Review: Dune: A Faithful Adaptation of a Classic Sci-Fi Novel

The first of two films successfully introduces a dense universe to movie-goers

Poster for Denis Villenueve’s ‘Dune’

Poster for Denis Villenueve’s ‘Dune’

Duncan Sligh, Co-Editor-in-Chief

The more I read about Denis Villenueve’s “Dune” adaptation the more worried I got.

This adaptation, which has failed before, was going to be a huge budget, a huge cast, with a huge director and HUGE expectations.

I thought it was going to be a huge failure. But it wasn’t!

I feel really silly now about my preconceptions with this film because there were a couple of things I had not considered:

  1. The film will be in 2 parts.
  2. Denis Villenueve has never made a bad movie.

Regarding the first point: I had no idea this movie was going to be two parts. I was very pleasantly surprised when I found that out, because unlike many movies that are split up to make more money, this was split up out of respect to the source material.

This is not the first time someone attempted to make this movie. David Lynch, one of the greatest to ever do it, failed pretty hard in his attempt. The technology wasn’t there yet, but also the source material is just too rich to introduce everybody to it in one movie.

Almost everybody who’s read Frank Herbert’s masterpiece agrees on its quality, the problem has been with translating the magic of the dense 400 page novel into a tight two-hour viewing experience. Many have claimed that it can’t be done.

The plot of the novel is such that it’s impossible to understand the plot without first understanding the universe that “Dune” is set in, and the politics surrounding the characters and their families. Not a problem for a novel, as dedicating a page to exposition in text is not the cardinal sin that it is in film.

Exposition in movies has to be effortless. It’s best done through dialogue or visuals, allowing the audience to piece together information to create a complete story. That, for decades, has been the problem with adapting “Dune.” 

Which brings me to my second point: Denis Villenueve. The man is a masterful visual storyteller, and great at dropping exposition that isn’t holding the audience’s hand too much. Since he has two films to play with, Villanueve takes his time introducing the audience to the universe gradually. Viewers learn about the characters, the setting and the stakes of the plot, and it never feels rushed at all.

That was what the fate of this movie hinged on, and I’m glad they got it right. I watched the film with a friend who had not read the book, and he said that he had no problem understanding the plot or how the universe worked.

Villenueve’s experience in the sci-fi genre and his love for the source material led to a visually stunning adaptation that effectively told the story of the “Dune” universe. However, the emotional element is brought on by a very strong cast.

Timothée Chalamet is good as the protagonist Paul Atreides, but his character isn’t meant to be all that complex, which is why Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica steals the show. Jessica is my favorite character from the book, and I think she’s Villenueve’s favorite too. 

Ferguson does an amazing job adding energy to the movie, and her experience of the complex nature of the universe she’s in is very well-reflected through her performance. Other performances from Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa and others were fairly strong, but the best performance of the film easily goes to Rebecca Ferguson.

I would always recommend reading the book version of “Dune” before running to theaters, however, if it comes down to it, it’s worth going and seeing it on IMax due to just how good it looks on a huge screen. I do not think that watching this on HBO Max or in any small screen setting will have the same effect.

The movie does a really good job of filling you in on most of the first half of the book, and if you decide to watch the film and then read the book, I don’t think that’s a bad way to go about it. However, if you’re planning on watching the film in your living room, give the book a try first. You’ll appreciate the choice Villenueve made more when you’re going in realizing just how much ground he has to cover.

“Dune” is playing in theaters throughout Savannah and is currently streaming on HBO Max. Part 2 of the film is planned to release in 2023.