Movie Review “Dune: Part 1”

The Redneck and I went to the movies for the first time in two years last Friday night and saw “Dune: Part 1”. Before I go into details regarding this offering, perhaps I should clarify my relationship with the book “Dune” by Frank Herbert.

I discovered this book on a search in my very first foray into the “Adult” part of the library.  In those days, the Napa library was a small place with one side dedicated to children’s books and I remember they had a thin metal barrier (like on a subway) to get to the adult section.  By the time I was ten, the adult library was Valhalla.  My Dad, realizing I longed for more substance in my reading, made it possible for me to check out books from the adult section of the library.

The Sci Fi section was two bottom shelves in the back of the adult library.  I planted myself there and read every single offering they had.  I read “The Illustrated Man”, “Dragons of Pern”, “The Mists of Avalon” and so many others.  But the first book I fell in love with was “Dune” by Frank Herbert.  It was the first real book (that wasn’t a Harlequin Romance) I bought for myself at the second hand bookstore.  I waited impatiently for the other releases.  I loved the whole Dune universe. 

When the move “Dune” came out in 1984, I wondered how the hell they could take my beloved book and make it into a movie.  A purist at the time, I was very disappointed in the movie and shook my head.  No one, I thought, seemed to truly understand the book.  It was NUANCED.  It was SUBTLE.  The 1984 movie felt like a sledgehammer being used on china repair. 

Yet, when the mini-series was created and shown on Sci Fi, I avidly watched it.  This time, I wasn’t as much as a purist.  As long as the series got the gist of the book right, I was willing to love it.  Released in 2000 with Alec Newman as Paul Atriedes and James McAvoy as Paul’s son Leto, the series covers the three book series “Dune”, “Dune Messiah” and “Children of Dune”.  This was NOT for the purist, but it seemed to capture the essence of the Dune universe.

All this to say, I have pretty high standards regarding “Dune”.

First of all, be warned.  The opening says “Dune: Part 1” so I think it should be known that this movie does NOT cover the whole first book.  Second of all, be warned that this movie seems to be aimed at “family” audiences.  In other words, some of the subtle violence, ugliness, and sexual exploitation that is inherent in much of the Dune story is missing here.  The Baron Harkonnen, an absolutely abhorrent being in the book, is more like the Marlon Brando character in “Apocalypse Now”.  The horror.  The horror.  His penchant for young boys is cut out of the movie completely.  The actor Timothee Chalamet plays Paul Atreides perfectly.  Broody, pensive, serious, and very strong.  The Gom Jabbar scene, a pivotal moment in the book that MUST be done well, was well done though the movie leaves out a chunk of the dialogue there that I think foreshadows the future of the story, shows Paul’s character, and sets a tone I think is missed.

The scenes in this movie are short, moving from one to another very quickly.  I told my husband there was a lot of navel gazing.  “Here look at this totally cool onithopter!”  “Here is this awesome view”.  “Look at the dunes?”  There were unnecessary silences.  The pomp and circumstance of the official handing over of the planet Arrakis to Duke Leto seemed a bit strange to me.  I mean, I understand it was to show the Emperor’s power and strength etc. but that scene was not in the book and was not necessary to the plot.  They skipped a HUGE scene from the book that, to me, showed the complicated politics in the Dune universe.  The dinner.  In the book, there is a formal dinner in which all the aspects of political power on Arrakis are represented and show themselves.  For some reason, two of the directors have ignored it.  The mini-series had it and used it to introduce other main characters who weren’t at the dinner in the book BUT they fit perfectly IMHO.

Liet Kynes death?  Actually better than the book.  In fact, I liked the way this movie handled Liet Kynes, although I wish we could have had more. 

Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho was a great choice.  Again, the details were a bit different, but Momoa understands this role of loyalty, duty, and sacrifice.  He plays it well and, I think, shows the relationship between Paul and Idaho which play a huge part in the Dune universe. 

I loved Oscar Isaac as Leto.  He had few scenes and had to hold them with his presence.  He did this extremely well.

Now, Jessica.  My favorite part of the Dune universe is the Bene Gesserit.  Part Magic, Part Science, Part mysticism, the Bene Gesserit are the most amazing creation in the Dune universe.  It is through them Paul obtains “The Voice”.  It is through their “Missionaries” that Paul finds sanctuary with the Fremen.  It is their generational outlook that, in the end, catapults Paul, the Atreides, and all his descendants into evolution and survival.  Rebecca Ferguson played the role of Jessica with all the character’s angst and drama worn on the outside so we could see it.  None of Jessica’s true regal beauty shines forth in this movie, BUT Jessica’s total kick ass survival methods were on point. 

The movie did covey the story.  A powerful family is forced through politics to take over a planet with a natural resource imperative to the known Universe.  Betrayal and murder awaits them and survival depends on one fifteen year old boy to take the mantle of leadership and avoid a future of death and bloodshed.  In the indigenous population on Arrakis, Paul Atreides finds a fighting force to regain his family’s losses, a woman whose love will sustain him, and an unknown future at his command.

Funny.  That’s what it is all stripped down.  But Frank Herbert’s world building was a layered and complicated as the human body.  I will say this movie has added to the story.  I have always said that no movie could truly capture the whole story on the screen.  I still think I’m right.  But this movie will give life to much of the story and still holds the core of it. 

For someone who loves Frank Herbert’s Dune series, I will say the movie generated discussion about the whole Dune Universe. I’m glad I went and saw it. 

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