I’m a superfan and loved the new Denis Villeneuve movie
- I saw the long awaited adaptation of “Dune” by Denis Villeneuve at the New York Film Festival.
- I’m a huge fan of the 1984 book and movie, but the new version far exceeded my expectations.
- Villeneuve’s adaptation made some much-needed updates, and the visuals were jaw-dropping.
There is a mantra repeated in the world of “Dune” about the nature of fear and the effects it can have on a person’s mental state.
“I don’t have to be afraid. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total erasure,” the saying goes. In the adaptation of David Lynch in 1984, it is Paul Atreides who most often says this prayer. And in Denis Villeneuve’s jaw-dropping new adaptation, it’s Paul’s mother, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) who speaks the words first on screen.
It is a memorable litany for sure (I have personally found myself repeating it in times of stress), and which applies in more ways than one to the arduous task of adapting an epic and esoteric work like the novel. Frank Herbert’s 1965 film “Dune” into a cohesive film.
To undertake such a gargantuan task, one must be brave, able to analyze Herbert’s dense prose in search of nuggets of intrigue and hidden meanings without getting bogged down. Villeneuve, along with fellow screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth, are up to the task, doing justice to Herbert’s vision while also dealing with the pitfalls of previous adaptations.
I’m a huge “Dune” fan – devoured the novel, and the 1984 version of Lynch has a special place in my heart (shout at the House Atreides pug, who is certainly not hot but one of my favorite parts of the movie anyway).
But watching Villeneuve’s incredible adaptation at the New York Film Festival was a whole different experience. From gigantic sets that stunned even Jason Momoa (who plays Duncan Idaho) to the dreaded villainous Baron Harkonnen (a disturbing Stellan Skarsgård), Villeneuve’s “Dune” gave me chills throughout.
The new “Dune” doesn’t stray too far from the novel, but still provides much-needed updates
At the heart of Herbert’s “Dune” (and Lynch’s adaptation) is the story of Paul and his journey to become the Kwisatz Haderach, a messiah predicted by the mythical brotherhood Bene Gesserit and mythologized by the Fremen people .
While the new “Dune” still centers Paul in the narrative, it also gives the women of House Atreides and Arrakis a lot more agency than previous versions. In Herbert’s novel and Lynch’s film, Paul’s mother, Jessica, is described as a “concubine” to Duke Leto who had a son, despite Bene Gesserit’s order to give birth to a daughter.
In the new “Dune,” however, Jessica’s position in the House of Atreides is not described in such obsolete and servile terms – instead, she portrayed an almost equal to Leto, with her status as a Bene witch. Gesserit giving it a lot of autonomy and power.
Other characters in the new “Dune” who have also received much-needed updates include Chani (Zendaya), a female Fremen who is portrayed as a ruthless warrior in her own right and not just Paul’s love interest, and the Dr Liet-Kynes, who in previous iterations were male, but are played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster in Villeneuve’s version.
As a longtime fan, it was great to see some of the female characters in the novel finally get their due and given more status than a love interest or prop for the men in the story. I also enjoyed the decision to pick Zendaya and Duncan-Brewster, two women of color, for two of the film’s most important roles.
And unlike Lynch’s adaptation, the villainous and scheming Harkonnens are actually terrifying in the new “Dune.” Stellan Skarsgård and Dave Bautista each give memorable performances as Baron Harkonnen and his nephew Glossu Rabban, respectively, and even the Baron’s signature way of floating above the ground is more menacing and less campy than in previous versions.
By dividing the film into two parts, Villeneuve avoids the mistakes of other adaptations
One of the downsides to Lynch’s adaptation is that it tries to put Herbert’s entire 400-page novel together into a two-hour movie.
Villeneuve’s “Dune” arrives at about half past two, but he’s wisely decided to split the tale into two parts, meaning his version’s end takes place about halfway through the novel. The sequel, which unfortunately has not yet been confirmed, will most likely follow the second half of the book.
If you’re unfamiliar with the novel, Villeneuve’s film ending will likely feel abrupt to you. But as a die-hard fan, I loved being able to spend more time with the characters, instead of rushing through Herbert’s sprawling, multi-layered narrative to hit certain plot points.
The world of “Dune” is complex, with the Fremen and Bene Gesserit mythologies taking some getting used to, not to mention the interplanetary politics at play. But by splitting the film in two, Villeneuve is able to grant one more. great attention to the intricacies of Herbert’s world – and in fact takes time to develop his characters into multi-faceted individuals.
Unlike other adaptations, the new “Dune” takes you completely into the story, making Paul’s journey and the conflict over Arrakis all the more engaging.
Villeneuve’s film is also visually stunning
There were many moments during the new “Dune” that gave me goosebumps, and most of them happened due to the film’s commitment to portraying Arrakis and the home planet of the Atreids. , Caladan, with stunning detail.
On Caladan, there are wonderful shots of Paul walking along a misty beach or visiting graves with his father on a desolate hill.
But the real magic happens when the Atreides family set foot on Arrakis. Legions of soldiers and Fremen arrive to greet them, though the real highlight of this scene is the vast desert of sand that stretches as far as the eye can see. As Paul, Jessica and Leto adjust to their new home, you can almost feel the scorching heat and sand beneath your feet.
I was also stunned by the brutal battle scene in the film, when the Harkonnens and Imperial soldiers slaughter the Atreid forces. The dim, dim lighting of the Atreid house at night gives way to violent bursts of light and sound, and the large number of soldiers on both sides made my jaw drop.
I have never felt so immersed in the world of “Dune” than when I was watching Villeneuve’s version, which creates a world as intoxicating as the infamous “spice” itself.
The fearless new “Dune” is a must-have watch for die-hard fans and casual viewers.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has certainly made cinema more difficult, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for choosing not to go to the movies just yet.
But I have to say that watching “Dune” on the big screen was an experience like no other. It would probably be a nice watch at home, but the movie’s awe-inspiring sets, epic battle scenes, and thrilling one-on-one action sequences were meant to be seen in a theater (and it’s also worth seeing. note that Villeneuve wants people to see on the big screen too).
It’s rare to feel this satisfied after seeing a film adaptation of a novel (especially when previous versions have been so difficult), but the new “Dune” is everything I’d hoped for – and more.
Even if you’re not a super fan like me, you won’t want to miss this.