Movie Review: “Dune”

This review has been a long time coming. Last year I began hearing rumblings about a new/old sci-fi epic (“new” because it was new to me, “old” because it precedes–and even inspired!–Star Wars). By Christmastide, I was completely intrigued. A grand, sweeping tale full of political intrigue and space travel all revolving around a Chosen One? Yes, please.

But then I picked up a copy of the book at an indie bookstore…and it was like trying to carve a passageway into a mountainside with a fork and a knife. This story is DENSE, and author Frank Herbert, for some inexplicable reason, chose to not only drop his readers into the middle of a vast, politically-unstable universe, but also to head-hop between many, many characters.

(I hate head-hopping. I hate it, hate it, HATE IT. Switching the point-of-view character after a scene break is fine, but to switch between the POVs of two or three different characters in a single scene? It drives me nuts.)

My dear friend Emily, who loves this story, urged me to persevere. I proposed a compromise of sorts: what if I watched the new movie first, just to get some kind of grasp on the story, and then gave the book a second chance?

It was a wise choice. I understand Dune so much more now, and since the film only cover the first third of the novel, I haven’t completely spoiled the rest of the book for myself.

Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence, only those who can conquer their own fear will survive.

Google Synopsis

The film Dune is still incredibly dense. In my experience, it requires at least two viewings and a friend who’s a Dune expert before you can really enjoy it. I can’t help considering this a major storytelling flaw. If the average Joe or Jane who hasn’t read the enormous novel still struggles to understand the main conflict, the reasons for spice-harvesting, and the motivations of the Bene Gesserit by the end of the movie, your adaptation has problems.

Of course, I do understand now that the Bene Gesserit (AKA the Space Nuns) have been trying for centuries to genetically engineer a Chosen One who can defeat the evil Empire. I get that the hallucinogenic spice also powers the spaceships…and I’ve wrapped my brain around the rivalry between House Atreides and the Harkonnens. It is a compelling tale. I just needed Emily to explain these things to me, because even she admitted that the movie doesn’t do it well, and I didn’t find that the book explains any of it clearly or quickly.

PARENTS. GOOD PARENTS. IT’S A MIRACLE. (Source)

All that said, Dune‘s great strength lies in its excellent cast of characters. Paul Atreides is a courageous, intelligent young hero who genuinely loves his parents–and the fact that his parents love him and each other is equally endearing. Authors, take note: parents can be awesome, and heroes don’t have to be orphans. (I do say this with my tongue firmly in my cheek, as my own heroine, Lindy Tremaine, is an orphan.)

Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother, is played with steely dignity by Rebecca Ferguson. Stellan Skarsgaard plays the cruel, conniving Baron Harkonnen, who’s orchestrated the failure of House Atreides on the desert planet of Arrakis. Oscar Isaac is Paul’s father, the tragic Duke Leto. (Yes, I did snicker when Leto told Paul he always wanted to be a pilot. The Poe Dameron vibes were strong.). Zendaya got the short end of the stick in this movie, since she’s only glimpsed in visions for most of the film and then doesn’t get much character development once Paul finally meets her. Jason Momoa, on the other hand, makes the most of his lovable Duncan Idaho. This was my favorite performance of Momoa’s, hands-down. Aquaman, who?

But really, Timothee Chalamet is the true star of this movie. I saw him in the 2019 adaptation of Little Women, and he was fine…but this movie convinced me of his acting skills. I look forward to seeing what he does in the sequel, especially if it’s as emotionally intense as this one, and if the character of Paul Atreides goes through as much personal growth and trauma as I suspect he will.

The Kwisatz Haderach. (Source)

As I said, Dune was one of George Lucas’ primary inspirations for Star Wars, and I do see the similarities. But at the end of the day, I still prefer Star Wars. Not only is it more straightforward, but it’s merry. There’s little to no comic relief in Dune. And though I have a lot of worldview problems with the Force, at least there’s some semblance of destiny and an over-arching, transcendent Power. I don’t get that with Dune, and it makes everything seem much more fatalistic.

I know this is a more critical review than I usually write, and I do apologize for that to all my dear friends who adore this story! Just know that a more critical review does not mean I’m uninterested in the next film, or that I won’t pick up the book again. In fact, now that I’ve finished Piranesi, I intend to give the book another try.

Have you seen or read Dune? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

10 thoughts on “Movie Review: “Dune”

  1. I sat through the old film (which is TERRIBLE), which meant going into the new film, I already knew the plot — knowing the plot meant I couldn’t get into it / lost interest, and I quit halfway through without finishing it.

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    1. Yeah, I really don’t think it’s for everyone. My mom asked me if it would be good for our family movie night, and I laughed nervously and said, “Nooooooooo.” There’d be way too much explaining to do! The book needed a much more ruthless editor, but the movie needed a little more exposition.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lollll, you and I had the exact same thought about Paul’s dad wanting to be a pilot. XD And Jason Mamoa was AWESOME.

    Overall, I did enjoy this movie but it didn’t *grip* me or make me really interested in reading the books (or even watching the sequel). I can see why other people adore it (including my brother, who has become a major Dune nerd), but I prefer straight-forward storytelling–like you. πŸ˜‰

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    1. YES YES YES, that’s exactly what I like: straight-forward storytelling!! I don’t mind a good mystery (I just finished “Piranesi,” for example, and the puzzle pieces in that story kept me turning pages), but I don’t like feeling like I’m just on the verge of grasping the narrative…only for it to be snatched away from me again by endless head-hopping or overly-vague hints and clues.

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  3. Hi MB! Thank you for this. It explains a LOT about why my 23 year old has had such difficulty explaining to me this book and movie with which he is so enamoured. You gave me a glimpse into his world! I know it will make his day when I forward your post to him! All the best with your book!!

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    1. Oh, thank you Denise!! I really appreciate this comment! I can definitely see why some people are very much in love with this story. It didn’t grip me in that way, though I’m very interested to see how the story continues to unfold.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your “critical review” is far kinder than any of my critical reviews could ever be πŸ˜‰ I enjoyed your thoughtful analysis of this story!

    “Parents can, indeed, be awesome, and heroes don’t have to be orphans”–DON’T CALL ME OUT LIKE THIS xD

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  5. Ahhhhhahahahaha so I am to blame for this?! *hides under a rock*

    Haha in all seriousness, I’ve been so happy to help explain some of Dune’s trickier lore and backstory. I do somewhat agree that Villeneuve’s film could have done perhaps a trifle better explaining the Bene Gesserit motivations, but I think it captured a lot of the lore pretty well. I really hope finishing the book kind of wraps up the story for you. LOL when I first read the novel, I thought “man, Maribeth is gonna HATE this head-hopping.” πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ I WAS RIGHT, I SEE.

    Dune is definitely a darker story than Star Wars, though. Without a doubt, that’s for sure. One of the main themes is that we shouldn’t even have heroes at all because of human corruption and blind hero worship. That being said, I think its dark theme is one of the reasons I like it so much. Philosophically, I find it riveting and complex. But, it’s definitely an acquired taste, and your criticisms are a thousand percent valid. I enjoyed reading them!

    Haha, I’m sure we’ll be texting and snapping about Dune soon. πŸ˜‚

    Emily πŸ™‚

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  6. Dune is amazing – Herbert is a master stylist with an unbelievable breadth of control over plots set in universes and down to individual characters. He’s taken the concept of The Chosen One to extremes no one else has come near. I can drop down into his universe almost anywhere, start reading, and get totally immersed.

    The amount of scholarship behind it is of the order of Tolkien – and I don’t say that lightly.

    But it is not a fast or easy read – there are plenty of those available. I would never have seen either film first, but I remember emerging from the first volume days later, stunned and gorged.

    I saw the first movie – it tried to cram too much into its available time, and was but a pale version of the story. I haven’t seen the second yet – something about the actor chosen to portray Paul Atreides is too lightweight from what I’ve seen, but I’ll eventually give it a chance, if only to encourage directors to tackle the big ones.

    I guess it suits my soul.

    Liked by 1 person

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