Guest Contributor – Neil Dunn – Dune, Part 1 (2021) – A Science Fiction and Fantasy Movie Review

I have been a fan of DUNE for over 40 years, having read the six books of the DUNE series written by Frank Herbert (and most of the satellite books by his son, Brian Herbert. and Kevin J. Anderson). Before this review, I confess that I had not reread DUNE or portions for probably 15 years. I have now reread some scenes and looked up several items on the internet (See links below).

The movie–DUNE, Part 1- exceeded my expectations by capturing the essence of the book DUNE, its complexity and the grandeur of a galactic struggle focused on the desert planet Arrakis (= Dune).

The movie portrays the political competitors–the emperor, the Atreides, the Harkonnen (i.e., the grand houses), the Bene Gesserit, the fremen and all their competing goals–ruling power, treachery, controlling the spice, water and ecology. All these elements are interwoven, struggling, and competing. And somehow this will all come to fruition in Part 2 (supposedly out in 10/2023).

Overall, the actors-actresses gave fine performances of the book’s characters–physically compatible, and highly believable. Timothee Chalamet (Paul Atreides) performs quite well as he matures, increases his self-awareness of his future, and hardens.  Oscar Isaac as Paul’s father Leto Atreides is regal and honorable. Rebecca Ferguson (Lady Jessica) does fine as mother and Bene Gesserit. Gurney Halleck’s role (Josh Brolin) is simplified from the book to being Paul’s arms trainer and warrior but with no baliset for singing.  Jason Mamoa (Duncan Idaho) performs well as the swordsman providing comic relief (which I do not remember in the book). Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard) is well cast as the blubbery and evil villain. David Bautista (Glossu Rabban), the Baron’s muscle man and nephew, is fine but the role is limited. Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Liet-Kynes, the Imperial Planetologist, has a mildly significant role in the movie and does well. That Liet-Kynes character is female (book = male) is of no significance. Stilgar (Javier Bardem) and his crew of fremen are well cast and look menacing. Zenday (Chani), Kyne’s daughter, performs well both in Paul’s dreams and when actually with him, as part of the freman “greeting party” for Paul and Lady Jessica. Other actors, not named here, were ok in their roles.

The script fulfills its function quite well in carrying the story, providing information, and allowing the actors to develop the book’s characters. I did have some difficulty hearing some lines even with my hearing aids cranked up but my wife and I saw the movie twice which helped. I enjoyed the subtitles scattered occasionally throughout. I have read that online streaming (don’t remember by who) provides subtitles for the speech which would have been nice.

The visual aspects were extremely well done. Be on the alert as Director Denis Villeneuve frequently uses picture footage to tell the story. Also, Paul has dreams of what might happen = flash forwards (or “easter eggs?”) which I was not expecting, so it took a few times before I synched with the movie. At other times, he tells someone what he knows something about them pretty much out of the blue–e.g. I must have blinked and missed him telling Lady Jessica that he knew she was pregnant (my wife told me, so I was ready for the scene our second time– even then she nudged me). The computer graphics were outstanding and were not overwhelming as in many Marvel movies. Of course, the sandworm scenes were my favorites. The space ships were well done with different shapes, sizes, and movements. The ornithopters were impressive, but their blades movements were beyond my understanding of flight mechanics.

There were certainly some plot differences which are expected when transitioning from a book–>movie. Nothing really bothered me as I thought the movie plot flowed very smoothly. Since there is supposed to be a part two, I am not going to second guess the director on how he sets up (pt. 1) to film the sequel (pt. 2) for a unified, integrated, and coherent total adventure.

Side note: The movie ended with Chani and the fremen leading Paul and Jessica to Sieth Tabr.  My hard copy of DUNE has this occurring on page 280 of 474 pages total. This leaves 194 pages for part 2.  A part 3 has been mentioned but at this point, I do not see how this could happen, but then I never thought the Hobbit could be made into three movies.

Based on the above and more, for fans of DUNE, I think the movie is an unqualified, most enjoyable must! For general Sci Fi fans I recommend it highly, even if you may not be a fan of the book DUNE. For the general audience, the movie has all the elements to have an enjoyable fantasy adventure–plot, characters, special effects. My only concern is whether condensing this complex book to a movie sometimes makes it hard to follow.

Some Links:

More authoritative review article of DUNE pt 1 by Steve Sailer: https://www.takimag.com/article/dune-old-spice-in-a-new-age/

Background for movie DUNE pt. 1: https://screenrant.com/dune-movie-book-story-world-characters-spice-explained/

Plot of movie DUNE pt. 1: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1160419/plotsummary#synopsis

For fun: Google “nerdist dune” and get a bunch of DUNE links at nerdist.com  — just link away!

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TomD
2 months ago

Not sure I’ve read all the Dune books, there were so many, but I did read the 6-book core. They were so densely textured (I guess that’s the word) that I would have not the first clue how to synopsize them in the context of one or two feature length movies. I thought the Lord of the Rings did a masterful job with their three films but there was SO much detail that had to be left out. I also thought the 1984 Dune version did a good job but trying to condense Dune into a 2 hour movie was… Read more »

Neil M. Dunn
Neil M. Dunn
2 months ago

I do not remember enough about the 1984 version. I did run across the Navigator scene
with the Emperor which was pretty impressive.

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