It was late Saturday morning and I was nursing a slight hangover as I walked into the movie theater to see the new Dune movie.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Frank Herbert's 1965 novel is probably my favorite book of all time, so I was cautiously hopeful for the new movie. The trailers for Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 version looked incredible, sure, but David Lynch’s 1984 version of the movie didn't do the book justice in my mind, so I was going into the theater with a sense of tempered optimism.
Before Lynch’s version, Alejandro Jodorosky imagined an impossibly grandiose vision for Dune: a soundtrack by Pink Floyd, a cast featuring legendary names like Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, and Mick Jagger. It failed gloriously (thankfully there’s a fantastic documentary about the whole thing).
Long story short: I’ve consumed many iterations of Dune leading up to the 2021 movie. I’ve read the original book at least three or four times, plus the sequels. Would Villeneuve’s film hold up?
We sat down in the comfy seats in theater number 10.
The movie started and I was immediately hooked.
This review is for people who have already watched the movie or read the book. Spoilers ahead.
Dune the novel is full of vivid details, deep world-building, and elaborate lore. This type of complexity is difficult to portray in a movie, where there isn’t as much time to spend on the minutia of the universe.
The magic of film is that a movie can portray these bits and pieces without having to actually explain it in words: showing, not telling.
When I read the book, I knew what was happening. Frank Herbert’s words described the events and emotions that the characters were experiencing.
In the movie, Villenueve does an incredible job using cinematography, editing, sound effects, and dramatic performances to portray an intense amount of detail and emotion — just like the book — while using relatively minimal dialog and plot exposition. These frames from the gom jabbar scene tell the entire story of the scene with zero spoken dialog or deeper context.
I knew what was “supposed” to happen in most of the movie because of the book, but I was impressed by how emotionally I actually felt the events of each scene while watching the movie. This is an epic story that leaves you thinking.
My biggest issue with the movie is about two phrases from the book that I didn’t hear once in the film:
- Prescience, which is hinted at but wasn’t mentioned at all in the movie (I watched it a second time with subtitles to make sure)
- Terrible purpose, which is something Paul clearly experiences but wasn’t called as such.
Another entirely different issue is the pure infallibility of Duke Leto. In the book he had a few more blunders and showed more raggedness during the war with the Harkonnens, who were not nearly as multidimensional in the movie as they were in the book. Oscar Isaac’s version of Leto is defiant to the last as the book’s version, but his vitality in the face of an onslaught is far greater in the movie.
There’s also the lack of Gurney Halleck playing his famous balliset, which he was practically never seen without in the book; apparently a scene for this was cut from the movie.
This is only part one of Dune. Part two has already been announced, which is awesome. If you ask me, I think there’s actually going to be three parts.
- I can’t imagine telling the rest of the story in just one more movie, based off how deep they went for this one and the pure amount of things that still have to happen still.
- We see more of Caladan in the movie than we do in the book, and even though we glance over major plot points from the novel like Dr. Yueh’s backstory, the movie does an incredible job of driving the story forward. We still haven’t gotten to Sietch Tabr yet!
- There are so many major elements that haven't even been introduced yet. Jessica has a major new arc to go through. Paul has barely begun his journey with the Fremen and learning about the Kwisatz Haderach. We still haven’t even met the Emperor, just heard of him. There's still a lot of spice to be had.
- I think this will be our generation's epic sci-fi trilogy, like Star Wars was back in the 1970's for my parent's generation.
Clearly I left the movie theater feeling happy. It’s clear that Denis Villenueve loves this book. He’s talked about how he first read the book when he was 14 and how formative it was for him and how that version of himself would be the harshest critic there could be.
There is no post-credits scene.
This is a film best seen in IMAX, or on the biggest screen possible.
- I’m really glad we made it out to the theater for this, even though it was a 12pm noon showtime on a Saturday (hence the mild hangover).
I had an appreciation for how epic the IMAX shots were after watching the movie back again on my TV at home, an old 1080p 42-inch television I’ve had for about a decade now. The taller aspect ratio in IMAX gave the epic sense of scale for the desert and soaring shots of Arakeen, and the theater’s sound system obviously made things move in a way that my home speakers just can’t compare to.
Aesthetic, the style, the entire vibe of the Dune universe was inspiring.
Villenueve’s movie managed to combine the feeling of renaissance and advanced technology. The Atreides armor is futuristic and old-school. It all just fits.
The ornithopters perfectly fit my imagination.
The worms were basically perfect in their size and invulnerability.
The only major critique I have here is around some of the more flourishing aspects from the book.
- The gargantuan size and grotesqueness of the Baron was less than how I imagined. He was still gross but not as much as he could have been.
- The mentats had a dark tattoo in the middle part of their bottom lip, instead of the fully stained red lips and mouth like they had in the book.
I don’t say this lightly: I this could be my favorite Hans Zimmer movie soundtrack ever.
I know, that’s crazy. Zimmer’s created over a hundred soundtracks and film scores, according to Wikipedia. His discography includes classics like Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. Inception. Gladiator. The Last Samurai. Interstellar. The original Lion King! The Road to El Dorado! An incredible batch of 1990's movies including Black Hawk Down and Pirates of the Caribbean. More recently Blade Runner 2049, and Dunkirk.
But Hans Zimmer’s Dune soundtrack is a combination of all of those to me. There are medieval sounds, but also modern space-faring sounds. It's large and small at the same time and at complimentary times. Naturally I wrote this article while listening to the soundtrack.
- The Bene Gesserit soundtrack when the Reverend Mother visits to give Paul the test of the gom jabbar, and the entire soundtrack behind that scene, was truly unsettling in just the way I imagined in the books.
- I’m fascinated by the guttural throat singing of the Sardaukar. Their creepy language is a nice and unexpected touch.
- The chanting and ancient-sounding singing evoke the sense of religious fervor from the book without going into the explicit detail of the book. It reminds me of Halo in all the best ways while still sounding specifically made for the Dune universe.
Overall: 96 / 100
I don’t normally give scores for things I write about on Gold’s Guide, but I walked out of the theater and that number immediately came to my mind. 96 is a solid A grade.
This movie is serious. There are maybe like, two or three moments that got barely a chuckle out of the crowd in the movie theater, and one of them wasn’t really a moment to laugh at (people realized this quickly; it was kind of nice to have that community feeling in a movie theater again).
I started with 100 points. I took one point off for four different things for a total of minus four points, most of which I’ve already mentioned above. I did not take off points for things that I felt were medium-dependent like the lack of character-development for everyone but Paul or the fact that the phrase "holy war" was used instead of "jihad" like it was described in the book.
- No mention of terrible purpose
- No mention of prescience
- No baliset for Gurney
- Leto’s infallibility
It’s awesome to think about how long ago this story was written and how powerful it can still be today.
I’m really excited for what’s next with Dune. Part two is set for release in late 2023.
This is not the kind of story that we’re used to being told. I’m excited to see how it resonates in culture as we get closer to the release of the next part of the movie.
In the meantime, I’m definitely re-reading the book.