Dune: A Review

So, it was our anniversary not too long ago, and my husband and I decided to see a movie to celebrate.

We picked the new Dune because I have been a fan of the book for a very long time. I’ve also seen both other movie adaptations, the 80s weird one, and the SciFi channel (back when it wasn’t called SyFy) miniseries.

By the way, those are both bad, for different reasons, and it would take too long to get into that. Long story short, the 80s one is so bad, it’s good (even with excellent casting), and the SyFy one is a complete and utter travesty, so don’t even bother.

I was cautiously hopeful, not cautiously optimistic, thanks to the very interesting movie trailer, and the news that one character had been gender-swapped. I addressed that problem here a while ago.

So it turns out that the new Dune is actually pretty good.

Let’s start with the bad first.

Also, there are spoilers ahead, so if you’ve never read the book and haven’t seen the movie, proceed at your own risk.

It’s almost impossible to do a decent adaptation of the book for many reasons, but the main one is the sheer volume of information. Also, a lot of the story is told through interior monologues of the various characters, and those are always difficult to adapt to the screen. So, as usual, this adaptation leaves out quite a bit, but that’s to be expected.

This movie doesn’t tell the full story in two hours–there will be a sequel–but even so, they left out a LOT of story.

The biggest part left out for no good reason is the setup for probably the most important element of the Atreides’ defeat: the traitor. There isn’t a single mention of a traitor, nothing that points to Dr. Yueh with even a hint of foreshadowing. That was badly done; a single sentence would have taken care of it. The easiest way would be for the Shadout Mapes to tell Paul about the traitor just as she did in the book. “It is known to us that there is a traitor in your midst. Who it is, we cannot say, but we are certain of it.” There. Less than ten seconds of screen time, and there you go. I’m still not sure why they left that out.

Another bad spot: the underuse of Stellan Skarsgaard as Baron Harkonen. He had barely any screen time. I was looking forward to seeing him as the downright evil baron, and was disappointed. It wasn’t disappointment in his performance; it was in his lack of performance.

Piter de Vries wasn’t even named in the movie. He appeared, with one or two lines, but it was nothing like Brad Dourif’s role in the 1984 version. Neither was Feyd Rautha Harkonen. Not even a name-drop, which seems silly considering how important he is to the rest of the plot.

Granted, you have to change some things to make it work on the screen. I’m not one of those purists who hate The Lord of the Rings because Tom Bombadill isn’t in it (yes, I know those people). But some of the fluff on-screen could have been exchanged for good, useful information. There is a surprisingly low amount of dialogue for a movie that long. A lot of it was taken up by dramatic visuals and the very loud soundtrack.

Now, on to the good:

The casting was excellent, even Jessica. In my never-to-be-humble opinion, Francesca Annis is Lady Jessica, and nobody else. She was perfect in the 1984 version, and nobody will ever hold a candle to her in that role. If I had a time machine, I would have picked up Francesca Annis in 1984 and dropped her off on the set of the new movie, to see her play the part with a much better script and special effects budget and technology.

But this Jessica was good, too. What she lacked in looks she made up for with her acting. The scene where Paul is being tested by the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, with Jessica standing outside the door chanting “I must not fear, fear is the mind-killer,” was excellent.

Paul was excellent. The actor really pulled off the look and attitude of a fifteen-year-old heir to a powerful duchy (the other Pauls were all too old, but that’s to be expected in a screen adaptation). He could be an inexperienced child on the one hand, but powerful and important on the other, without being a whiny, entitled asshole.

All of the minor characters were great in their parts. Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho seemed a bit weird to me until I saw the movie. Then it made sense. He’s the powerful warrior Duke Leto sends to negotiate with the Fremen, hoping that the planet’s natives will see this warrior and assume that all the Duke’s people are this fierce and loyal. Gurney Halleck was good, the Reverend Mother was good, Stilgar was good, even the Beast Rabban was perfect. Chani had very little screen time–some dream sequences and a small bit at the end–and even that was good.

I have to admit, even the gender-swapped Liet pulled it off. I wasn’t expecting that to happen, but they managed it. Granted, it destroys the Fremen world-building, and completely torpedoes their culture as established in the books, but since the movie doesn’t get that deep into it, it’s almost irrelevant to the way they portrayed the character, so I’ll let them get away with it this time.

The soundtrack was iffy. I’ll give it a second chance when I re-watch the movie at home when it comes out on DVD, because it might have been that we were in a nearly-empty theater, and the sound balance was off. There were some explosions that made the seats vibrate, it was so loud, and the music was almost deafening in some scenes. It was very good music, giving you the feel of both science fiction, and a western in a huge desert all at the same time. But at those volumes, it distracted from the movie instead of adding to it.

Bottom line: if you’re a fan of the book, and you’re not a purist, you’ll enjoy this one. I’m looking forward to see what they do with the next installment.

Usually, my blog posts have pictures. I like pictures. It makes the text more interesting, gives a little color, and it’s fun.

At least it used to be fun.

There is only one picture in here because I can’t figure out how to make WordPress put the text next to a small picture, instead of taking up a whole “block” with a single picture.

So, rather than contemplating homicide, I gave up and this time, you get a picture-free post.

I’ll attempt to negotiate with WordPress more in the future.

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