Movie: Dune (2021)
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production Companies: Legendary Pictures
Director: Denis Villenueve
Producers: Denis Villenueve, Mary Parent, Cale Boyter, Joe Caracciolo Jr
Scriptwriters: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villenueve, Eric Roth
Main Cast: Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isacc, Josh Brolin, Stellen Skarsgard, Zendaya, Dave Bautista.
Release Date: 22nd October 2021 (UK)
Running Time: 155 minutes
Well that was a long over DUNE film! Anyway, it’s third time the charm for Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic: Dune. Its box office indicates Denis Villenueve has done what David Lynch and Alexander Jodorowsky couldn’t. What is that? Successfully adapt Dune into a cinematic epic. Now I must put this here. I will be discussing the plot in detail so SPOILER alert if you haven’t seen it. Also, get ready for a lot of very complex space names. So, let’s get into my Dune 2021 review.
To start this Dune 2021 review, the film opens in the year 10191 with Duke Leto of House Atreides to rule over the harsh desert planet of Arrakis by the Paradish Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV. This means House Atreides replaces House Harkonnen as fief rulers of Arrakis. Arrakis is the only source of ‘spice’, a substance critical for interstellar travel. Yet in reality, the Emperor is sending Atreides to Arrakis to wipe them out in a coup. This is to remove them as a threat to his power.
Leto is apprehensive but he decides to go to Arrakis. This is because of the promise of ‘spice’ trade and an alliance with its inhabitants: the Fremen. Leto’s concubine, Lady Jessica, is a member of the Bene Gesserit. This is a exclusively female order whose members all possess advanced mental and physical abilities. She is given instructions by the Bene Gesserit to birth a daughter. This is so a descendent would go onto become a superbeing known as the Kwisatz Haderech. Instead, she bears a son Paul. Paul trains his whole life with Duncan Idaho, Gurney Halleck and Mentat Thufir Hawat, his father’s aides.
He is also trains with his mother in the Bene Gesserit disciplines. Paul then confides in Duncan and Jessica that he is experiencing dreams of Arrakis. Because of his visions, Paul is visited by the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam. She subjects Paul to a dangerous test which he passes. After this, Mohiam visits the head of House Harkonnen, Baron Vladimir. She orders him not to harm Paul or Jessica in his coup. He agrees yet plans to wipe them out indirectly.
House Atreides then arrives on Arrakis, where Duncan’s advance party have been learning about the Fremen and their world. The Fremen’s leader, Stilgar, negotiates with Leto and Leto meets Dr Liet-Kynes. Kynes tells Paul, Leto and Halleck about the dangers of spice harvesting due to sandworms. During their flight, they see a sandworm heading for an active spice harvester. They quickly rescue the team of workers before the sandworm eats the harvester. However Paul’s exposure to spice- laden air starts to cause intense premonitions. Now I’m putting this here again, SPOILER alert for key plot points. So turn away to avoid crucial plot details
Soon after, Leto increases security after Paul is nearly killed by a Harkonnen Agent yet it isn’t enough. House Atreides’s doctor Wellington Yueh disables the fortress’s shield and an army of Harkonnen and Sardaukar troops storm the city. Yueh incapacitates Leto and brings him to Baron Harkonnen in exchange for his captive wife. Whilst Yueh is killed by the Baron, using a poison gas capsule given to him by Yueh, Leto severely injures the Baron and many of his Imperial court.
During all the chaos, Paul and Jessica are captured by Harkonnen soldiers. The soldiers intend to kill them by leaving them in the desert. Duncan sets off in pursuit of Paul and Jessica. Paul and Jessica then overpower their captors by using a Bene Gesserit skill known as ‘the Voice’. This allows its users to command others verbally. Using a survival kit left by Yueh, Paul and Jessica spend the night in the desert. In the tent, Paul experiences visions of a war fought in his name.
Baron Harkonnen then hands over control of Arrakis to his nephew. He orders him to get spice production up and running as fast as possible. This is in order to recover the cost of the coup. Paul, Jessica, Duncan and Kynes all meet and go to an old research facility. They then are ambushed by Sardaukar troops. Duncan and Fremen warriors sacrifice themselves to allow Kynes, Paul and Jessica to escape.
Kynes then gets ambushed by Sardaukar troops so she calls a sandworm which swallows her and the Sardaukar. Paul and Jessica then reach the deep desert and meet Fremen warriors. These include Stilgar and the girl from Paul’s visions: Chani. However one of the Fremen warriors, Jamis, objects to Paul and Jessica joining them. He and Paul fight in a ritual to the death which Paul wins. Despite Jessica’s best wishes, Paul decides to stay on Arrakis. This is in order to fulfil his father’s wishes to bring peace to the planet.
Now that the very wordy synopsis is other, here is the analysis part of my Dune 2021 review. To begin with, I’m starting with the obvious: the scale of the film. Simply put, Villenueve captures the size and scale of this vast universe in a way David Lynch could only have hoped to achieve. From the planets to the politics of the houses, Dune feels massive in scale. Even if you’ve never read the book, you can get a feeling of awe from watching the new planets appear. The scale is also seen in the cast as even characters who feature minimally still feel important to the film. Examples of these are two characters I discuss below: Bautista’s Rabban and Zendaya’s Channi.
This is due to everyone having a clear motive: control over the spice trade of Arrakis. The only downside with this is everyone feels a bit like characters are having to compete for screen time. Prime examples of this are Channi and Rabban who both get about 10 minutes of screen time between them. However, with Dune Part 2 already confirmed, both characters will be far more prominent in the sequel.
The next part of Dune worth analysing is the increased prominence of many of the female characters when compared to the novel. Now this will either excite or annoy people depending on how close an adaptation people wanted. For me personally, I really enjoyed the increased prominence of Lady Jessica. For context in the book, she was just Leto’s concubine. Yet here Villenueve and Rebecca Ferguson take the character in a different direction. While she is still Leto’s concubine, we see Jessica as more of a warrior and a member of the Bene Gesserit. This is a far cry from how Villenueve saw her in the book as nothing more than a ‘space nun’.
The other major character to see greater prominence is the gender swapped Dr Liet-Kynes. Now some people might decry this as ‘woke’ yet it works as Villenueve wanted to expand the cast diversity and to be honest, it doesn’t make any difference. Overall, the increased prominence of these characters only served to boost the film’s supporting cast.
To conclude this part of my Dune 2021 review, I’m going to touch on the point that Dune feels like a coming of age story. It also feels like a call for action for the youth. This is definitely true as he chose to revolve the story around Paul and Jessica. There is particular emphasis on the Voice and secret hand gestures. These are introduced as substitutes for the substantial amount of inner monologues within the book, which Lynch’s film struggled with.
Another key change implied by Villenueve’s quote is the reduction of the Empire’s role in the film. This was to make sure Paul’s coming of age arc was the primary story focus for the audience. By making the Emperor and the Empire’s politics more of a background danger, it gave more attention to Paul. It also keeps a fair amount of scope without falling into the trap of the Star Wars prequels. That would be bogging the film down with endless politics and trade negotiations.
To summarise my Dune 2021 review, it is a massive film both in terms of cast and universe. This truly captures the vastness of the novel. It also serves as an example of how to remain true to a novel whilst making key narrative changes. For more information, I’ve linked Dune’s website where you can book tickets to see it. My final point: if you love Game of Thrones and space films you will appreciate Denis Villenueve’s Dune.
Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding
Target Audience: 12+
Content: Strong Violence