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Dune – The Movie Versus The Book, by Angela Rairden

Dune movie review

If there’s one piece of advice that I could give you before you see the new Dune movie, which was released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO MAX on October 21st, it’s to familiarize yourself a bit with the story beforehand. Because, if you don’t have some knowledge of the vast world that is Dune, I promise that you will spend a lot of time being confused during the film.

There are a few ways that you could do so, of course, because Dune has been around since 1965. It was in August of that year that Frank Herbert released the novel Dune, a book which would become a cult classic and spawn multiple sequences by both Frank and, after his death in 1986, by his son Brian. When I saw the previews for the new movie, I picked up a copy of Herbert’s book because Dune was a tale that I knew nothing about, but one that I had a feeling that I needed to know.

Of course, if reading isn’t your thing, a Dune movie was released in 1984…however, after watching the preview for said movie (and hearing a few reviews), I don’t think that I’ll ever be watching that first visual foray into Herbert’s world. I have heard that the Sci-Fi Channel (now known as SyFy) released a 3-part miniseries in 2000 titled Frank Herbert’s Dune that is actually quite good, if you’re lucky enough to be able to get your hands on a copy.

I began reading Dune a few days ago and, unfortunately, was unable to finish the book before seeing the movie on Friday night. However, the book is broken into three parts titled “Dune”, “Muab’dib”, and “The Prophet”. I read all of that first part, which is about a third of the book. Lucky for me, the film is only part one of a planned two movie release, with the first part covering “Dune” and part of the way into “Muab’dib”, so I felt relatively well-versed in Dune before the lights lowered in the theater.

My main gripe about the book version of Dune is that it drops the reader into the middle of a foreign, futuristic world and doesn’t stop to do a lot of explaining along the way. It took me about fifty pages to really feel like I had a sense of what was happening, and then I felt even better once I discovered that there was a glossary at the end of the book. One way that the new Dune movie stays true to the original source material is that it does the exact same thing. There is a brief narrative that tells viewers about the importance of the spice found on the planet Arrakis, also known as Dune, but then you are plunged into the life of House Atreides without much preamble.

Group shot of House Atreides members

House Atreides is one of the great royal houses, of which there are apparently several, but we only come to know House Atreides and their biggest rival, House Harkonnen. At the beginning of Dune, we learn that the Padishah Emperor, whom is the absolute ruler over all the houses, has ordered House Harkonnen to leave the planet Arrakis, which they have ruled for generations and where they have grown rich through mining spice. House Atreides is ordered to take over rulership of Arrakis and the spice mining business there.

The movie glosses over the political implications of such a switch, although it’s a plot point that the book focuses on heavily. In the book, the Atreides don’t trust the Emperor’s motives for such a move. They know that House Hardonnen is their adversary and that they won’t want to leave Arrakis and the immeasurable wealth that the spice mining there has brought them. Furthermore, they know that it doesn’t make any sense for the Emperor to make this change. Still, Duke Leto (portrayed excellently by Oscar Isaac), the ruler of House Atreides, is honor bound to accept the switch, even though it leaves him suspicious of ulterior motives and causes him to question the loyalty of those around him.

Paul Atreides on Caladan

House Atreides’ home planet is called Caladan. A forest planet, it is in stark contrast to the desert planet Arrakis and it is depicted beautifully in the movie. Filmed on the Norwegian coast, Caladan is craggy, windswept cliffs and moody rains. It’s home to green hills and a grey-blue sea that reflects the overcast skies above. The dichotomy of Caladan to Arrakis is perfectly and somewhat subtly shot when we see Duke Leto’s son and heir, Paul (portrayed by the talented Timothee Charlamet), dip his hand in the cold waters of the coast near their ancestral home, and then later dip that same hand in the red sands of Arrakis soon after the House relocates there.

When House Atreides arrives on Arrakis, they are met by sharp desert winds and bright, unrelenting skies. They soon learn how precious water is here as the spice-infused sands cover nearly every surface of the brown, tan, and red planet. The cinematography is brilliant throughout the entire film and immediately makes it clear that the topography of Arrakis couldn’t be more different from Caladan.

Paul and his mother, Lady Jessica, on Arrakis

Duke Leto notes that the House of Atreides must quickly learn to adapt their ways if they wish to survive on Arrakis. In both the book and the movie, he notes that they “ruled Caladan with sea and air power. Here, we must scrabble for desert power.” And, despite the fact that the odds seem stacked against them, Leto sets out to do just that. He suspects that befriending the native people of Arrakis, known as the Freman, will be the key to conquering Arrakis. He sends one of his best men, the weapons master Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), to seek out the Freman and offer them a mutually beneficial partnership.

The way that Idaho goes about this is a bit different than it is the book, but the result is the same – Idaho is impressed by the Freman’s lifestyle and skillset. What varies more from the book is that Idaho seems to play a larger role in the movie than he did in the text. To be clear, I’m not complaining about this, because Idaho is a fantastic character and Momoa seems perfectly suited to portray him. However, it does stand out to me because Leto’s two other key strategists and advisors – Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Hunderson) – have greatly reduced scenes and importance when compared to the book. Hawat in particular is barely seen in the film, and the fact that he is a Mentat (which the glossary in the back of Dune describes as “human computers”) is never even mentioned. Also, Halleck never once picks up an instrument or sings any songs in the movie, despite those being key aspects of his character in the book. He does quote a few things, something he is constantly doing in the book, but it most likely felt out of place and/or lost on anyone not familiar with character, which the movie doesn’t do anything to build up.

Ultimately, this speaks to the main issue that Dune has. While it’s a beautifully shot film, there is almost no backstory given to any of the characters or many other aspects of the world that Dune is set in because there simply isn’t time to do so, despite it’s two hour and thirty-five minute run time. At least while reading the book, I have the luxury of pausing to consult the glossary or Google if I need to. You can’t exactly pause a movie in the theater, however. Which is why I say that you need to have some knowledge of Dune going into this film.

Undoubtably, long time fans of Dune will enjoy this film. It makes it clear that Paul is a chosen one, a future hero, and that his has a fantastic destiny set before him. However, predictions for it being “the next Star Wars” seem not only highly unlikely, but a little ridiculous to me given that it holds back so much information. The film tries very hard to be an action movie when, ultimately, it’s not supposed to be. Also, it spends a lot of time showing us Paul’s visions, which are mostly confusing images of things that might or might not come to pass. There are several scenes in the previews that you don’t realize are some of these visions and don’t actually happen in the movie (maybe they will in part two?). It spends a particularly large amount of time focusing on visions of Zendaya’s character, Chani, despite the fact that she doesn’t actually make an appearance in the film until the last twenty minutes or so.

Zendaya and Timothee Chalamet in Dune

Dune is such a huge story that even my review here is technically “too long”, and yet I still have more that I could say. I wish that this film had been a tv series along the lines of Game of Thrones instead of just a two-part movie. I suspect that it would be more engaging and the storyline would be easier to follow if it had been. As someone who has read the book (well, part of the book), I did like the film. It was definitely exciting to see these characters, planets, costumes, etc. come to life, and I’m sure that I’ll be watching part two, whenever it comes out.

If you’ve had a chance to watch Dune, feel free to let me know what you thought!


Angela “LaLa” Rairden is an avid fan of comic books, Star Wars, and most things nerdy. A cosplayer, she loves to attend comic cons dressed as her favorite fictional characters, particularly Harley Quinn. Although her day job is at a grocery store, writing has always been her true calling. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is currently writing her first novel.

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  • Jo on

    If you really want to learn about the whole dune universe then you would need to read Dune Butlerian Jihad 3 part series which is fantastic. This series helps develop how the houses, emperor, navigators and more rose into there current state in the Dune movie. You will probably need to reference the glossary in the back at times.

  • Angela Rairden on

    Strangely, there isn’t a way for me to respond to comments left on blogs.

    However, in response to Al’s comment, I personally know and have read reviews from many people whom have never read the book and knew nothing about Dune going into the movie who expressed confusion about a lot of the events that took place in the movie. My blog simply states (many times) that, if you want to thoroughly understand and enjoy the new Dune movie, I recommend you going into it with some sort of knowledge of the world of Dune. Even if that knowledge is only having read the book when you were twelve. There is simply SO MUCH to Dune that two and a half hours isn’t enough time, even though the movie only covers half of the book.

    I’m glad that you followed and enjoyed the movie. Thanks for reading!

  • Al on

    The lack of not providing explanation? I read the book when I was 12 years old and had no problems following the characters, the plot and universe. People today are lazy and want everything explained. Sometimes it helps if you reread a chapter.

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