation of the source material? All things considered, Dune is a great adaptation of the novel. Although some story beats are switched around, and some characters are not as fleshed out as they are in the book, it is clear that Villeneuve wanted to make as faithful an adaptation as possible. 

But should you watch Dune? It really depends. Dune might drag on for some, but there is a high chance that fans of the book or detailed science fiction will like this movie. Whether you enjoy it or not, Dune clearly had a lot of hard work and passion put into it, and for that it deserves some respect.

If you like Dune, you may also like: 

Interstellar

Star Wars

2001: A Space Odyssey

Blade Runner 2049