The world of Frank Herbert’s Dune is so complicated and detailed, it’s quite a feat to even attempt a film adaptation. David Lynch’s 1984 movie worked for some and not for others, but Denis Villeneuve comes with a different approach: his Dune adapts roughly half of the original 1965 novel, which is both its strongest success and biggest disappointment.
Sound like a lot? That isn’t even the half of it. I’ve left out the Bene Gesserit, magical women who are secretly manipulating the movements of the Empire; the Fremen, native people of Arrakis who have adapted to life in the harsh desert; the Baron of the House Harkonnen (Stellen Skarsgård), who plots against the Atreides from the shadows. This isn’t really a movie you can half-watch.
Dune is epic and visually thrilling, but it’s a noticeably incomplete story. It ends rather abruptly, which might be confusing for viewers who weren’t sure of its limit. However, its status as only “half a movie” is advantageous because nothing is rushed. Granted, the film moves at an astonishingly fast pace (despite a runtime of over two and a half hours), but we get to know the characters and world better than we would have if the storytelling was more hurried. I’m glad that this decision was made, but it doesn’t come without pitfalls.
One of Dune’s biggest issues is that it has some difficulty standing alone. The source material is dense and complicated, and so an adaptation could never include every detail from the novel. Because of this, some important elements key to understanding scenes are left out, which could make for a somewhat confusing viewing experience for some. I’m glad I decided to read the book in preparation — it really does help. But that’s just the thing; it shouldn’t be necessary. A film adaptation should cater to everyone, not just those who are familiar with its source material.
I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece, but Dune is a satisfying science-fiction epic where nearly every frame is a painting. It might be helpful to brush up on the lore before seeing it, but you have to admire the ambition of all involved. If you have some trepidation seeing it, don’t be afraid — just remember: “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear.” [Grade: B]
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth