Spoiler Review: Dune Is A Brilliant Adaptation - Comic Years
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Spoiler Review: Dune Is A Brilliant Adaptation That Sets The Bar High For All Future Genre Film

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BY October 29, 2021

Dune has long been considered a masterpiece in the science fiction canon. Yet, despite the importance of the novel to the history of genre fiction, there have been few attempts to adapt it.  Of course there is David Lynch’s Dune, a cult classic that is cherished for just how bad it is. Another attempt was made in the early 2000’s by the SciFi channel, when they adapted the first three books DuneDune Messiah, and Children of Dune. These mini-series adaptations stuck closer to the source material, and are still beloved by fans as the best adaptation of the story to currently exist. And into this long history, comes a new adaptation of the science fiction classic. After so many years, Denis Villeneuve is here to blow everyone else out of the sand with his own film adaptation of Dune.

Dune Sets Up A New Universe To Explore

Dune official trailer Isaac. Image via Warner Bros.

The Dune adaptation that is now playing in theaters and on HBO Max is only the first film of a potential trilogy. It covers the first half of the book, the part that is often bogged down by worldbuilding and political machinations.  But despite its slow pace, Villeneuve injects tension and drama into every moment of the film. We are introduced to two of our great Houses – Atreides and Harkonnen. We know that they have been feuding for generations, although it is not clear as to why. But beyond that, Villeneuve sets up an intense drama centered around the unseen Emperor. The voice of the Atreides is rising, we are told. And the Emperor is a jealous man.

Prophecy Never Goes Quite As Expected

Dune score hans zimmer albums Image via Warner Bros.

At the heart of this story is the heir to House Atreides, young Paul played here by Timothee Chalamet. Paul is not just the heir to his House. But also to a grand lineage carefully manipulated by the Bene Gesserit. This mysterious organization influences the universe from behind the scenes. And they have mystical abilities that include the power of the Voice to control others. Paul’s mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is a member of the Bene Gesserit herself. But she broke the rules when she fell in love with Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac)  and chose to bear him a son, instead of a daughter as she was commanded. Jessica believes that her son could become the prophesied figure known as the Kwisatz Haderach. And as Paul begins to have visions of the future, it seems as though her hunch was correct.

Paul’s visions throughout the book – and the film –  focus on the Fremen. This tribe of desert dwellers are native to the planet Arrakis. And they have long been waiting for their own prophesied hero. When House Atreides relocates to Arrakis in an effort to bring peace to the planet, Paul finds the Fremen are already expecting him. He struggles with being appointed savior to a people he does not know. And at the same time, he finds his own power growing in the desert. And his visions of a young Fremen woman haunt him.

Elevating The Voices of the Fremen

dune movie review Image via Warner Bros Pictures

The woman in question is Chani (Zendaya) who surprisingly starts off as the narrator of the film. There has been some talk about Chani being a larger character in these movies. Villeneuve even went so far as to tell Italian magazine Il Venerdì di Repubblica. that in the second movie Chani “will be the protagonist of the story.” Unfortunately, Chani doesn’t get much to do in this first half other than being the woman of Paul’s dreams (literally). But introducing Arrakis from her point of view is a clever way of bringing her into this part of the story early, and establishing her character’s importance.

Bringing focus to the Fremen characters is important to do in this modern adaptation of Dune. There is definitely a white saviour narrative that arises from an offworlder like Paul acting as the messiah for this indigenous group of black and brown people. And in a modern culture, that is not a great looks for progressive science fiction stories. Elevating Chani’s character from love interest to something more – a protagonist in her own right – will add depth and nuance to the story as it continues.

A Faithful Adaptation Of The Source Material

Dune Image via MacMillan Books

The film follows Frank Herbert’s original novel faithfully, and even goes beyond to draw in context from other Dune books. Many of these later books were written after Herbert’s death by his son Brian and author Kevin J. Anderson. Many of these books are prequels, although some extend far into the distant future of the universe. Knowing that there is a spin-off television series on the way about the Bene Gesserit makes me wonder if the studios are trying to create a new cinematic universe based on Dune.

Dune is a dense novel, one that explores philosophy and religion far more than it shows off action and adventure. This is part of why it has always been so difficult to adapt. And the film’s slow pace reflects that, treating Dune like the meditative treatise on humanity that it has always been. Denis Villeneuve is a master of this kind of philosophical science fiction. He explored similar ideas in films like Ex Machina and Arrival. His treatment here is similar, although he executes the fighting and action scenes with aplomb it is in the quiet character moment that Dune is most successful.

Paul Might Be The Heart Of Dune, But Jessica Is The Soul

Dune Spoiler Review Jessica and Leto Image via Warner Bros.

Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac shine in their time on-screen, bringing the characters of Lady Jessica and Duke Leto to life. But it is truly Jessica that carries the emotional weight of this film. She grapples with guilt over what will happen to her son, knowing that she was the one who set him on this path. Jessica truly loves Leto, and that is evident in their few moments of screen time together.

It is also clear that she loves Paul, but that love is tinged by fear. Despite all of her Bene Gesserit training, Jessica is not nearly as calm and collected as she should be. Her anguish is palpable throughout the film. As Paul is tested by the Bene Gesserit, or when she realizes that her lover is dead. She recites the famous litany against fear to herself over and over again. “Fear is the mindkiller.”

Dune official trailer Ferguson. Image via Warner Bros.

Will We See A Dune Trilogy From Denis Villeneuve?

There is a large cast of characters in Dune as well, but it doesn’t matter too much to remember all of them because most of them are dead by the end of the movie. Villeneuve chose to end the first film at a natural point, when Jessica and Paul join the Fremen after the fall of House Atreides. The sequel will cover the last half of the book, and will have an almost entirely new cast of characters. It will follow Paul’s training as a Fremen warrior, his relationship with Chani, and his rise as the Muad’Dib.

There is talk that Denis Villeneuve might go beyond the first Dune book and make this a trilogy with an adaptation of Dune Messiah into the third film. But we have been warned by the director himself that this is unlikely to happen without box office numbers. So be sure to check out Dune in theaters, it is absolutely worth it for the breathtaking cinematography and epic landscapes.

Dune Trailer Image via Warner Bros.

And if you have seen the film already, tell us your thoughts about Villeneuve’s Dune adaptation. Join the conversation with Comic Years on Facebook and Twitter today. And be sure to follow us on social media for all of the latest genre news and reviews.

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Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.

AdaptationsDenis VilleneuveDuneFilmFrank HerbertMovie ReviewsScience FictionSpoilers

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