October 29, 2021 – Since reading Frank Herbert's Dune about 50 years ago, I have been waiting for a good movie adaptation of it. It has finally arrived. I have seen David Lynch's 1984 adaptation, and the 295-minute Director's Cut of the Sci Fi Channel's miniseries adaptation, first broadcast in December of 2000. While both early versions have their strengths and weaknesses, this new adaptation is markedly better.
There are several good reasons why Denis Villeneuve's version of the story is better. First, it has a better screenplay, by Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth. Second, the epic story is sensibly limited to what can fit into its two and a half hour running time. This is a long, complex story, long thought to be unfilmable, and it takes time to set it up and tell it right.
The 2.5 hours goes by fast, too, and it when it is over, it seems like the story is just getting started. This is part one, and I can't wait for part two. Thirdly, technical improvements in computerized visual effects in recent years make it more practical to fully portray the strange Dune Universe on screen now. Twenty to 30 years ago, such fully realized visual depictions of Dune were much more problematic.
Like Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, the Dune series tells a story of political corruption and the decline of civilization on an epic scale. In this case, however, instead of science coming to the rescue, we have a messianic figure, Paul Atreides (played by Timothée Chalamet of “Little Women”) who inherits great power, but remains uncorrupted by it, because, well, that is his nature.
Paul Atreides finds himself caught up in interstellar politics, with the feudal-like Harkonnen clan, backed by the Padishah Emperor, conspiring to kill him and his whole family. Paul and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson of “Mission: Impossible - Fallout”) barely escape assassins, who murder the rest of the family. They are aided in their escape by the powerful order of Bene Gesserit psychic “witches” of which Lady Jessica is a member. They also get help from others who oppose the brutal Harkonnens.
Paul and Jessica escape on foot in the remote, harsh deserts of Arakkis, where they are befriended by the elusive, secretive Arab-like Fremen. Paul's father, Duke Leto Atreides (played by Oscar Isaac of “Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker”) had told his son that the Fremen represent a great untapped power. Paul and his mother, on the run from Harkonnen assassins, along with Fremen who don't really trust them, fight to survive against long odds.
It has been many years since I read the first Dune book (there were five sequels written by Herbert, and many more Dune books written by his son since Herbert's death) but it seems to me that this movie captures the spirit of that haunting, powerful book. Dune is said to be the most popular science fiction book ever written, and the movie seems to be pretty popular too, perhaps due to similar kinds of appeals. This film rates a B.
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