Dune [Amazon link] is definitely one of my favorite novels [with interesting reservations], so I decided to check out the new film adaption by Denis Villeneuve. The short review is that I really liked this version.
I've written about Dune quite a bit. As a novel, Dune is one of the masterworks of the twentieth century. Even if you don’t care for it, this book is one you would need to be familiar with to understand the Great Conversation of literature. It is a big, dense novel, full of history and literary allusions, making film adaptations challenging.
I think books and movies have different strengths as media, so for example I don’t fault Villaneuve for not providing a lot of exposition about Herbert’s worldbuilding. I don’t recall hearing the phrase “Butlerian jihad” for example, but I also think the movie flowed fine without it. I do worry a bit that my own familiarity with the novel is covering up a narrative defect here. But on the other hand, I found that the essence of the current conflict was covered well in dialogue. On the gripping hand, everything else was just shown.
I found this a refreshing change from Game of Thrones, for example, which famously crammed in huge blocks of verbal description by use of sexposition. Perhaps it is due to needing a more respectable rating for a theatrical release, but I appreciated the understated use of sex appeal in the movie. Rebecca Ferguson is exquisitely beautiful as the Lady Jessica, yet on screen she radiates dignity and gravitas, which is not how it would have gone in GoT.
With the Bene Gesserit Voice, Jessica is literally She Who Must Be Obeyed, and she is bold enough to stand up to the major players of galactic politics, in addition to being a stone cold killer. Ferguson nails the character on screen, and I appreciate how Villaneuve’s directorial vision here matches up with Herbert’s dynastic obsessions.
The pomp and pageantry of the great houses was awe-inspiring. I felt simultaneously uplifted and insignificant when the Herald of the Emperor arrived on the Atreides homeworld, or when Duke Leto arrived on Arrakis to claim his demesne. Villaneuve paid homage to David Lynch’s vision for Dune, but managed to give his visuals a sense of grandeur and looming dread, whereas Lynch mostly managed creepy and unsettling.
I also appreciate that Villaneuve didn’t try to fit the whole book into one movie. Lynch did, and the result is not universally loved. I think you could do a GoT style mini-series as well, but the focus of a couple of movies seems to have worked out well in this case. As far as I know, this movie has done well enough to encourage the funding of its sequel, and I would very much like to see that.
The movie was good enough to awaken my interest in the Dune sequels, as I now am curious about Herbert’s take on the consequences of galactic jihad. I doubt the Dune sequels will ever turn into movies, so I’ll pick up the books at some point.