Cards on the table, I’m a lifetime fan of the book Dune. Probably not the most committed of fans out there, but since I first found out the 1984 movie had a book to go with it I’ve read it roughly once every year. So it’s safe to say that I was really excited when I heard there was going to be another forlorn attempt at making The Film of The Book, and then when I found out if was Denis Villeneuve I was very excited to heard he’d be the person doing it wrong. Five years, $156 million dollars, and 156 minutes later and I’m happy to say that it isn’t the film or the book, and that’s great.
Obviously, I’m a bit upset that some of my favourite lines and moments from the book didn’t go into the new version, because they’re why I’ve spent so much time inside that universe. And, yes, for me, their absence stuck out like a sore thumb when time they could have put on Duncan discussing the usage of mood in music and sex, or on Liet talking about the desert cycle, or anything at all about Mentats. But I knew stuff like that was coming because I’m not crazy enough to think they weren’t.
Dune is still an unfilmable book, and following the release of this film it’s still in pride of place, on easy reach on my bookshelf if I ever want to read it again. It’s got very little explanation about or description of the physical world around the characters, it’s got about a hundred subplots and subthemes, and skips over all the major fight scenes. So, whilst you can sit there and soak all that in with a book it’s pretty much going to block people out from enjoying it as a movie.
The source is also a damn big book; 412 pages in the original and it took two and a half hours to cover the first three-fifths of the main plot whilst leaving about a third of lesser happenings out. By my calculations, you’d need around 13 hours to do the whole book and Lord Of The Rings extended edition clocks in at an arse numbing 11. So, what screenwriters Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth did was pick which bits of the story they wanted to tell, put in a couple of framing devices because movies don’t have four appendices and a dictionary at the back, and told that story really well.
This takes a bit of getting used to, that’s for sure, and it does mean, for example, that Paul now looks like a mopey teenager who falls for the first girl of his same age he meets (rather than having a line of noble hopefuls throwing their metaphorical knickers at him). But the changes work out for the best as they make for a decent movie. We get the bulk of the beats and story points, even if it is at the cost of a couple of nips and tucks that change some of the themes and the addition of a couple of intergalactic-travel-needing meetings that really could have just been emails.
The film looks amazing, because that’s what Denis Villeneuve does. The visuals also tell stories, from the syncretic nature of showing currently distinct cultures blending together into something new over the vastness of millennia, to having the Dune capital city be completely encapsulated because the days sun will boil your bones. It also sounds amazing, because Hans Zimmer was just left to do his thing, going suitably wild and epic.
It’s also, thankfully, wonderfully acted. All of the cast is at the top of their game and, even if their characters don’t get their full or original story, everyone feels right as a person. Even Paul (Timothée Chalamet) manages to straddle the fine line between spoiled brat, superhuman in training, and smart kid who’s handling forces of magnitude beyond his wildest of dreams of control. And, again, he manages to do this without the ten or fifteen interactions from the book that show he isn’t the prefect teen the 1984 film makes out (even if making the Missionaria Protectiva more overt would have helped the film avoid some flak over the White Saviour problems).
Mostly, it just works. It’s wide screen, epic scale, mostly gooies vs fairly baddies science fiction. The perfect set up for what will hopefully be the eventual second film and close enough to the source that anyone having a go at the book won’t be shocked by what they find. It’s accessible, it’s exciting, and whilst it isn’t everything I’ve dreamed of in a Dune movie it is everything I’ve ever reasonably expected. Heck, I’m even happy it came out late and part two hasn’t been greenlight, because Paul could do to age a bit for the second part.