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Dune (2021): A faithful adaptation

The weekend of October 22, French Canadian film director and writer Denis Villeneuve brought Frank Herbert’s sprawling space opera to the big screen, rife with an all-star cast and out-of-this-world budget. 

For those new to the universe, the vast, stunning landscapes and intriguing characters of “Dune” are immediate hooks. They drag you down into a macrocosm of political intrigue, richly colorful and imaginative cultures, and exploitative endeavors that can only end in true Villeneuve fashion: moody, bass-boosted, and unforgettable.  

For those devoted fans of Herbert’s Dune series, the evening ended in raucous applause. From the space-witches known as the “Bene Gesserit,” to the villainous and industrialized “House Harkonnen,” Villeneuve hits all the nails on the head with grace and nuance that put previous renditions to shame — yes, I’m talking about David Lynch’s infamous 1984 catastrophe that endeavored to fit the entirety of this 400-or-so page book into a two-hour film. 

A classic “chosen one” story, young and arrogant Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) follows his father, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), and mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), to the desert planet of “Arrakis” (or Dune), where they have been charged by the Emperor to oversee life and the cultivation of the highly-prized natural resource: melange (commonly referred to as “spice”).

It’s here on Arrakis that Paul continues having visions of a woman (Zendaya), and exposition reveals that the people of Arrakis, the Fremen — Bedouin-like and easily the most interesting characters in the film — have been expecting the arrival of the “Lisan al Gaib”, which amounts, plainly, to a messiah. 

Throughout the film we’re assailed by visions of combat, we hear whispers from the Bene Gesserit, who arguably control the universe’s political climate from the shadows, and we’re given the quick-and-dirty rise and fall of Arrakis’ new government with all the spectacle and grandeur to be expected from a mainstream, major motion picture. 

All that being said, there are certain facets that, understandably, are missing from the film. In the book, Paul and his family’s time on Arrakis is rich with political intrigue, the interplanetary chessboard, if you will, being set. On screen, however, it seems only days between beginning and end, and we’re left feeling a touch dissatisfied, if only in the way that we want more. 

However, it’s easy to argue that this dissatisfaction is fleeting, as the emotional depth of the characters — and the on-screen chemistry that leaves you believing every single word ushered between them — is unparalleled. From various father figures to a fiercely protective mother, Paul Atreides strays from the typical “chosen one” narrative in that he himself holds a universe all his own within, and we’re given only glimpses that tantalize us into following him to the end. 

All in all, Villeneuve has managed to create a film that finds perfect harmony between enticing, provocative story and flashy, explosive imagery that drags you down into the dunes until you swear you feel the sun cooking you alive — and you like it. 

There are practical effects, fantastic world design, and a soundtrack by Hans Zimmer that leaves you remembering every note and pitch down in your bones, making those silent moments of the movie all the more startling. And, with part two officially greenlit as of the film’s opening weekend, we can look forward to the story’s second half sometime in 2023 — and more sandworms.

Dune (2021)
Warner Bros. Pictures Dune (2021)

Did you really think I was going to forget about the sandworms? 


Sarah Wheeler

Sarah is the Arts & Culture Editor and a writer for the Seattle Collegian, as well as a student of Seattle Central College, and intends to pursue her MFA in Creative Writing once finished with her BA. She has a deep fascination, bordering on obsession, with all the many things that make us human and the conditions and complexities therein, and tends to lean into these in her writing. When not buried in text or staring at the blinding light of a word processor, Sarah is enjoying films, books, and video games, as well as exploring the beauty that Washington has to offer.

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