Dune (2021) impressions

I liked it — both as a movie and as an adaptation.

Going in, I had high hopes. I am a long-time fan of the setting: I have read the books, years and years ago — long enough that I remembered the outline of events, not specific details. (That, I think, is an advantage when watching adaptations: I understand what’s going on, and at the same time, I don’t have to worry about purism.) And Denis Villeneuve has a strong track record with science fiction: Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 were both excellent.

I wasn’t disappointed. Dune is an entertaining story, well-told, and it does the setting justice. I will be back in the cinema to watch Part 2 when that comes out.

Thoughts below:

  • The movie really benefited from watching it in the cinema. It’s visually and aurally spectacular, and that served a point — the sights and sounds are important to the overall experience and particularly the worldbuilding.
  • The worldbuilding is great: it clearly and efficiently conveys the alienness of the setting, as well as the distinctions between the various groups within the universe. This is a society with a very different ethos to ours, built around pomp, ceremony, and displays of military might. Even our heroes, the Atreides, are a paranoid warrior aristocracy — and they have good reason to be.
  • The different factions can be clearly distinguished by their material cultures; for instance, the Fremen’s robes make them stand out even in silhouette.
  • While Arrakis is the focus of the story, my standout location was beautiful, rugged Caladan — I wouldn’t mind going for a holiday there.
  • Machinery and equipment, such as the harvesters and carryalls, feel tactile and real — I think the sound helps.
  • The sandworms are done right: they’re titanic forces of nature, not cheap monsters.
  • For a 2.5 hour movie, the pacing felt brisk — more thoughts below.
  • I liked the characterisations, with the members of the Atreides household — Gurney & Duncan — standing out.
  • I also loved the little details. The practicalities of a move are still the same, tens of thousands of years in the future: I appreciated the quick shots of the Atreides servants packing up the family belongings for the move to Arrakis.

More thoughts, with spoilers for the movie & book, follow:

  • What surprised me was how quickly the movie moved to the fall of the Atreides. I waited for scenes that never happened — no banquet here!
  • The movie’s use of suggestion is more effective than dwelling on the graphic elements of the setting. We watch the Sardaukar anoint their foreheads before battle — and only at the end of that sequence do we learn that they use human blood. And the baron’s grotesque “pet” works because of what it leaves to our imaginations.
  • The movie communicates two points through Paul’s visions. First, how his prescience works: he sees possible futures, not the future. Second, his becoming a messiah is not a good thing. Yes, it allows him to defeat his enemies and avenge his family, but it will also bring death and devastation to humankind.
  • I liked how the movie foreshadows two things that will become important. Several times, we, and Paul, see a little mouse. And in a quick conversation, we learn that the emperor has no sons, only unmarried daughters…

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