November 9, 2021

Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) duels his mentor Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) using shields in the 2021 Dune film.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) duels his mentor Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) using shields in the 2021 “Dune” film.

When a second full length film adaptation of Herbert’s novel came out nearly 40 years later, fan anticipation was high. Directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Timothee Chalamet, the 2021 “Dune” movie does not suffer from any of the technical limitations of the original, and features sweeping desert visuals along with excellent CGI. This movie is one you almost have to see in a movie theater to get the full experience because of its scale. The dunes and sandworms are massive, and the size of the buildings, ships, and environment are constantly reminding you of how small and insignificant the characters are in comparison to the vastness of the desert.


The contrast in the sound design of “Dune” reels in its audience. Hans Zimmer’s score quietly lulls viewers into thinking everything is alright before blasting away their sense of security with a wall of sound. It is a massive improvement on the score of the 1984 version, which was done by Toto and felt a little bit out of place. The foreboding operatic vocals that accompany the Bene Gesserit are very different from the heroic theme that follows an appearance of Paul or Chani, with the stark difference between the two helping viewers understand how they are supposed to feel about the characters. Paul is supposed to feel young and naive, while the Bene Gesserit are intimidating and wise, and the score helps get those emotions across.


As the first part of either a two or possibly three movie project, Villenueve’s “Dune” movie has a lot more room to breathe. A three part movie series like “Lord of the Rings” is how “Dune” should have been done in the first place. The 1984 version, as a standalone film, did not have enough time to correctly develop the characters as they were developed in the book. By breaking up the films into a series, Villenueve has already fixed one of the 1984 films largest issues. The extra time the movie gets from being split into multiple parts shows in all of the extra visions Paul has and the time they get to spend on Caladan.

Despite all of this, 2021 “Dune” is not without its faults.”

Both movies were relatively faithful to the book, but the 2021 “Dune” was able to include some less important scenes that 1984 had to cut because of its extra time. It also spends more time on landscape shots than the original does, because of its updated technology and CGI composed by the VFX studio DNEG. Where the 1984 version avoided showing long shots of the desert on Arrakis, the 2021 reboot spends a large portion of its run time there.  


Despite all of this, 2021 “Dune” is not without its faults. It gives very little screen time to the Harkonnens, opting to instead try to emphasize their brutality with a few cut away shots of them slicing off the heads of Atreides guards. The lack of focus on the villains of the movie doesn’t allow characters like Rabban, played by Dave Batuista, to become intimidating to the audience. In fact the Bene Gesserit, who are neither good nor evil, are treated as a more dangerous subject than the actual villains of the movie. 


There is also the subject of the Mentats, human supercomputers that aid in military strategy and do calculations for the characters throughout the book. They exist and are semi-important characters in the movie, but their abilities are never explained. Mentat characters like Thufir Hawat, played by Stephen McKinley, have their eyes turn white from time to time, and then spit out information. The lack of explanation for this is a huge break from the book. In the book Paul is in training to become a Mentat, but in the movie, because it is never mentioned it appears he is not. Being a Mentat is not a crucial part of Paul’s character, but it is important and does allow Paul to do things a normal person would not be able to later in the book. 


As a whole, the 2021 remake of “Dune” is a massive improvement on the original, both for reasons it can and cannot control. The scenery, dialogue, and score of the new version all contribute to making “Dune” feel like a complete and full movie even if it is only the first part of a larger story. Updated technology is in large part to thank for these improvements, but some of it is the intangible way that this movie seemed to capture the spirit of the book in a way that past adaptations couldn’t. “Dune” is a book deserving of a good movie, and now in 2021 it finally has one, but whether the trend continues and its sequels can live up to the new original is still to be seen.


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