Is Villenueve’s adaptation Dune’s Kwisatz Haderach?

So this week, I’m taking a little break from my normal book reviews, and have decided to review a movie which I’ve been waiting to see for what feels like forever: DUNE

With over 4,000 theaters showing this movie opening day, and 190 million households watching at home, it feels safe to assume that this 2021 adaptation of DUNE is without a doubt, one of the most popular cultural phenomena happening right now (fall 2021 ish), and probably even more important to fans of Speculative Fiction. This is THE MOVIE to talk about, know about, and have opinions about right now.

Added to that, is the property’s 56 year legacy, starting with the original novel, Dune, by Frank Herbert, and followed by fourteen prequel/sequel novels, a previous adaptation for the silver screen in 1984 (directed by David Lynch and starring Kyle MacLachlan, Sir Patrick Stewart and Sting), a miniseries in 2000, and even a ballet in 2016. (I’m sure there’s plenty of spin offs and adaptations I’m missing but a man can only know sooooo much hahah)

Needless to say, it is hard to know where to even start with such a review, or from what angle to approach such a culturally loaded subject. Perhaps it is just easiest to give a little background on the various points at which my path has intersected with Dune, my experience with the story, and whether or not I felt this movie added or took away from that experience.

Be sure to watch for wormsign, and don’t read too rhythmically.

“A Beginning is the Time for Taking the Most Delicate Care that the Balances are Correct . . .”
— from “Manual of Muad’dib”

According to Goodreads I shelved this book back in January of 2011, a date which is somewhat surprising considering my memory has me reading this book in my senior year of high school, 2008. I suspect the inconsistencies lay with the fact that I did not have Goodreads before 2011 and therefore could not have shelved it any earlier. It is shelved next to a group of books like Ender’s Game and a few others which I know I read in my 12th grade Science Fiction Lit class (awesome right?). For context here, Harry Potter is shelved AFTER it which I know I read in middle school so I’m assuming I just batch loaded everything in whatever order I could think of it.

In any case, it’s been well over ten years since I read Dune and almost as long since I finished Dune: Messiah (I really thought I DNF’d Dune: Messiah but Goodreads is saying I finished it).

At some point along the way, I watched the aforementioned David Lynch adaptation (which is a weird and wild ride), and then my only other big memory of Dune was seeing the (also aforementioned) ballet in 2016.

I believe my parents were pretty cognizant of and sometimes even referenced Dune (the novel) while I was growing up, but otherwise I did not have much interaction with the story other than those few adaptations.

The wisdom of seeding the known universe with a prophecy pattern . . .
— from “Analysis: The Arrakeen Crisis”

Of course, references to Dune are everywhere, and even though I’d only read the book (so many years ago) and really just remembered the general shape of the story, it was still easy to pick out Dune’s influence upon all that came after. One that really stuck out to me, was that the Aiel — from one of my favorite book series, The Wheel of Time — are very similar to Dune’s Fremen. According to ScreenRant there are a bunch more influences on WoT too which I’m noticing during my second read through.

” . . . But their shout was more a question than a statement, for as yet they could only hope he was the one foretold . . . ”
— from “Manual of Muad’dib”

But obviously the big question we are all wondering before we watch the film was whether or not THIS adaptation would succeed where others had failed. Would THIS adaptation be the best one yet? Or is Dune just one of those stories that will always be better as a book (and I’ll admit even the book has some flaws).

Could Denis Villenueve’s Dune be our chosen one? Our Kwisatz Haderach?

“Greatness is a transitory experience. It is never consistent. It depends in part upon the myth-making imagination of humankind.”
— from “Collected Sayings of Muad’dib”

There is plenty of greatness in Villeneuve’s Dune. The visuals and aesthetic of this film is hands down its most impressive feature. Nearly every scene seemed to feature some beautiful and futuristic design for which the audience first asks, “What is that?” and then once we’ve figured out the answer: “What if that were real?”

I also loved the casting of Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto, and Jason Mamoa as Duncan Idaho. I thought both were perfectly suited to the task. I hope someday that I can grow a beard that looks as amazing as Isaac’s Leto.

I keep seeing criticism of Rebecca Ferguson’s portrayal of Jessica. That the movie takes away her agency and turns her into an anxiety riddled mother who’s ultimately ineffective at doing anything other than worrying about her son. I didn’t feel this way at all. She is strong when she needs to be, and she SHOULD be worried about her family. Her worries ultimately prove correct; they are in a TON of danger all the time.

I think the director made a choice to bring out a certain aspect of Jessica’s character that in the book was perhaps under utilized. There is one scene in particular from the books which I agree really shows Jessica in the prime of her badassery that was cut, but I don’t think the movie suffered too much for it. She still manages some pretty epic fighting and manipulation anyway.

Finally, I think I’m just happy to be back on Arrakis. There’s so much there to explore and I believe that no matter which parts I get to see during which adaptations, I’ll enjoy the (sandworm) ride.

“There should be a science of discontent. People need hard times and oppression to develop psychic muscles”
— from “Collected Sayings of Muad’dib”

That is not to say that every part of this movie was perfect. I think they took Gurney Halleck’s character in the wrong direction, making him more grizzled and warrior-like than what I’ve noticed in my second read through of the book. For the life of me, I can’t really understand why they made this change. My running theory, is that they didn’t want to throw design time into coming up with futuristic instruments for our warrior-bard to play . . .

I was also slightly disappointed in the design of the spice mining facilities. Perhaps the only part of the movie (or really any movie) that actually looked cooler in my head (usually hollywood is more imaginative than I am).

“Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife — chopping off what’s incomplete and saying ‘Now, it’s complete because it’s ended here.'”
— from Collected Sayings of Muad’dib”

Perhaps the last part of which I can comment is the end. In general, I think I appreciate that they did not try to cram the entire book into a single movie. Already, many elements were cut, and I feel if they had cut any more, we really would have lost some of what makes Dune such a unique and inspiring story.

However, I’m not entirely sure they ended this first half in the right place. It was already almost three hours, and certainly the last hour of the movie felt more like the beginning of a second movie.

So . . . Kwisatz Haderach?

I hate to end a post without a decision, but I really think that it will be too soon to tell. This movie feels like it’s meant to be watched with its second part, and I think I’ll have to wait until both parts are complete to really make the determination.

However, this first entry has given me hope, and I’m very excited to watch the next part.

Have you seen this movie yet? What were your thoughts? What did you like and dislike? Leave your thoughts in the comments. It’s time to talk DUNE!!!

3 thoughts on “Is Villenueve’s adaptation Dune’s Kwisatz Haderach?

  1. Great review. I’ve spent SciFiMonth (re)reading the first half of the book as I remembered the broad plot outline but no details; I’m about to go see the film for a second time. I love Villeneuve’s SF work for its unabashed willingness to just put an actor on screen and yell LOOK AT THIS FACE, and for the gorgeous art direction and I-will-crush-you-with-my-bass scores. Dune delivers all that in spades, along with some seriously brutalist design that I adored.

    I didn’t love the film on first viewing, but I came out of it fairly certain that the things I didn’t love were actually really faithful to the book; an issue of source material rather than adaptation – and I can confirm that, now. I have little patience with Chosen One narratives and zero tolerance of white saviours, so it was always going to be a lot to swallow.

    With a fresh reread in my pocket, I love the tiny changes they made for the film; I’m impressed by how much they _didn’t_ change – and I liked every single character more on screen than on page. As with The Martian, cast charisma helps a LOT for me 😉 I also seem to have lost the knack for reading omniscient third person narratives that jump through multiple perspectives in a single scene; the film felt more anchored in Paul’s perspective, making him more a person than a plot device, which really helped.

    As you say, hard to judge until we get the second half and see how it develops! But I am looking forward to seeing it again and just letting myself enjoy the bits I enjoy 🙂 …and I’ll try to finish the book before the end of the year.

    • Thanks! And thanks for coming by.
      Totally agree. I feel like Chosen One narratives are like a cut on the inside of my mouth these days: constant, and irritating in the extreme. I do think this story tries to subvert the trope in its own way by making the prophecy a construction of the Bene Gesserit, and also by its kind of cynical attitude towards the prophecy in general, but all of that seems to just amount to STILL a white savior story . . . sigh.
      At some point I’ll get a review of the book up but I definitely overestimated its page count. Making progress though.
      And yea, there’s a lot to enjoy about this movie. Arrakis is such and interesting place and I think Villenueve represented it beautifully.
      After watching the movie, and reading where I am in the book, I keep thinking how much I want an Assassin’s Creed game set on Villenueve’s Arrakis. A boy can dream hahah
      Thanks again for stopping by!

  2. So, I have actually seen this movie! But I haven’t read the book :O I got the impression that the story told in the movie would have felt ‘fuller’ if I had read the book first (like how LotR feels if you’ve read the books). Overall, though, I felt like the movie probably did a good job at adapting a hefty scifi novel. I agree the pacing/structuring felt a bit off – there were multiple times when I thought the movie was going to end and it kept going. My favourite part of the movie was the actually the sound, even more so than the visuals (sidenote, the only thing I knew about Dune was sandworms, and I was pleased by what the movie showed of them haha). I saw it in a theatre with souped up sound and half the time I was staring at the screen with my mouth open in amazement as I was wrapped up in the experience, haha. I may actually go see it again just for that…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s