By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
“If you get a little higher, you’ll get a better view.” — Liet Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster), Villeneuve’s Dune
I went to see Denis Villeneuve’s Dune (PG-13; 2h 35m) over the weekend, on the big screen, way down front (my eyes are bad), where you have to move your head from (say) the gaping maw of enormous sandworm on the left to small figures on the right running from it across the sand. This is a film where, I think, the viewing experience is important. Villeneuve comments in an interview on Maine Public Radio:
[W]e made this movie right at the beginning, before the pandemic. It was designed to be a love letter to the big screen experience, the theatrical experience. And there’s something important also about the idea of the communal experience. People love to go to a rock concert in a group. They love to go to theater. They love to go to dance in a bar. It’s not the same thing when you dance alone at home or when you’re in a bar. And it’s the same thing with cinema.
And I think that when you receive all together and you feel as one in the audience receiving an emotion, there’s nothing more beautiful than that. Human beings are meant to be together. And there’s something about the commitment. Watching a movie is akin – it’s almost like a kind of hypnotic experience. You will embrace a different rhythm. You will enter a new world with different codes. And for that, you need to be engaged. And I don’t think you have the same engagement when you are looking at the movie on your computer at home or on a TV screen, where the dog is barking or you’re talking to someone on the phone at the same time.
My theatre was not that full, and in any case masks and social distancing make a “communal experience” harder to achieve (though the enormous, padded seats, completely with cupholders for fattening soda, apparently current these days, enforce a degree of social distancing). But “THIS MOVIE IS MEANT TO BE SEEN BIG” (as the Rolling Stones did not quite say on the record sleeve to “Let It Bleed”). Of course, these days there are many digital alternatives with smaller screens:
watching Dune as the filmmakers intended pic.twitter.com/dJUlaMhqZI
— Janel Comeau (@VeryBadLlama) October 24, 2021
So you pays your money and you takes your choice. Still on the viewing experience, there is also sound to consider:
[T]he bass-heavy score from Hans Zimmer [is] thunderous…. [Y]ou’ll definitely want to make sure you’ve got a good set of speakers handy for however you do watch it.
I must confess that I didn’t even notice the score (“a unique mix of choral, world-music, rock and electronic sounds“), but I did feel the floor vibrating at a few points.
Forward to the reviewing. This being Naked Capitalism, I’ll first look at Villeneuve’s Dune (hereafter, “Dune“) as a business proposition that must succeed or fail at the box office. Next, I’ll pillory some of the lazier reviewers (concluding [licks chops] with The New Yorker‘s). Finally, I’ll review the movie itself. I am, perhaps, not Villeneuve’s ideal patron. Because I know the book so well, I was always seeing the movie with a sort of binocular vision, where I experienced at one and the same time the world I imagined from reading Frank Herbert’s novel, and the world I saw and heard in Villeneuve’s re-envisioning of it. I don’t think I ever saw Villeneuve’s Dune purely as a movie.
I’m not going to give a potted plot summary or a cast of characters, since I think most NC readers have read the book. If you have not, please go now and read a detailed synopsis in Wikipedia, or the The New Republic, or the Hollywood Reporter.) CNBC has a good aggregation of reviews.
There will be spoilers!
Dune at the Box Office
Dune, as the title screens show, is really Dune, Part I. But what about Part 2? Ars Technica:
Warner Bros. has yet to formally greenlight production of Dune Pt. 2… Box-office receipts are promising in regions where Dune has already premiered, but it’s unclear how the Warner Bros. empire, currently mid-acquisition, will weigh the film’s performance in the US, where it launches in both theaters and HBO Max on the same day.
Box office performance from Hollywood Reporter:
Tracking suggests Dune will open in the mid-$30 million range; Warners is being more cautious in suggesting $30 million. The film started out playing Thursday evening in roughly 3,200 theaters, including numerous Imax locations; by Friday, the count will grow to 4,100-plus.
There are other challenges aside from the HBO Max factor. Younger moviegoers are so far driving the box office recovery, yet they aren’t the demo who grew up on the Dune books. And Dune‘s lengthy running time of 155 minutes will reduce the number of showtimes in cinemas….
Overseas, Dune began rolling out earlier this month, earning an impressive $130 million-plus to date from select markets (it has yet to open in China).
“I’m smiling,” Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein said on Sunday morning. “Exhibitors are thrilled. The best part is, fans are loving what they’re seeing. They’re loving the big-screen experience. It’s been a winner of a weekend for movie-lovers.”
Of course, Dune screams franchise. Not only is there — one hopes — Part 2, there are five more Dune novels (Brian Herbert’s workmanlike efforts are obviously not canon.)
If audience and reviewer ratings of other franchises are a good proxy for the success Warner Bros. is looking for, Dune should do very well. Here are its ratings on the reviewing site, Rotten Tomatoes:
Other franchises for comparison, Mad Max first because it’s a dystopia that’s got a lot of sand:
(Incidentally, the high ratings for both LOTR and GoT show that audiences will embrace complex worlds. It doesn’t all have to be explosions and furrowed-browed ‘roid-ragers whacking the bad guys, as were all the horrid trailers before my viewing experience.)
In gathering material for this post, I collected a number of howlers from prestigious publications. Of course, these days it’s a lot to ask a movie reviewer to read the book on which a movie is based — charmingly, Grist’s reviewer confesses they did not — especially when the book weighs in at 700+ pages (“They’re not paying me to read. They’re paying me to write!”) So, I will not demand that. I do think, however, it’s fair to demand that movie reviewers have read the Wikipedia entry on Dune (as you should have, if you are not familiar with the book) and watched the movie itself. Here are the howlers, ordered by prestige, starting at the low end of the scale.
“… walking in odd ways so as not to attract the attention of the giant sandworms that swim beneath the desert’s surface…”
No. The Fremen walk on the sand without rhythm, as Paul explains to Jessica.
(2) Chicago Tribune:
… Arrakin’s precious resource [the spice], which is the key (I still don’t get this part, in any version) to interplanetary travel
The spice confers prescience (“foresight“), which is why Guild Navigators can use it to guide their interstellar ships along the safest path through space.That spice confers prescience is also an essential premise, since prescience is one of the things that turns Paul into a prophet.
…wealthy overlords battle over mineral resources in a vast sandy region that they find hostile and dangerous yet irresistibly profitable.
No. The spice is excreted by the giant sandworms. It is not a “mineral” ffs. (“The geological definition of mineral normally excludes compounds that occur only in living beings.”)
Duke Leto Atreides (a note-perfect Oscar Isaac), his clairvoyant concubine Lady Jessica
No. Lady Jessica is not clairvoyant. Paul becomes so (see “presience” at (2). How on earth did the writer get this idea? Bonus points for “the Fremens.”
(5) Washington Post:
Arrakis is the repository of hallucinogenic “spice” mines
No. Holymotheragawd, there are no “spice mines” (nor is a planet a “repository” for “mines” in any case). This isn’t LOTR, where the dwarves have mines. What’s wrong with these people?
(6) New York Times:
[Fremen Chani (Zendaya)] is one piece of the multifaceted puzzle of Paul’s destiny, as is a mystical sisterhood (led by Charlotte Rampling in severe mistress mode) of psychic power brokers who share a collective consciousness.
No. The writer claims to possess a copy of the book, but clearly has not read it. Another essential premise is that the “mystical sisterhood” of the “Bene Gesserit” run a breeding scheme for elites. Jessica is a Bene Gesserit, and Paul was part of the scheme, which provides several essential plot points, including Paul screaming “You made me a freak!” at Jessica when they are trapped in the desert together.
(7) New Yorker:
There’s a nexus of planets under the reign of a shadowy emperor, whose realm runs on a mineral known as spice.
No. The spice, as noted above — “This is almost too rich!” as evil Baron Harkonnen remarks in the book — is not a mineral.
It’s inhabited by the Fremen, a people who have endured the spice colonies and survived by living underground in elaborate warrens, constructing advanced technology to sustain themselves in difficult conditions.
No. Holymotheragawd, there are no “spice colonies.” The spice is gathered out in the open desert, and processed in Dune’s cities. The writer seems dimly aware that “colonization” is a theme of the book, and where there is colonization, there must be colonies, I suppose.
Villeneuve’s conception is monotonously literal—the sand bulges, and the maws of the creatures are shown in quick, devouring motion.
No. The writer must be thinking of some other movie. First, the burrowing motion of the sandworms throws a plume of sand up into the air. This is realistic, spectacular as imagination, and frightening. Only when the worm is about to surface does the sand “bulge.” Second, their maws stay onscreen for plenty of time; there’s no “quick” about it. When the sandworms can’t get at what they want to devour, they sensibly move along. Why on earth does the writer think they would hang about?
Once more, these howlers could all have been avoided either by reading Wikipedia or — hear me out — by watching the movie. These reviews are all sloppy and bad, and speak very poorly of the venues that emitted them, many of which are at the pinnacle of prestige in our famously free press. One can only hope that everything is not like this.
So how good is it? In terms of dystopian franchises, I would put Dune on a par certainly with both Blade Runners, and (if Part 2 pans out) with Mad Max. In terms of complex worldbuilding franchises, I would rank Dune above LOTR (though to be fair, I loathed LOTR because one way I experienced Tolkien’s novel was as a travel book, and Peter Jackson’s New Zealand + glittery CGI did violence to my imagined Middle Earth). Still on world-building, I would rank Dune below GoT, though here my imagined memory of the book may be bleeding over into the shows.
Blade Runner, LOTR, and GoT are all movie franchises based on books. Are there any movies based on books that are actually better than the books? Here is a thread on that topic:
Sunday open question: What are 1 to 5 examples of movies or TV shows that were better than the book they were adapted from?
— Noah Smith 🐇 (@Noahpinion) October 24, 2021
The list of movies that are better than their books is pretty thin; the killer example seems to be… The Godfather, but I think it’s fair to say that Coppola is a better director than Mario Puzo is a writer, so there are confounding factors. In any case, I don’t think Dune, the movie, is better than Dune, the book. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie!
Still using my binocular vision, here are some of the differences between Dune the movie and Dune, the book:
(1) No book apparatus or technique. Since Dune is a movie, there is no glossary. There are no epigraphs, appendices, or maps. In a book, especially a novel, these structural elements are signals of large scope. (LOTR has a similar apparatus.) Dune signals its ambitions in different ways (see below). In addition, Herbert frequently uses the internal monologue, both to advance the plot and as a character-building device. Villeneuve could have used voice-overs for this technique, but apparently found them cumbersome.
(2) Missing or altered set pieces. Herbert the novelist is very good at extended set pieces. Two, at least, are missing from the novel. One is a dinner party, where representatives of all Dune’s factions gather: Paul’s family, bankers, smugglers, water merchants, and other dignitaries. This is gone, and its a shame, since it provided a wonderful window into Dune’s society. It also contained one of our favorite quotations: “My son displays a general garment and you claim it’s cut to your fit. What a fascinating revelation.” An altered set piece is the death of Liet-Kynes, the imperial ecologist, which contains another one of our favorite quotations: “Then, as his planet killed him, it occured to Kynes that his father and all the other scientists were wrong, that the most persistent principles of the universe were accident and error.” All of which is a way of saying–
(3) Missing complexity. The Hollywood Reporter:
What the film doesn’t do is shape Herbert’s intricate world-building into satisfyingly digestible form. The history and complex societal structure that are integral to the author’s vision are condensed into a blur, cramping the mythology. The layers of political, religious, ecological and technological allegory that give the novel such exalted status get mulched in the screenplay
This is especially true for the ecology of the planet Dune, which Herbert works out in satisfying detail, and which permeates Fremen culture. Villeneuve once more:
VILLENEUVE: The sand worms are one of the most important idea in the book. My production designer, Patrice Vermette, and I, we spent almost a year…
In the book, the sandworms are important, but the life-cycle of the sandworm is also important. The “sandtrout” (rather like a caterpillar to a sandworm’s butterfly) is also responsible for Dune’s becoming a desert, a fine example of a living being optimizing the environment for its own reproduction.
(4) Additions. There are at least two sequences that do not appear in the novel. First, when the ships bearing Paul’s family land on Dune, a gangplank is then lowered for the troops to step out. But first comes a bagpipe player, as if the troops were being led into battle. As they are. (This is also a clever piece of foreshadowing, since bagpipes are also played at funerals.) The second I will let Gawker describe:
I’ll set the scene in a spoiler-free way: evil, scary, bald Baron von Harkonnen (played with Mike Myers-levels of abandon by Stellan Skarsgaard) is having a secret meeting with a space witch named Reverend Mother Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling, playing herself [lol]). They’re not necessarily plotting universal domination, but they’re not not doing that…. Though there are plenty of awe-inspiring examples of production design — futuristic vehicles, space suits of armor, brutalist architecture — there’s no hint of alien life, beyond the beloved big worms that are native to Arrakis.
This changes during the above-described scene, which starts with a shot of a spider-like creature. It’s the size of a person, with a big spider backside, shiny, oily black skin, and human hands at the ends of its legs. It’s also drinking from a dog bowl? You never see its face, which is both a shame and a blessing because who knows what horrors are happening there. The appearance of this thing was so startling and random, yet oddly intriguing, that when Charlotte Rampling began speaking offscreen, I couldn’t catch what she said. Everyone around me physically recoiled in their seats. The creature doesn’t make any noise, but it’s so shiny and so big and the hands are so insane, why does it have human hands? Immediately, Reverend Mother Helen demands that the Baron remove this thing, which is obviously some sort of pet, out of the room. When he does so, the spider person slowly, silently skitters into the shadows.
Here is a sketch of the spider:
This scene does not appear in the book at all. So far as I can recall, Mohiam and the Baron never meet. Villeneuve therefore had what he considered a very good reason to put this scene — and its spider — in the movie. Since for Part 1, the scene is entirely unmotivated, I can only assume we will learn more in Part 2. (I have no ideas on this at all. Shelob is part of LOTR, not Dune.)
And now to attempt to consider the movie in its own terms:
(1) Extraordinary visuals. The Verge:
The real star of Dune, though, is the setting and worldbuilding. All of Villeneuve’s modes from previous films like Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 are turned up to 11 here: the ships are starker and more abstract, the buildings more towering and brutalist, the landscapes are more sweeping and desolate
What makes [Dune] new is Villeneuve’s astonishing visual sensibility. From ornithopters that flit like dragonflies to vast spaceships that glint in the mist, these are the kind of sights that Roy Batty rhapsodised about in his dying moments in Blade Runner.
(Baty’s “Tears in Rain” monologue here.)
I thoroughly agree with these takes. Villeneuve’s Dune is the best science fiction world I have ever seen. He doesn’t seem to have a “green screen” sensibility, where the movie is shot to have CGI technicians add the dragons and explosions later. The world is all of a piece. The color scheme is subtle, unlike so many other CGI movies, which look like over-saturated HDR. The visuals really are gloriously satisfying. They don’t even seem to be effects; they are just there.
(2) The acting. All I can say is that the actors get the job done. Timothee Chalamet and his cheekbones star as Paul. I expected to hate him, but I didn’t:
Chalamet eagerly laps up the extra screen time as a likable flawed heir to so much intergalactic destiny. The absolute best thing about Dune, both for existing series fans and for series newcomers, is Chalamet’s ability to thread the needle between “hero of destiny” and “could fail at any moment.”
Some reviewers said that what Herbert did with the interior monologue, Villeneuve sought to do with the actors’ physicality. I didn’t see that myself, but I did notice that Chalamet started out walking the way an awkward teenager would, but at the end started walking like somebody accustomed to command.
(3) The actors. Then there is the question of the casting (which is a proxy for issues of colonialism, etc.). I like this review from Al Araby, so I’m going to quote a great slab of it:
One can easily observe the Bedouin and Amazigh inspiration behind this nomadic community on the page and the screen, through the Fremen’s penchant for Keffiyeh, group feeling unity and strength in their ability to survive in such a dangerous environment. These ideas, as well as the cyclical nature of dynasties and civilisations, were reflected in Tunisian sociologist, philosopher and historian Ibn Khaldun’s 14th Century book of Islamic History, “The Muqaddimah”, which underpinned much of Herbert’s sci-fi series.
Then there’s the fact Villeneuve shot most of Arrakis in Arab countries; Jordan’s Wadi Rum and Abu Dhabi in the UAE provided the vast beauty and brutality of this fictional desert planet landscape. The pale, flat-roofed buildings of Arrakeen, the planet’s seat of power which, in the book, was transferred from the city of Carthag (sound familiar?) under Harkonnen rule, is reminiscent of North African architecture. If the overarching storyline about Imperialist colonisers stealing a powerful fuel [spice is no more a fuel than a mineral] from the native population doesn’t remind you of a certain 20th Century Western conflict with the Middle East, the Knights Templar colour scheme of the Sardaukar certainly hints at a 12th Century one. A holy war no less!
With all this rich, Maghrebi and Middle Eastern culture, aesthetic and historical references on display, once again I must ask: where are the significant MENA actors? Dune is a complex novel with complex characters who toe the line between good and bad. There are no real heroes and motivations are often dicey so these people exist in the grey area of morality with Fremen characters like Stilgar and Chani still among the more admirable figures. What an opportunity it would have been to cast the likes of Egyptian actor Amr Waked or French-Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri in these roles.
Instead, we get Javier Bardem doing whatever the Arab version of Blackface is.
Ouch! And not unfair. Though I’m not sure Omar Sharif made all that much difference to Lawrence of Arabia. Am I wrong?
I have obviously gone on far too long, and if you are still with me — especially if you haven’t read the book — congratulations and thank you. Is Dune worth spending two hours and thirty-five minutes in the theatre for? (It does move quickly, I promise.) Of course, to an extent your answer would depend on CO2 levels in the theatre and the proximity of others. That aside, my answer is that yes, Dune is worth it. My favorite review, from The New Republic:
But ultimately these are quibbles; Villeneuve has made a heartfelt cinematic epic that is true to its source material both in its rich details and in its emphasis on the dangers of absolute power; that will hopefully inspire new readers to delve into that source material; and that is worth donning a mask for a few hours to watch on a huge screen. Just pretend you’re wearing a stillsuit.
(I don’t want to explain what a stillsuit is; you can look it up. We might need them one day.) I don’t know if you’ll have the collective experience Villeneuve sought. Perhaps yes!
Perhaps the best indicator that Dune is a good movie is that I’m still thinking about it, two days later. In fact, I may go see it again to make sure I didn’t miss anything, like that spider. Oh, and I think Villeneuve needs three parts, not two. Pay attention, Warner Bros.!
 On smaller screens, the cinematography might be degraded. Ars Technica:
These images may translate just fine to a standard television screen, but having consumed and examined a ton of high-dynamic-range (HDR) content in films and video games, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by how much emphasis Villeneuve places on extreme contrast ratios. (The choice of what details to emphasize and what to obscure guides the eye toward the Atreides’ impending downfall.) Will Dune look “way too dark” on your average budget-priced TV? I can’t yet say, having only seen the film at a state-of-the-art cinema. But I suspect the movie’s hunger to linger on extremely lit scenes will make OLED TV owners who opt to watch it on HBO Max feel pretty smart.
Ooh, sorry man. Everything is like this.
The movie The Treasure of Sierra Madre is better than the book. And Minority Report, a very clever movie (despite Tom Cruise) only dimly related to a very thin Philip K. Dick short story. But agreed, it’s hard to find examples.
There are tons of movies made from books nobody ever heard of. There once was a truism that you need a bad book to make a good movie since the goals and the methods are quite different. But that may validate the converse–good books often make poor movies.
yeah, this. There’s an abundance of good adaptation. I’ve always thought the key to a well-received adaptation qua adaptation is to pick obscure source material – not popular or, even trickier, cultish. So good on Villeneuve, in that respect. Dune means nothing to me but Villeneuve does so I’m curious to see it.
That said, I’ve never really bought into the ‘better than’ book/film comparison as the primary tool for evaluating the latter. For one thing, a film adaptation of a book is probably better understood as a reading (and imo the quality of an adaptation probably rests on the quality of the reading), compared to an original screenplay.
This is less true than it used to be. Any publisher now reissues a book, at least a paperback, whose rights were purchased for a movie that gets anything bigger than a teeny indy production. And they even retitle them to take advantage of the movie. For instance, Guantanamo Diary has been re-issued as The Mauritanian.
True enough. but I always assumed publishers did this for a modest boost to the book publisher driven by the success, or potential success, of the film. I’m not sure that such efforts are enough to lift books like the Mauritanian from obscurity, but would presumably see a small uptick in book sales that otherwise wouldn’t be forthcoming. Presumably that comes from people who saw the movie first, and to whom the question will then become ‘is the book as good as the movie?’. Or perhaps, understanding the innate relative strengths of the medium ‘what’s in the book that wasn’t in the movie’? particularly in terms of detail or exposition. I wonder if anyone’s studied the marketing of post-film adaptation book tie-ins?
I wonder if it might tie somewhat into the comment I made about classical music recordings/interpretations last week. The first impression that makes a lasting impression is more likely to be put on a pedestal. That’s why it’s always nice to me when someone like Lambert, for whom Dune clearly means a lot, can take an open-minded look at an adaptation like this.
Just looking at my film library (which I’m working my way through) and noting which and which aren’t adaptations (and vice-versa on my bookshelf, for that matter) and it’s a somewhat interesting exercise. I watched Polanski’s Macbeth and Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood in succession a few months ago. Interestingly, Harold Bloom made the point that Kurosawa’s Shakespeare adaptations stood a class above precisely because Kurosawa had no English (incidentally, I might be one of a very, very small subsection of people who have read Akutagawa’s Rashomon but not yet seen Kurosawa’s because I’m an idiot. I suspect if a westerner were to adapt Rashomon today they would be scorned from the outset not for the adaptation of Akutugawa’s story/stories, but of Kurosawa’s film. Because undoubtedly the film means more to more people than a relatively obscure pair of modernist Japanese short stories). I note as well that Joel Coen put out a Macbeth that I can’t wait to see. I had a squiz on bookdepository and there doesn’t seem to be a book reissue but then, what’s the point of a film tie-in reissue of Shakespeare? Between the cheap paperbacks and the lavishly edited academic editions like Oxford, the market is well and truly cornered. As well, film adaptation of theatre is generally less controversial because their performing arts lineage is straightforwardly in common. Film adaptations can also reach a larger market – hence His Girl Friday is better remembered than the (off-broadway?) play it is based on. Somewhat conversely, the one film of Glengarry Glen Ross seems to be held in equal standing with the text.
To take another random example from my shelf, I can find no evidence of a reissue of Billy Budd when Clair Denis released Beau Travail, despite it being out of copyright. On the other hand, it was an oblique adaptation, and an obscure foreign movie; I suspect if someone were to release a straightforward adaptation of Billy Budd then it too would be republished. Conversely, Penguin released a re-issue tied in to Sophie Barthes’ adaptation of Madame Bovary (I only watched the trailer and it looked utterly humourless, so I didn’t bother watching the whole film), also something of an obscure foreign movie. However, Penguin had just recently paid for Lydia Davis’ (superb) translation, so why not wring a few more bob out of it.
Another film I have is ‘Hopscotch’, a delightful spy comedy with Walter Matthau which was adapted, with approval, from a spy novel that was not comic at all. I haven’t read it, but I’m not sure who has? I do love the idea of adapting serious espionage/foreign relations work as comedy though. I’m certain I could do a decent job of it for Hersh’s ‘The Killing of Osama bin Laden’. On the other hand, if someone tried it with, I don’t know, Graham Greene, or le Carré, it would probably be viewed as some kind of sacrilege.
Right now I’m reading Galbraith père‘s ‘A Tenured Professor’, only 1/3 through but a diverting and amusing enough little novel that I’m starting to suspect could be adapted into a somewhat engaging movie. Would that be enough to reissue the book for a tie in? Like you say, it would probably depend on the scale of the production, cast, etc. Maybe if the film were an effervescent adapation directed by Adam McKay and starring Steve Carrell. But then, if it were such, I doubt that the book would ever mean as much to people as such a film.would, despite preceding it by over 30 years. Still, I’m sure the publisher would welcome it, and sometimes a movie-book tie-in can just be as simple as slapping a ‘now a major motion picture’ sticker on the front of the original paperback.
A couple more examples; I watched ‘Gangs of New York’ on the weekend (which was really interesting insofar as I was completely ignorant of the New York draft riots beforehand) and the ‘based on’ credit isn’t until the very end. The terminology is also hedged, something like ‘background taken from…’ or something like that. It seems like a loose adaptation with Herbert Asbury’s book as more of a primary historical source for the story. There doesn’t seem to be an explicit movie-book tie-in (the one book with promotional material from the film there seems to be a ‘making-of’ book). Just one that says ‘now a major motion picture’ – presumably this was a rights issue too as the book was surely out of copyright and the film producers had no need to supply their promotional material for any subsequent book republication.
Five years later ‘There Will Be Blood’ came out and I seem to remember that the credits mention early and prominently its debt to Upton Sinclair’s ‘Oil!’ even though it was, I think, also out of copyright and the adapation is apparently just as, if not looser than Gangs’. I’ll be honest, I’ll *probably* never read ‘Oil!’, purely on ‘life’s too short’ grounds. I’m sure it’s fine, but I also tend to the opinion that There Will Be Blood is one of the finest films I’ve seen, and ‘Oil!’ probably wouldn’t be one of the finest books I’ve ever read.
Anyway yeah, not to threadjack from the topic of Dune, but I find the question of adaptation, both how they come about and how they’re received, super interesting and think about it quite a lot. I must admit, for better or worse, it’s rare that I read a book without at least briefly turning my mind to the question – and indeed the puzzle – of whether and how it could be adapted as a film.
Gangs of New York does not count. I distantly knew the author. Non-fiction. Like comparing the movie Patton to the Ladislas Farago biography that was its main source.
Lambert also says the point he was making was that movies made from good fiction seldom live up to the text, not any old book.
Harry Potter? Good both, or meh?
Spielberg’s Jurassic Park exceeded the expectations of this erstwhile Crighton fan, and Tarkovski’s Stalker is at least as good as the Strugatskis’.
“The Reader” was also a much better movie than book. The book was incredibly badly written and boring, although it may have had something to do with the German to English translation. I couldn’t even finish it.
Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” is better than the book.
The movie version of “The Descendants”, with George Clooney, is much better than the book.
Hmmm. Disagree. Lem’s Solaris was a masterpiece not captured in Tarkovsky’s masterpiece. I think it was better too.
Fight Club and Die Hard are additional entries in the film > book club.
I readily concur on Fight Club. The film (I admit took a second to third time through it) is well-paced and does not seem to dawdle much. David Fincher had really improved by that point.
How rich was the portrayal of Marla, by Bonham Carter? If I had a tumor I’d name it Marla.
Almost all of Hitchcock’s films were adapted from paperback pot boilers.
Dr Doolittle with Rex Harrison was one of my favorite films from childhood and apparently the original book was so colonialist-racist that people were protesting the film just for having any association with the book. (Amazingly the Eddie Murphy films escaped this anger.)
A couple of suggestions on the film/fiction contest:
I thought Mike Nichols Catch-22 far superior to the novel, which I found almost unreadable.
The Danish (Gabriel Axel) version of Babette’s Feast is remarkably good, perhaps even better than the superb tale upon which it is based.
The Expanse TV series is arguably better than the books. But seeing as one of the book authors was George RR Martin’s factotum and the later books in the series read more like screenplays than novels to begin with, I think the intention was always to turn the stories in to film.
Or maybe I should say was better than the books. We’ll see what the Emerald City Cueball does to the series now that he’s gotten his filthy mitts on it. I was not amused by killing off one of the book characters in the TV series due to wokeism under Amazon’s watch.
Ring (original 1998 Japanese version), is better than the book.
I think the film version of The Big Sleep is probably better than the book, despite Chandler’s exuberant writing and the incoherent plot of the film. (And setting aside the vicious homophobia in the book, which I consider neither here nor there for quality, even though it’s the never-explained-in-the-film core of the plot.)
I haven’t read Picnic at Hanging Rock, but I have trouble imagining the book is better than the ethereal magic of the film. (Forget the TV version. I couldn’t stomach more than 20 minutes.)
How did Louis de Bernieres allow the character of L’Omosessuale to be taken out of the awful Captain Corelli’s Mandolin film, though?
The book is a fantastic piece of work, made by the love and sacrifice of L’Omosessuale and the film goddawful, I suppose because giving a heroic role to a gay man wasn’t acceptable, to the Big Wigs…
Thanks. Our first movie review? One of?
As for critics they often seem to bring their own baggage whether it’s an Auteur Theory or a predilection to be snobbish about genres that critics aren’t supposed to enthuse over. Owen Glieberman of Variety gave Dune an “eh” but takes James Bond seriously. Consider me unconvinced in both cases. Plus I luv Hans Zimmer so looking forward to this movie.
The film appears to follow the book quite closely (I read the book for the first time on a train from Liverpool St to Ipswich or Norwich, sometime in the ’60s.)
Lambert is correct about the spider creature. It was not in the book.
Nor was the annoyingly over loud sound track in the book (/snark). I had the feeling that the film as produced was a story attached to an overpowering sound track.
Lambert and I had a chat. We’ve both read Dune a zillion times. Based on what he said, he disagrees and his evidence is strong. And we only had a short talk, I am sure there is more he could say
1. Wellington Yueh is barely present save to kill the Duke and his motivations are pretty much ignored. His inner conflict is also the major foreshadowing device
2. Kanly and the whole feudal nature of the Great Houses is written out. That’s the motivation for luring the Duke into the Harkonnen trap of Arrakis.
3. Where is Feyd-Rautha? And the Baron isn’t presented as waddling and more important apparently also not presented as strategic genius (which sets up why he’d be valuable genetic material…)
4. The dinner scene on Arrakis establishes how precarious the Atreides position is (they have to discuss in battle language as to whether to fight) and how Arrakis society in the cities is very class stratified
I am sure Lambert can and will add when he resurfaces.
I think Feyd will be Part 2…. Remember that the Baron, at the end of this movie (and in the book) wants Rabban to “squeeze “ more spice production out of the natives, which Is not only to recoup the expenses of the invasion, but also to make Rabban (the Beast) even more hated, so that at the proper time, Feyd can be brought in as a savior.
One quibble for Lambert although it could be my memory: I didn’t think the spice was excreted but rather was a chemical reaction when subterranean water reacted with a pocket of sand trout? I do remember that water is deadly to the sandworms and that the sandtrout are what keeps the water sequestered….. argh well I guess it’s time I reread…
1. The foreshadowing of Yueh’s betrayal was lost in the medium’s brevity. Internal monologuing is usually difficult and artistically boring on a movie screen, unless it is explicitly needed like Bridget Jones Diary.
2. I expect Kanly to make a big showing in part 2. How the Baron and na-baron evolves their relationship. Lots to explore there on Harkonnen depravity. Plus, There is barely a third of the book1 left. And can they really just discard Oscar Issac as a one-Dune-movie man?
3. Since nobody has yet been announced cast for that role (probably not Sting), and the final fight in act3 cannot be resolved without having the audience also want to root for Feyd-Rautha, we can expect his character development to feature prominently in part2?
4. Random online rumours that this was filmed but didn’t make final cut. One can but hope it will show up in the director’s cut DVD? Perhaps Villeneuve might bring it into part2 as a flashback?
(Else, Oscar Issac is really out of a job!)
I became a longtime fan of the books after I saw the Lynch film shortly after it came out. I’ve gone back to Dune to argue with regularly. I suspect my familiarity with the books turned the film into a kind of commentary on the book for me, rather than a thing in itself, which probably stands in the way of my experience a bit.
I was more puzzled by the scene with the Sardaukar on Salusa Secundus. Apart from the need to contrast their sort of Nordic vibe to the Fremen, it all seemed rather pointless. Those minutes could have been spent better.
I, too, would love to see the dinner party.
In the books, before his death Kynes starts to realize the danger Paul represents to the Fremen. It’s a subtle thing, but I wish it had made it into the film.
In the book, the Sardaukar are established to a large extent through internal monologue, which obviously doesn’t translate well on film. In that sense the Salusa Secundus scene helps to give the viewer an impression of the brutality Sardaukar and why they’re such a massive threat to be taken seriously.
No visual depiction of Sadaukar could ever compete with Herbert’s use of a reader’s imagination of supersoldiers, and many allusions to their superior military prowess across 700+ pages. Though Villneuve’s scene doesn’t really show why they be a superior military force either.
A friend commented that Villneuve’s depiction of Sadaukar descending on suspensors looked like marionettes being deployed onto stage. Not sure if that was director’s intent, but I cannot unsee it now.
‘When the sandworms can’t get at what they want to devour, they sensibly move along. Why on earth does the writer think they would hang about?’
Maybe they were thinking of Graboids from the 1990 film “Tremors?” Sorta like land sharks-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfgnqs8qTy4 (5:04 mins)
Nice one. I actually read the book as a kid figuring it would be better than the movie, hard to top Bogie and Huston.
Even comic books are better than comic book movies and I’m not much of a comic book reader.
And the last scene with the wind blowing the gold dust off the tied up burros!
Hey. I just found out that the author of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” is B. Traven – the same guy that wrote “Death Ship.” That makes a lot of sense when I think about it-
There are almost no comic book movies, at least not live action ones, that are actually direct adaptations of a singular comic story line, so that doesn’t really work as an example.
With Japanese manga, though, it’s incredibly common for manga to get anime adaptions, and frequently these are upgrades of the original. With both being visual productions, the visuals moving and being given voice can aid a lot (the recent Demon Slayer anime is absolutely elevated substantially by the insane visuals and music. Not that the original comic is a slouch, mind).
Thanks for this. I finally read Dune late this summer to earn back lost nerd points for not reading it earlier in life. Liked it, but I love LotR and GoT and Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books so I was bound to like it. I really was not sure I believed anyone could convert this to film in anyway that does it justice so I appreciate hearing your perspective. I love movie scores and have always been a big Zimmer fan so I am looking forward to the scoring. Not sure I will venture into a theater for it – the social angle of movies and concerts rarely appeals to me (unlike a soccer game in which the crowd vibe is practically electric…).
As for movies better than their source material? I would name Jurassic Park. I love Creighton and most of his books, but the JP movie took excellent source material, pared out the excess, cranked up Ian Malcom to a whole other level, and did things with CGI and animatronics that had never been attempted before and wildly succeeded. Everything that followed the 1993 film was a let down.
I saw it first in an IMAX theater and two hours after again on HBO Max. Go to such a theater, the difference in the experience is terrifically visceral. Go to an early daytime showing if you want to avoid people.
I’ve read all the Dune books twice. Quite a few characters to love (and mourn) but Duncan Idaho is near the top of the list for me.
Curiously, Duncan fulfills a Biblical promise:
He who pursues righteousness and loyalty finds life, righteous and honor. Proverbs 21:21 [bold added]
Frank Herbert’s novels, without exception (and I think I read them all but don’t think of them often, with exceptions — during pandemic time I’ve been repeatedly reminded of The White Plague), always riveted my attention but left me feeling bad/depressed at the conclusion. I guess that’s what dystopian stories are for. I’m not sure that I want to be reminded of the experience, and may skip the film.
This effort sounds worth watching, so I’ll give it a go. I had some trepidation after seeing the first 2 episodes of Apple’s butchery of Foundation.
Good sci-fi isn’t about worldbuilding. Villeneuve clearly thinks it is, and in effort to extrapolate and depict the world of Herbert’s Dune on screen decided to abandon all subtext, opting instead to render every corner of the viewer’s imagination on screen, leaving them with no work to do. As a film, it isn’t much stronger than the average superhero movie. Maybe it has its serious face on (it really wants to be taken seriously as a film), but 2.5 hours in the same strenuous and dour emotional register was tedious. Amazing special effects aren’t enough to sustain any film if it doesn’t work. This is coming from a long-time fan of the book.
Strongly agree > “opting instead to render every corner of the viewer’s imagination on screen”. And what’s been opted for is the usual, as demanded by the Zeitgeist: the look and feel of militarized police everywhere, modeled on what looks like the Nuremberg Rally; sonic soundtrack assault; lot of hushed and whispered dialogue, then lots of YELLING. Nothing lighthearted anywhere. In fact, nothing “hearted” anywhere. It is genuinely another in a long line of “heartless” movies. It’s visual and sonic fascism. The whole thing, the entirety of it, is missing that quality of intelligence, and that quality of feeling (not emotion) of Herbert himself and his storytelling. It was birthed by great vision, coming out of a very different cultural moment, and we must not forget the he, and as a direct result, Dune, was influenced by psychedelic mushrooms. The look and film of this movie is about as far as one can get from that world.
This is another movie for our current moment. And that is not a good thing.
I agree with your take on the look of the movie. As we watched Dune on a 32″ screen (with excellent speakers) I was struck by the brutality of the architecture, especially the interiors. What human would choose to live in such bleak environments, especially if they are wealthy? Even on the Atreides’ home planet, their palace was awful. I also had difficulty believing that people with technology advanced enough for interstellar travel would be fighting battles with swords.
Regarding the swords, that’s one of the nuances from the book that didn’t make it into the movie (and wasn’t all that fleshed out in the book either). There are no computers in Dune-world. Supposedly they were wiped out in the “Butlerian Jihad” after becoming too powerful and damaging to society at large. Herbert’s son wrote a sequel discussing this backstory but Herbert himself only briefly mentions it, at least in the first three books.
The banned technology is one of the aspects I hope get mentioned in the sequel, especially given the real societal ills caused by technology today.
Agree on the architecture – the city of Arrakeen looked more like what I imagined Trantor from Foundation to look like – bleak and metallic covering every square inch of ground. In the books, the city definitely isn’t lush and life is austere, but it is still an oasis compared to the rest of the barren planet.
I really think this reviewer has captured my feeling about this version of Dune. It’s a very excellent takedown. They call it “aggressively ugly”, monotone with zero contrast (not just the visuals), the characters in the book are incredibly smart, plotting, but here, everyone is dumb and flatly written and portrayed. Baron Harkonnen is Warner Brothers Palpatine from Star Wars! It’s worth a few minutes of listening if you’re like me, who saw the movie yesterday and am more and more convinced today of what an awful thing it is. On par with with those latest Star Wars Force Awakens, Last Jedi abominations, which I consider some of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.
The reason swords are used is because of the prevalence of shields, which for obvious reasons make traditional projectile weapons useless, but also cause a sort of nuclear reaction when struck by a laser beam that destroys both the attacker and the shield user. This last bit is never once explained in the movie, despite being a pretty important element of the Dune universe.
Seems like a shield user could wear light body armor that would stop a slow sword or knife thrust, as well as those “slow pellet stunners” (don’t know if they’re in the movie). Then a shield user would be basically invulnerable. But I guess that would spoil the concept…
It needs to be explained in the second movie! That’s how Paul breaches the shield wall of Arrakis. Everyone assumed no one would use a laser….
Herbert’s shield wall was a natural feature of geology Paul removed due to being in a hurry to get to a family reunion.
Villneuve’s appears to be a man-made artifice. Not quite the same magnitude of size?
(Life’s Minor quibbles.)
I wonder if this is a side effect of budget optimization and Villanueve possibly being a control freak. Every setpiece, every prop, every 3D model represents a large expenditure, and thus has to have sufficient screen time to show off the work of the director’s imagination. He doesn’t seem to be able to turn to people and say, “hey make this a lavish interior.” Allowing and respecting the audience to see things that suggest off-camera action doesn’t seem to be worth the time and effort, especially when in ultra-HD, you can’t get away with doing a “low quality” prop because it’s simply going to be on screen for a couple of seconds.
I literally laughed out loud when the Atreides were “packing up” on Caladan – the 3-4 interior props that had been displayed as their decor (which all that was ever shown) were being put into wooden crates and my mind boggled at the suggestion that those were the only things the Atreides had to take with them. The rest of the palace and interiors were so barren… it just seemed to me to be a ridiculous proposition.
Compare to the Cantina scene from the original cut of Star Wars; literally hundreds of props and alien costumes are lingered on for a passing moment, darkened by shadows such that you get only a suggestion that lots of things happen juuust out of frame, and that our heroes are simply passing through.
I was disappointed by Dune – it was a visual spectacle, but I find myself less and less impressed by movies that over-rely on visual spectacle but miss the other parts of what makes a good film. Particularly if their weak in the writing department.
I can’t say I have much understanding of how a movie gets made these days. It’s evidently a massive productive line, but I’m not sure at which points the director intercedes. For example, I get the impression that the people who made this version of Dune really wanted the body shields to look a certain way. I’m not sure how much input Villeneuve had for this particular special effect. But it seems clear enough that whoever was responsible for it wanted it to come across “as realistic as possible”, and also “tasteful”. But neither of these things matter at all.
The knife + shield fight between Paul and Gurney is one of the most memorable scenes (probably only after the Gom Jabbar scene). Compare Lynch and Villeneuve:
Villeneuve’s rendition of this scene is flat, tedious, and boring. There’s little rhythmic variation in time, and little camera shot variation. A lot of attention is paid to getting the visual effects “right”, and to working out the micro detail of the fight choreography. Shots are zoomed way out—he really wants to keep our attention on how big and impressive the room they’re in is for some reason. Chalamet and Brolin are also just… bad actors. They have next to no chemistry. Nothing is fun or exciting here. It’s also unclear why the scene is taking place.
Lynch’s rendition OTOH is more dynamic and exciting. The sequence of shots is varied and interesting, and pulls the viewer along with it. Unlike Villeneuve’s, where you feel like a fly on the wall, far away from the action taking place in this massive, cold room, Lynch drags you right into the action. The scene serves a clear purpose—we’re being shown Paul is an overweening princeling with some potential, but has a long way to go. His advisors are looking on carefully and appraising him. Has he got what its takes? Etc.
Stewart and MacLachlan may not have chemistry, per se, but Patrick Stewart is obviously a tremendously good actor, and MacLachlan is enjoyable to watch. The scene actually has a bit of wry humor in it, unlike possibly any scene in the entirety of Villeneuve’s Dune. Also, Paul’s line, “Is this what you seek?!” (not sure if it’s inner monologue or not) breaks with the overall tenor of the scene, which helps to keep the audience on its toes (e.g., “What is going on here…?”)
Lynch’s goofy body shields also seem more compelling to me. They seem to have aged well. They show real human ingenuity and creativity. Even though they’re physically “wrong”, they match the aesthetic framework of the movie, which is more sophisticated (read: artistic) than Villeneuve’s. There are some audio details Lynch pays attention to that Villeneuve doesn’t. Paul and Gurney’s voices are muffled by the body shields. The hum and crackle of the body shields provide a suitable soundtrack for the tense fight scene.
Each item referred to the bullfight where Paul’s grandfather (forgot his name) died in a grand show of aristocratic bravado.
If a director doesn’t have final control over a movie, then how could it be his “vision”?
The spider scene as described reminds me of a scene in the first of the Brian Herbert additions, which was a prequel to the events of Dune. That scene included both Baron Harkonnen and Gaius Helen Mohiam, who has been (spoiler) ordered by the sisterhood to conceive a daughter by the baron (the future Jessica). Since she is not his type, to say the least, he has to make it appealing to his interests to get in the mood. In return she infected him with a latent disease to make him fat and physically unappealing. In that meeting, prior to being incapacitated, I believe she tells him to remove his disgusting playthings from her presence while they conduct business.
I read Dune aloud to my kids at bedtime and quickly learned to stick to Herbert’s dialogue, which carries most of the storyline, philosophy and character interplay, and to edit down the rest to descriptive essentials.
So I find it futile to try to turn this epic into a feature film (or two), still less an action movie. That is why the 1990s SciFi channel series (which in spite of some casting weaknesses also brilliantly cast Ian MacNiece as the Baron) was so satisfying. Netflix could have done this although I don’t know that Villenueve would have gone along with that.
Jessica looked out to the left toward the front of the house where Yueh’s attention was focused. A line of twenty palm trees grew there, the ground beneath them swept clean, barren. A screen fence separated them from the road upon which robed people were passing. Jessica detected a faint shimmering in the air between her and the people — a house shield.
“Do you know what they’re thinking?” Yueh asked.
“You profess to read minds?” she asked.
“These minds, yes,” he said. “They look at those palm trees and they think; ‘There stands one hundred of us.’ That’s what they think.”
“Those are date palms,” he said. “One date palm requires forty liters of water a day. A man requires but eight liters. One palm, then, equals five men. There are twenty palms out there — one hundred men.”
“But some of those people look at the trees hopefully.”
“They hope some dates will fall, except it’s the wrong season….
“There is only so much water to support human life here,” Yueh went on, “The people know if more offworlders arrive, the price goes up and the very poor die. There were water riots when we first arrived. They stopped only when the people learned House Atreides was installing new windtraps and condensers to capture the atmospheric moisture. Little enough, certainly, but some. It’s the major source of new water here.”
“We look at this place with too critical an eye,” she replied. “There’s hope as well as danger here. The spice could make us rich. With a fat treasury, we can make this world into whatever we wish.”
And she laughed silently at herself: Who am I trying to convince?
“The spice brings six hundred and twenty thousand Solaris per decagram on the open market right now,” Yueh said blandly, putting on the teacher’s voice he used with Paul, “That is wealth to buy many things.”
“Does greed even touch you, Wellington?”
“I can smell death in this place,” he said.
Jessica nodded. “Thufir Hawat sent advance agents in here by the battalion to secure the Residency. There have been unexplained withdrawals of large sums from the treasury. The amounts mean only one thing: bribes in high places. Where Thufir Hawat goes, death and deceit follow.”
“You perhaps malign him too much, Lady.”
“Malign? I praise him. Death and deceit are our only hopes here.”
Thanks. So much conveyed in so little space.
It take much longer to read Herbert up to Paul’s meeting Chani than watch Villneuve show an audio-visual summary in 157 minutes.
Sad that so many words was reduced to 8(?) lines in the movie, with all the extra nuances lost, but those are the limitations of the movie medium.
Dune is one of my favorite books. I’ve read it numerous times. I also read several of the sequels, although I didn’t especially enjoy them compared to Dune. Perhaps because, for me, the most intriguing part of Dune was the Bene Gesserit and, in particular, the character of Jessica. The concept of Arrakis, the spice, the worms, the fremen were all fascinating but, other than Jessica, all the other characters, including Paul, seemed one dimensional. The David Lynch version came closest for me in selecting the perfect cast for how I visualized the characters and I’m afraid that would influence whether or not I would enjoy any other film versions.
I can’t think of too many movies that were better than the book except for Northanger Abbey and Enchanted April.
Agreed on “Enchanted April” which was turned into a great film. Maybe too J. B. Pick’s novel “The Last Valley” which was turned into a solid film by the same name in 1971 with Michael Caine and Omar Shariff. Come to think of it, Willy Russel’s novel “Educating Rita” too which was filmed in 1983 starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters.
I can understand not enjoying the sequels as much (though for me God Emperor is the best one). But Dune doesn’t really work as a stand alone novel, and I get rather frustrated when people try to treat it as such. You need at least the second book, which opens with a brutal deconstruction of the events of the first book. That Paul isn’t a good guy and that he knowingly unleashes the monsters that are the Fremen, fully aware of what the consequences will be, are hinted at in the first book, but fully explored in the sequels. Dune by itself could be read as a hero’s journey adventure story (though to a large extent a mother-son one, which is very unusual). That it isn’t is only fully explored by the sequels.
The Fremen themselves ultimately get the transformed garden world they wanted, but in the process are effectively destroyed as a culture; all that remains are basically actors performing for tourists on little patches of preserved reservation desert (this aspect was almost certainly drawn from Herbert’s experiences with Mative tribes in Washington state).
It’s also only the sequels that truly grapple with the theme of history on an epochal scale.
TBH, all of this is (more than ) hinted on in the original Dune already.
That’s why I actually don’t like any of the sequels – because they are so heavy handed compared to Dune. I could just about stomach Messiah, but the rest is just too far out for me.
Yeah, the sequels turn into superhero movies, with characters that can move faster than speeding bullets and even the slower ones have been bred into having reflexes far faster than the already blinding speed of the still- human people in the first novel. It actually gets boring and a bit fascist when everyone important is superhuman to varying degrees. Mere humans are just a backdrop. The first novel has extraordinary people in it, but there is the right mix of ordinary people and people with extraordinary talents but not ridiculously so. Paul has godlike precognition, but the entire point is how dangerous an actual messiah can be.
The super reflexes are in the first book. That’s what the Bene Gesserit space kung fu is all about.
Yes, but BG skills are teachable – Jessica explicitly promises Stilgar to teach Fremen of his sietch her ways of combat, for example.
In the follow-on novels, it’s more and more of superhumans, not super-skiller humans.
The Bene Gesserit did practice a lot of eugenics in more than 3500 years under Leto II. It’s just a story device, the focus was still on Miles Teg’s humanity and ultimate sacrifice.
Have to differ with you on the characters. I agree that Paul was flat and the Duke wasn’t developed at all. But many of the minor characters are sketched well in very few strokes, like the Shadout Mapes.
A great adaptation, only 2 quibbles:
1. The soundtrack was atrocious. I found myself actively trying to tune it out so I could hear what was being said. One-note with occasional middle eastern warbling.
2. Toooo many dream/vision sequences. Cut half the shots of Paul staring off blankly into space and up it would go into the pantheon next to 2049.
If you are referring to the volume level then blame it on George Lucas and THX. This was a supposed standard that Lucas devised so theater presentations would have the same volume level in all locations and it was the level Lucas would use in his screening room. The reference level is very loud.
If you are referring to Hans Zimmer then to each his or her own.
I think VT Digger is referring to the soundtrack, not the volume or Zimmer. Because I found it to be atrocious, too. Mostly it had nothing at all to do what was happening on the screen, so often it seemed to insert meaning to things that were not meaningful at all (either in reference to the book or the movie itself), which was confusing and annoying until I managed, just like VT Digger, to tune the score out.
Having read the book several times my judgement may be off, so I’d like to hear from someone who’s not familiar with the books if the story arch in the movie makes sense to them: a boy’s family is sent to rule a planet they don’t want to go to, the boy’s family is betrayed, the boy escapes. That’s a setup, not a story. To me, the movie ended quite abruptly, even if I know the story almost by heart.
Also, many scenes were way, way too Space Opera to my liking. I don’t think I’ll go see part two, if it’s ever made.
I find Zimmer’s work hit-or-miss, most often a miss to the point of tedium with occasional flecks of musical interest or originality. He does seem to be a studio go-to, which is a shame, given the wealth of vastly more interesting musicians out there. Compare and contrast with Johann Johannson’s astonishingly good soundtrack for Sicario – which is also, deliberately, very loud at times. Loudness I have no problem with (a mix where dialogue is buried is a different thing). JJ had a pass at the Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack before he passed but was replaced with Zimmer – this was a disagreement Villeneuve had with the JJ’s end product iirc, but the studio might have had a say as well. Hopefully it surfaces one day.
To be fair to Zimmer, a few years back i saw an interview with him where he explained why there an be such a variation in the quality of soundtracks. He said that sometimes he is simply handed a rough cut and told ‘write something that goes over this’. He says frequently directors/editors use something standard like from Beethoven to form the rhythm, making it almost impossible for the music director to do anything original. He says his best work is always when he is working alongside the director and editor to ensure that the pattern of music suits the film.
yes that makes sense. He strikes me as a consummate pro/safe pair of hands and I can see how that could be both a blessing and a curse professionally. I feel like having generic classical pieces dubbed over the rough cut as would drive me to distraction but IANAC (I Am Not A Composer).
The music did little for me, but the sound design/sonic effects were pretty impressive, like in the opening scene of the movie — are we listening to the sound the worms make?
I haven’t read Dune a zillion times, but I have read it a LOT of times. :-)
The first movie version didn’t do much for me, and part of that was the miscasting of Sting as Feyd-Rautha, a well-muscled gladiator who would have been better if done by the person who played Paul. I watched the multi-hour series and enjoyed it far more. Some of that is probably due to the large blocks of dialog which I could recognize from the book.
I won’t be seeing the new movie in a theater, but I do look forward to it eventually trickling down to a small screen in my house.
Sting as Feyd-Rautha was just so wrong.
I did not mean to suggest others hadn’t also read Dune a zillion times.
If you have HBO Max you can supposedly(*) watch Dune on your small screen now.
* I don’t have it so I can’t confirm.
It’s been out on torrents for like a week.
I just loved the book and the whole series of them. The film? For me it was ok, but the whole Star Wars universe of the hero journey was done first and saturates audience consciousness so I was a bit eye roll. Dune is rather the same story, but Frank got there first on paper in a book series. George Lucas got there first on screen and we all know he was heavily influenced by Dune. Like Star Wars, in Dune we have the story of an orphaned boy who becomes radicalized after a military strike kills his dad. So he goes off to live with the native population and is indoctrinated into an ancient religion, joins a band of rebel insurgents and, presumably in Part 2, carries out a terrorist attack killing lotsa people. With worms.
For me it was not worth the big screen price and I wasn’t going to share air in an enclosed space with our region’s Delta variant infection rate so we watched in on streaming. They offered two months of HBO Max for $7.95 so our housemate got it and we planned this type of viewing due to the ongoing pandemic. It’s clear there weren’t a lot of lines of dialogue to memorize, lots of smoldering looks. To create the dystopian atmosphere they went heavy on dark low light scenes as if they didn’t have a lighting budget. Ditto GoT. “Lights? We don’t need no stinking lights.” If they didn’t shoot Part 2 already and have it ready for editing and release in a year, I’d be surprised. Why go to production twice? T’aint cheap. Agree that the soundtrack was unmemorable, too many dream/vision sequences. Agree that Jessica and the Bene Gessert are the more interesting aspects I’d love to see more of.
But I gotta keep up and so I’m glad I did. Glad I read the book and most of the rest of his work during college and thereafter. The books were so much better for me, which I read in college. If I’m going to waste life units on film or TV, better Dune and other select SF/F rather than a Tiger show or a Squid show. Come visit us here in Tacoma and see Dune Peninsula. Frank Herbert was born and grew up in Tacoma Washington. He left town at age 18. We reclaimed a superfund site and dedicated it to him. Join us and be sure to take a ride down the slide.
I thought this new version especially made it very clear how much Lucas ripped of Dune to make Star Wars. Tatooine=Arrakis, the Force=the Voice, and Lucas even used a giant sandworm in one of the SW sequels.
I watched it on the big screen in the theater which was definitely worth it. $8 late afternoon matinee and there were only three other people in the theater. Good if you’re looking to stay away from the rona, but not if you are, like me, hoping for the experience of watching movies made for the big screen on a big screen to continue. The kid at the popcorn counter even volunteered that he thought movie theaters were a dying breed that wouldn’t last much longer. Not exactly talking his own book…
… Arrakin’s precious resource [the spice], which is the key (I still don’t get this part, in any version) to interplanetary travel
The spice confers prescience (“foresight“), which is why Guild Navigators can use it to guide their interstellar ships along the safest path through space.
I watched the movie and I also read the book, but I too don’t understand this part. I can understand how prescience can be useful if you happen to navigate a particular route for the VERY FIRST time. It’s kinda like how it would have been useful in the old days when Columbus was trying to get to the new world. But afterwards, presumably you can just use … maps? How about asteroids? Well, these guys have the ability to create energy shields and weapons ………. I understand the Butlerian Jihad precludes them from having AI tech, but they must have computers, otherwise how are they activating their shields and weapons?
Static maps don’t work so well when everything in the galaxy is moving.
One can say the same for prescience. If things are always moving and changing, prescience is useless.
I understand heavenly bodies aren’t static, but they don’t jump around either. Talking about planets here, not asteroids.
Also they couldn’t create navigation beacons? Ah I forgot, the Galactic Empire is America, with its one ring approach to everything.
Prescience will tell if a jump will, eg, land you in the center of a star or not.
In the Dune universe they used to have much more advanced technology, but rebelled against it out of fear of humans becoming overrelient and even subservient to it.
IIRC they eventually develop a prescience computer in the later books, rendering the Navigators superfluous.
Prescience will tell if a jump will, eg, land you in the center of a star or not. But you won’t know this if things are constantly moving. According to this: https://dune.fandom.com/wiki/Space_travel “This form of travel, while extremely expensive, was also not safe as one in ten ships that used space folding engine disappeared, at least during the early years of the technology’s use before the advent of Navigators.”
One in ten (loss rate) is definitely much better than 50/50. As I said in another post, they couldn’t improve it by using navigation beacons?
To get through any distance in space and not have hundreds if not thousands of years pass during the trip (see Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky, the transit time is a major plot point), they need to jump through space-time, not just traverse space. Space-time is apparently very tricky.
Y. Smith: Space-time is apparently very tricky.
Yes and no. I don’t know how much of this Frank Herbert grasped, but the fundamental point is very basic: all space travel is time travel and you cannot have FTL (faster than light) travel without time travel — time travel specifically into the past — as Einsteinian special relativity makes clear.
Any FTL spaceship would also be a time machine/causality violation device, in other words. See forex —
Monkey Business: I …don’t understand this part. I can understand how prescience can be useful if you happen to navigate a particular route for the VERY FIRST time ….. But afterwards, presumably you can just use … maps?
Sorry, no, your point doesn’t apply. That’s because to have “a VERY FIRST time” and an “afterwards” would also mean there’s a universally simultaneous present — a now moment — that applies all across the universe. There is no such universal now moment because time doesn’t proceed at one unified, simultaneous pace throughout the universe but depends on relative frames of reference.
For that matter, the equations for how fundamental particles interact work as well backwards as forwards, suggesting that time’s arrow is reversible at the quantum level. Consequently, physicists have tended to adopt what’s called the block universe model. This envisions the universe as a four-dimensional block of spacetime, containing all space and every moment of the past and future, that’s bounded at one end by the moment after the Big Bang (the universe’s maximal low-entropy state) and at the other by the last “moment” of the universe (its maximal highest-entropy state)
In other words, for the time being — such as ourselves — we have an experience of the arrow of time because we “evolved” in the range of all the possible low to high entropy states of the universe, and that’s all that time really is.
“The increase of disorder or entropy is what distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.” — Stephen Hawking
“For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” — Albert Einstein
Hope this helps.
The premise in many of these sci fi novels is that the space-time is not liner (that it has a surface) and it is possible to find paths that are not the same as through three dimensional space. And Scientific American agrees, even before you get to string theory:
Now whether it is curved in ways that are usable as Dune posits is an entirely different question.
if prescience allows you to bend time around so that you can see it before you experience it, then perhaps it also allows you to bend spacetime around so that you can be there before you left your origin point.
like warp speed, we all need some deus ex machina to handle the vast space distance otherwise the story would be how many centuries in the pod ship* long. that Herbert incorporates his into so many different elements of the society, the people, their social structure, and the economy, is very interesting and contrasts quite well with all of our (jean luc picard) “Make it so” shows and films. space travel SHOULD be amazing, difficult, confer vast power, and possibly enter the realm of the strange. just because we all get in our cars and drive 20miles to work doesn’t mean they aren’t amazing, and people from 1300 would think we are gods.
*Dr. Who had a mini version of this (in the 80s) where the people on the space ship were many generations removed from the original travellers, and by the time the dr. & co arrive, have completely forgotten what they are in space for or where they are headed—“The quest is the Quest!”
Yes, that is why hard! If you get there before you left, you would presumably create a fork of reality (see The Peripheral for that).
This is a very strange question. I’m assuming it’s not as dumb as it sounds but. They have hardware switches. They use them constantly throughout the film to activate their shields and weapons.
They have no computers. They have mentats (fat black dude whose eyes roll back when he does math) which are highly bred and trained biological equivalents to computers for doing calculation and strategy.
My understanding from the one of the books is that the space folding process (which is how the Guild ships travel interstellar distances) is error-prone and has a high accident rate unless overseen by a Navigator who can forsee the outcome of a particular operation. Supposedly many ships were lost when it was first attempted, before Navigators were available. Sorry, I forget the exact source.
Only Brandon Tenold has more fun doing a review
Was it ever explained in any of the books why the space folding process is so error prone? I mean the entire story hinges on spice. If there’s no credible explanation to why spice is constantly needed, then the whole premise of the story itself is questionable.
See here, which I should have looked up before commenting:
That still does not explain why spice is constantly needed. One time use to an unknown location? Sure. Also what counts as “advanced” was left deliberately vague. The Navigators navigate the ship using what? Steering wheels? There has to be computers and the navigators would input instructions into said computers. If Navigators can bend space and time itself, then by definition the natives of Arrakis should be able to do that as well, since they grow up breathing spice. Heck their powers of prescience would allow them to beat the Harkonnens easily.
Also from that link: “This stumbling block is overcome several thousand years after the events of Dune when Ixian scientists develop mechanical replacements for Guild Navigators”
Really? Like mechanical stuff can be faster than computers? Are we going to be seeing the return of the Chinese calculator soon?
Again with the really weird idea of what a “computer” is. Lasers are mechanical. Quantum entanglement is mechanical.
As to the question about spice, I believe the Navigators are addicts and need their constant feed of spice to maintain the weird headspace that allows them to be prescient.
It’s not just “spice makes you see the future” as depicted for Paul. This is partly why Paul is the end goal of a millennia-long breeding program, during which Navigators have existed the whole time.
The book makes clear it is also geriatric. All the rich all over the universe consume it. Not just the Space Guild.
“Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind,”
the Butlerian Jihad”
Why there are no “computers . A future society technologically advanced in space travel yet, silicon-computationally hobbled.
Yes. They can’t use computers. The device you are using would result in the Emperor’s ship landing on top of you.
I was thinking that if this Dune series became successful, then it would only be a matter of time before a prequel would be made. That itself would suggest a story set during the Butlerian Jihad which set up the Dune world. As it turns out, two authors have already written a series of full-length novels and short stories in the Legends of Dune trilogy-
But when I thought about it, this would be the last movie that a lot of people would ever want filmed. Too many heretical thoughts and ideas in it, especially about the Titans. They would sooner make a film about the 1920 Wall Street bombing first.
Those books are utter garbage, and if Warner Brothers Dune is going to be a franchise, I hope to hell they don’t include those books, or even draw inspiration from them. Kevin Anderson is a notorious hack writer. And rest assured, he did all the writing on those books; Brian Herbert was just cynically collecting a paycheck cashing in on his dad’s name and legacy.
It’s not just that I think they’re bad books, that’s subjective. But objectively, they were written by someone who doesn’t understand the originals on a very fundamental level. They don’t even line up with canon properly, to say nothing about how they don’t even attempt to engage with any of the themes of what Dune is *actually* about.
They are ok space-opera books, but crappy Dune books.
That said, none of the follow-on Dune books by Frank Herbert reached the original’s qualities by far IMO.
That’s a real shame. Both times I’ve read the (core) original books, I’ve come away wanting to know more about the Butlerian jihad.
God Emperor and Chapterhouse are my faves of Daddy Frank’s…and i’ve always treated his 6 books as essentially one book(same with LOTR/Silmarillion)
I’m as leery of seeing this film as i was in seeing Jackson’s LOTR.
so long as disney’s not involved, i suppose,lol.
i agree the son’s voluminous offerings are pretty thin gruel, but i devoured them all the same.
the prequels were better than the son’s sequels…and even those were better than the various books on the various Great Houses.
but i like universe-building a lot, and couldn’t help myself.
Of all the ideas presented in the prequels, the most intellectually titillating and delicious idea was that the original Atreides was the evil schemer, and that Harkonnen was the “honourable” one betrayed by Atreides treachery.
Truly inverting what the present remembers of the past.
I do hope that was one of Frank’s random scribbles in his notes, for I don’t really expect the other two Dune writers to have come up with that twist. Fully agree that anything written after Chapterhouse doesn’t have the same depth even if the source ideas may have been Frank’s.
I cannot relate to Villeneuve’s description of the movie theatre experience. For me the screen size and the sound are what separate it from other viewing experiences, not some shared sense of community — at least not that I’ve ever noticed in the way I might a concert or major sporting event. If anything, the immersiveness of a great movie causes everything else around me to “disappear.”
Put me in this camp. Funnily enough, I think his description more aptly applies to the theater rather than films for me. I do think an audience enhances theater. I have actively sought out empty theaters for decades when I go to movies. I find others distracting. My noises fade, theirs do not.
One of the joys of film is the ability to immerse oneself in that place, that universe. I enjoy smaller films on movie screens, but it is the overwhelming size of the visuals and, much as I hate to use the phrase, the sound surrounding me that transports me to somewhere else. Watching a movie is very much like reading a good book for me. Transporting and solitary.
Film is only communal when it is not good. I do enjoy others snarking on the sillier aspects of not so good movies.
I agree but comedies do gain a lot from an audience which is why TV sitcoms feel the need to be staged in front of one or (once) include a laugh track. Pauline Kael once wrote about all that was lost from watching a film on TV but that was back when all TVs had a squarish 4:3 picture and a resolution that was a fraction of what we have now. These days the only real difference between the theater and the home version is the size of the picture since movie projectors themselves are filling the screen with a high resolution TV image. For many theaters this projected image is just the same as a Blu Ray disc.
Add in the huge availability of old films compared to pre video and we are living in a golden age of home viewing.
Re review howlers – IIRC (I don’t have time to go through the book now), the book in one of the conversations even explicitly says that spice is an organic molecule that no-one managed to replicate yet. All it’d take is a quick 15 second in-person explainer in the movie, but even then I’d not bet that most of the reviewers had a clue it’s not a mineral. IIRC, the book doesn’t “mine” but “harvest” spice, although again IIRC, the fact that spice is a byproduct of worm metabolism isn’t made clear until the second (Fremen) half of the book, and the same holds for the importance of worm’s lifecycle. Liet’s death is sort of the point where it’s more touched upon (I believe he senses a “prespice blow”), and if his death is not there. Mind you, I’m not sure you could do his death well on a screen.
That said, omitting the dinner is unforgivable. Not only for all the reasons you and Yves mention, but it’s also a key in showing Paul’s development, where he’s starting to take ducal duties on him, and his enemies (some) are starting to realise they will have to take him into account too.
Apart from space travel (possible, but dangerous w/o spice), there are some spice properties that are very relevant to our world. It’s _expensive_, so much so that only the 1% or even fewer can really get much of it, while it has anti-aging properties, stressing the eliteness of it (i.e. really only the richest aristocracy can benefit from it freely). Yet, it’s addictive – and withdrawal is deadly, making the struggle for the spice literally struggle for life or death for the top 1% – w/o spice, they, and their families (addicted to the spice from birth) will die, space travel or not.
Somehow I doubt these things come out in the movie, but I’ll see it too, just not now (the CV cases here are going up a lot, with the imputed R >2 by now).
spice, the perfect cross between opium and oil.
Melange is everywhere in the fremen diet, and presumably also in the diet of the poor in Arrakeen, because the spice is in the air
So they would “benefit” from the anti-aging, but yet die early from water starvation.
Truly dying in Paradise. So many layers to Frank’s writing.
Eldest son was taking me for my belated 60th in Aug but been pushed back in Oz till December due to lock downs et al … curses …. gold class lounges and full bar – !!!!!!
Apparently a lot was cut. There are rumors of a fuller version of between four to six hours. It’s very likely the dinner scene exists on a hard drive somewhere. Hopefully there will be an extended Blu-ray release in the future.
In Enemy, Villeneuve puts an enormous spider in the bedroom, an outgrowth of the man’s unconscious fears. There is a similar effect in Arrival, when one of the squid-like aliens appears as a casual hallucination – something overwhelming but ever present beneath the surface of the character.
Yes, he likes his spiders. The final scene of Enemy was one of the biggest WTF endings I’ve ever seen in cinema.
It turned my viewing experience from WTF? to WTF!
William Goldman in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade makes the point that a typical film script is far shorter than a novel – maybe 90 pages. So any adaption of a novel means removing vast layers of what may have made the book worth reading. From what I recall, he says that this is why short stories (such as Breakfast at Tiffanies) are better material for conversion. You could also say the same for pulp fiction which can, in then hands of a master, turn into a great film. The Godfather, for example, or some of Kurosawa’s best films, such as Yojimbo and High and Low, were based on pretty thin material (in Kurosawa’s case, Ed McBain novels). Actually, thinking it through, Kurosawa’s best films were often based on short pulp novels, while his adaptions of ‘big’ novels such as the Idiot never worked so well, they tended toward being a little overlong and flabby in contrast to his best. A lot of Japanese films and TV in particular tend to come from novels – I think one reason is that there is a long tradition in Japan of fairly short and sparse books (both high culture such as Kawabata or Mishima or the type of low culture short novel loved by Japanese teens) – these make for easier adaptions. I think ‘big’ novels are much more suitable for long form TV – maybe making Dune for the cinema was a mistake, it would be much better as a 12 hour series.
The most perfect literary adaption I can think of is John Hustons version of James Joyce’s The Dead. It helps that the film length perfectly matches the original story, so there was no need for substantial additions or deletions, he just filmed it pretty straight.
As for Dune, I really must read it again. My older brothers were big sci fi fans so I read all their old paperbacks avidly in my early teens as these were the only books I could get my hands on, but many of the books were simply over my head, I was too young and maybe a little too ADHD addled to focus on the deeper works. I know I tackled Dune at some stage, maybe around age 13 or 14, but it didn’t make any impact on me whatever. I can’t even remember if I finished it.
“I can’t even remember if I finished it.”
TBH, that’s sums the issue of book vs film. Film requires all your attention, for the duration – especially so in a cinema. Yes, with pause and all you can fragment the watching experience, but it’s much more of a problem than putting a book down, at least in my experience.
The book are meant to be “consumed” (man, I hate the word) over a long period of time, days, even weeks (I did read a few – large – books cover to cover in hours, but it’s an exception), where you have time to process what you read, and use it in the context of what you’ll be reading further down the track.
With the movie, you have to get it all out in less than two hours (although two hour plus movies are getting more common..). For a complex, non-linear story, it’s hard to do well (and often impossible w/o taking at least some shortcuts).
Simpler stories make for better movie material.
Huston’s The Dead inserted a short version of Donal Óg, which added to the sense of mystery without straying outside the story. I suppose the biggest problem in movie adaptations is exposition of stuff we can’t see or intuit – it’s like homework for the audience, an instant sense of weariness tending toward Why Me? outrage.
Yes, he added a few little things, including a lot more dialogue from the ‘Freddy’ character. If I recall correctly, that was partly ad-libbed.
As an aside, I live quite close to the house the book/film was set in. Sadly, its in an advanced state of dereliction, apparently there have been all sorts of legal issues with the ownership. Dublin city council actually intended to demolish it at one time for a highway. The immediate area is a disgrace and embarrassment to the city, considering the number of people who go to see it.
They’re probably looking for the portal to Hogwarts.
Out of interest, a short academic article from 1969 on the correspondence of Joyce’s style in The Dead with cinema technique: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25486771?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3Aa9300b24cbe70a55f039ee671ca65f98&seq=6#page_scan_tab_contents
The film of Breakfast at Tiffany’s had very little to do with the book. For one thing, the main male character was gay and the film was a romcom about him and Holly. Capote hated it.
Funny you mention Kurosawa. I saw High and Low again a couple weeks ago, and I’ve seen some of his other films, such as Seven Samurai and Ran, many times. After seeing the new Dune, I started thinking about Seven Samurai, how long it is, but also how it seems both shorter and much longer than the new Dune. Shorter, because it is consistently engaging, moment to moment, even while nothing is happening: a character gazes up at treetops and sky, or swordsmen stand motionless, each sizing up the other, anticipating what’s to come. But also longer, as so much happens to so many people whom we seem to know, in spite of the fact that they’ve received so little in the way of dialogue or even screen time. This comparison occurred to me because new Dune is just long, the characters, even the main, are ciphers, and there were long stretches during which I was just waiting for the “good parts.” That’s my take on the new one. Not positive, though I can’t say it’s bad. And I don’t know why.
At this point, I can’t say that I’d like to see it again. I’m not even wondering if I’d missed something. Sometimes I do. First time I saw Phoenix, for instance, I was unimpressed, but I had this sense that I’d missed something or maybe paid insufficient attention. So I saw it again. Sure enough, I’d missed it. Great film. Would this happen with new Dune? Almost certainly not. Admittedly, the second part might redeem it. We’ll see. Or, more precisely, I’ll see it if it’s actually produced and released. But until that happens, I’ll regard new Dune as a nothing rather than a something. Some films are something (you have to admit) even if they’re bad (e.g., Heaven’s Gate, Watchmen, King of New York, Flesh and Blood). New Dune? Not bad. Just nothing.
So what went wrong? I suspect you’re right that the story would be better adapted for moving pictures over the course of ten hours or so rather than five (including the planned second film). But there might be issues with the source material. Perhaps it just doesn’t translate. Another possibility: it seems to me that contemporary directors of such films, while excellent at managing spectacle, are talentless hacks when it comes to character. Directors from the 1930s through 1970s could run circles around these people where character development is concerned. It seems to be a lost art. Or maybe nobody wants to pay for it. One more possibility: Dune has rough edges that might very well rub contemporary audiences the wrong way. Those rough edges, sharpened, could make for a very timely film. But that would be risky, and far too much is at stake.
Kurosawa was of course the master of pacing and structure in films. Few if any directors matched him. I think one critic described Seven Samurai as moving like ‘liquid mercury’, which is as good a description of any. There isn’t a single wasted frame or superflous scene. There is a great youtube series called ‘Every Frame a Painting’ which has a few comparisons of Kurosawas films with modern action films, showing clearly why so many fall short.
My own personal theory a to why many modern film and TV shows can’t match older works is that far too many film makers have come through film school. In the old days, directors like Kurosawa or Ford had lived interesting lives and had read/experienced widely before getting into a directors chair. So many modern film makers only know film. They can be very technically skilled ,but have very little to say.
I just saw Ikiru. No idea how I had missed it. OMG terrific. The way he lets the lead actor Takashi Shimuru’s face fill the screen and speak volumes…Apparently inspired by The Death of Ivan Ilyich.
Follow “Ikiru” up with “Red Beard,” also partly using Dostoevsky material.
For a real trip “down the rabbit hole,” a la Kurosawa, watch “Dodes’ka-den.”
As PlutoniumKun says above, directors like Kurosawa lived “interesting” lives, and that shows in their work.
Hah, when I first read Dune, I stayed up until 2 AM, which was way past my normal turning-in time.
I remember reading that Houston filmed his version of “The Maltese Falcon” pretty much along the lines of the book. One comment I remember reading quotes Houston as telling someone that Hammett’s dialog was too good to be messed with. “Film it straight” was the comment.
Okay sure, but also, the Fremen aren’t necessarily middle eastern. They’re descended from the Zensunni wanderers who migrated across many many planets. In terms of ethnicity, we have no idea what they’d look like, but it would probably be a mishmash.
Fun thing to remember is that some of the largest Sunni Islamic countries are not middle eastern at all (Indonesia being the prime example).
Zensunni would suggest Far East meeting Middle East. Much variety of skin colour that would have produced.
Oddly, I never saw Yueh as being of Chinese heritage until Villeneuve. It was just a name with no skin colour attached to it. Maybe because the Wellington was so un-chinese a first name. It does bring up Ming the Merciless yellow devils’ undertones, but… oh well. Director’s vision.
I saw the film the day it came out in Europe, so something over a month now. It’s had time to settle a bit.
I read the original books more or less as they came out, and then many times more when I was older, with increasing appreciation. I saw the David Lynch version on TV not long after it was available, and with the opening scene, my jaw dropped to the floor and remained there. I’ve watched the film numerous times since in its various versions.
So I went to see the Villeneuve version with some expectations. They were, I’m afraid, largely disappointed. Curiously, very little of the film has actually remained with me a month later. I can remember individual scenes but the main impression I have now is of noise, lots of things happening on screen and some spectacular but forgettable visual moments. By contrast, forty years after first seeing it, there are scenes from the Lynch version etched in my memory forever. Likewise, I can remember huge chunks from the books, the later ones of which I haven’t read for decades. It was the same, by the way, with Villeneuve’s Blade Runner: it seems curiously insubstantial after the Ridley Scott version, and a few years later I have only vague memories of the film.
The first problem, I think, is the tone. What Lynch’s film captured very well was the murderous, Italian Renaissance-style atmosphere of the book, with its plots and betrayals, its luxury and decadence and its grand guignol violence and cruelty. Villeneuve tries to replicate this, but it’s not convincing. You need someone as weird as Lynch, it seems to me, to show as weird an atmosphere as that. Also, for all the CGI, he doesn’t handle the battles and fights very well: it’s often hard to see what’s going on, or who is who.
Secondly, (and picking up PK’s point about the length of screenplays) there were a lot of puzzling omissions and a number of puzzling additions. Lynch, correctly, used a lot of Herbert’s dialogue, including the interior monologues (themselves an effective device where people often couldn’t speak openly). Villeneuve largely abandons Herbert’s dialogue for reasons I can’t understand.
Thirdly, and perhaps inescapably, Villeneuve does violence to the plot in several places, in order to produce a film which is not only Part 1, but also a film sufficiently self-contained to be marketed as a film.
And finally, I wasn’t convinced by the overall conceptual structure of the film. It’s not only greatly simplified from the books, but it also misses what was Herbert’s main point. Far from being an anti-colonial tract, the book is a terrible warning against the dangers of religious fanaticism linked to military prowess and messianic leadership. The real colonialists in the story (as in the Islamic history which Herbert used as a template) are the Fremen themselves. At the end of Dune, far from defeating the Empire, Paul marries the Emperor’s daughter and effectively takes it over; But in these days of decolonialising everything, I suppose it’s too much to ask for critics to realise that.
Didn’t see the movie, so can’t comment on that. But to me, the Dune is about human history, how it’s cyclic but how often the major change comes from those perceived to be weak.
Although yes, it does talk about dangers of fanaticism, messianism (“Paul realised he lost a friend, and gained a follower” is one of the strong parts for me), and impossibility to control the revolutionary forces once unleashed.
Interesting comment. I’d say Villeneuve is a Humanist with a capital H and may indeed be an awkward fit with grand guignol–Lynch’s meat and potatoes even if many thought he was messing with them.. But I still want to see this movie because Villeneuve is a visual genius. Movies don’t have to be perfect–few of them are–to be entertaining.
Plenty of visual auteur-ing going on in the movie, and he did try his best to keep Frank’s chracters’ words as it was written. The brevity of the medium cut out too much of the context though.
And it was clear Villeneuve avoided voiceovers for internal monologues… to each generation their storytelling quirks.
Like others here, I’ve read the Dune books several times each. Also saw the movie with Kyle MacLachian, which I found disappointing.
Notes about this one:
1 – if you use the part of your brain that attempts to make sense of things, watching interstellar travelers make war on each other with swords in their hands (instead of blowing each other out of the sky) looks really dumb. Yes, it was in the book. But why is Duncan Idaho slashing at people with swords? Put 25 guys from the Chicago mafia in the script — with tommy guns — and the war ends in 5 minutes. Solution: Don’t think about it!!!
Similar: The Mel Gibson movie “Signs” — in which aliens travel across the galaxy, but when they get here they have no weapons (???) AND are susceptible to attack by glasses of water. When we watched that one, my wife’s comment was — they traveled to Earth from another planet and didn’t know we had a lot of water here? Well, yes. If you can’t suspend disbelief, you’ll have a lot of trouble watching almost any movie!
2 – I get HBO Max. I will carry no water for HBO, but in answer to someone else’s post here — yes, it’s on there; an e-mail I got from Max says it will remain until mid-November.
3 – As the movie ended, my feelings were — lots better than the first film; but — too effing long!!!; and — I can’t believe they took 150 minutes of my time and got thru so little of the story.
re 1- the books actually have a reason for this, which is personal shields. Personal shields stop movements of any particle faster than something (in the books, they say that even a too fast sword strike won’t get through the shield). The shields are dangerous though, as lasgun + shield = instant atomic equivalent explosion on both ends (smart this, as solves the problem “well, who cares the enemy blows up in an atomic explosion?”.
Of course, how such a shield could work energetically, and not be depleted by a hail of bullets in short time, is a different story, or why not use smart drones with las-guns (who cares if a drone explodes) etc. etc.
But as usual it’s one of those turtles all the way down things. So suspension of disbelief is your friend.
the Seeker is a smart drone.
it’s a drone, it needs an operator who’s reasonably close by.
Now remembering some more, the main reason for not doing “shield, meet lasgun drone” is that the explosion is impossible to tell from using atomics, and use of atomics against humans automatically makes the house as renegade house, allowing anyone to kill it w/o any repercussions.
Agreed on swords; reminded of the show firefly, which tried to merge sci Fi and western. So you got dudes in dusters flying spaceships to do cattle deals and are armed with revolvers. What.
They of course make a thing of the slow balde piercing the shield when they introduce shield tech in Gurney training scene, but when the harkonnen and sarduakar show up, there seems to be zero perceptible velocity difference between a fast strike (helpfully colored blue) and slow penetrating strike (red). Just regular fight sequences with color coding; half ass IMO.
I can think of loads of potboiler novels made into much better films including Robert Aldrich’s amazing adaptation of ‘Kiss me Deadly’, ‘The Door in the Floor’ which makes an excellent film from a novel by John Irving, (a writer I can’t stand), various Steven King adaptations and Robert Altman’s ‘The long goodbye’ which turned a pretty decent novel into something special
Watched in a sold out theater in Pittsburg on Saturday (no masks). Daughter liked very much I was disappointed. The sound you felt more than heard. The characters were thin and flat, and deviated from book. Like the “environmentalist” who was a black women. Nothing against black women, but that’s not how Herbert wrote the character.
Both my daughter and I read the books, I encouraged her to watch the mini-series which I think stayed closer to the text. Every ten years or so someone tries to make a big movie of Dune. The video graphics and sound always improve and the text seems to always suffer.
It’s an epic Bible movie. Much foreshadowing, always with a Qu’ran vibe. Lynch gave us a more eldritch Dune, this is more religious.
Confessions of a non-reader of “Dune” follow (I retrieved a yellowing paperback copy from our bookshelves about a year ago, mostly based on Lambert’s use of quotes, but was unable to get past the beginning chapters. Something lacking in my education or brain chemistry.)
But, we watched the film on Friday night (with pizza and beer) while visiting our daughter, who subscribes to HBO-max and owns a ginormous TV screen.
I wanted to fast-forward through the beginning; too many flashback to Star Wars (and fascist states) and ilk, hulking space ships, ranks of heavily-armoured soldiers, brutalist architecture, guys marching around looking important. Why are there no cozy spaces in these epics? Or soft beds and couches one can sink into?
And, the similarities to the US occupation of various desert-heavy Middle-Eastern nations possessing mouth-watering natural resources, was pretty blatant.
Our daughter found the music distracting, and I could hear (ok, old ears and what with the hearing-aid monopoly and Medicare not covering them anyway) only about one-third of the dialog, much of which disappeared into the music.
What kept me watching was the sheer visual beauty on-screen. Of the landscapes and the people and the costumes. Although why they wore those lovely earth-toned fluttery robes over the life preserving desert suits is a matter for greater minds than mine.
Paul is beautiful …. until he opens his mouth. His father the Duke is magnificent (what a body!), and I kept thinking of the curly-bearded heroes of Assyrian bas-reliefs. Both my daughter and I agreed that Jessica was the best. And were intrigued by how her face became more and more subtley freckled as she trekked through the desert. The emergency kit did not include SPF-100 sunscreen?
We were simultaneously annoyed by all the scenes of choreographed fights, while wondering why, in an advanced civilization that had mastered inter-stellar travel, everyone insisted on using knives and swords.
Just when it was starting to get interesting, the film ended. A teaser?
So, to summarize, don’t watch this on your laptop or if you, like my spouse and me, own an apparently immortal cathode ray tube embedded in a sturdy wood cabinet. But, if you want to have pizza and beer, or popcorn, and an amusing weekend-night experience watching a visually-stunning film, (which will probably not change your life or prompt any soul-searching debates), the “Dune” is for you.
Lore explanation: Bene Gesserit can control their internal body chemistry.
Probable real explanation: They recorded the desert scenes last and the actress probably freckles.
“Why are there no cozy spaces in these epics?”
One thing I have noticed when visiting homes of very well-to-do people — many of them don’t seem to do “cozy”. Big rooms for big egos, or something.
Loose gauzy robes to block direct sun from stillsuits?
Definitely useful for depicting strong desert winds.
As for Star Wars… Lucas got to film first.
Luke could do no wrong. Paul could and did.
On reviewers who do not know the source material:
One of my favorite examples of review failure was in the reviews of a Broadway production of Frankenstein in the 80’s. It was universally hated by critics. (I actually enjoyed it, but then I often differ from the main). They ranted and raved about the effects, the acting and most particularly the plot and how it wasn’t Frankenstein. Which was howlingly funny because that play was a far more accurate adaptation of the Shelly book than what they referenced. It was very clear that the only Frankenstein they knew was the Karloff movie.
Which was also very sad, and possibly why they didn’t get that the play was not that bad but actually pretty good. Much as I love the Karloff film, it simplifies the material, while this production attempted to get at some of the more difficult ideas that Shelly explores so brilliantly.
My personal review:
I watched it on HBOMax and now feel I owe it to Villenueve to buy a ticket. Maybe I’ll see it Wednesday afternoon.
Also, did anyone catch the Orange Catholic Bible?
I liked the spider, but I kind of hope its not a Chekov’s gun and is just world building. One critique is the sterility of buildings in Arrakis, but they just moved in.
There is already a brief clip online showing this spider that Lambert was talking about-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnEaG798GYs (13 secs)
Come to think of it, the guy said that it was OK to have the spider with them as it did not understand her language. But if that was true, why did it leave when she said ‘Get out!’
Was available – looks like they took it down for copyright violations, dammit! Somehow I missed the spider when I saw the movie in the theater over the weekend. Guess I’ll have to wait until I can buy a DVD if those haven’t been deemed obsolete…
Voice works regardless of lingual comprehension?
Emotive control rather than conscious brain instruction processing?
The spider like thing was a bone tossed at fans. It’s a reference to a Chairdog, one of the bioengineered products in the Dune universe.
Yes there is no reason whatsoever to have it in the scene, since they don’t show up until Heretics of Dune.
I watched the movie twice this weekend.. some of the cuts from the novel are probably done, just not included in the film. The conflict between Thufir and Jessica and the dinner scene are some of the omissions. Heck there are scenes in the trailers that were cut from the release. It feels like Villeneuve made a choice to focus more on Paul and Jessica’s exodus more than the buildup to the attack.. the time between when Leto lands at Arrakeen and the Harkonnens attack us very short.
Of course, the reason they don’t show up until Heretics is that they weren’t originally in the Dune universe but in the ConSentiency universe, which Herbert didn’t start until five years post-Dune. I think my favourite of those coinages must be ‘bedog’.
My guess at spider – Villeneuve is going to collapse houses Ordos and Harkonnen to simplify the “villains” in the movies. Ordos being the house most associated with biohacking.
The complete lack of explanation of the house rivalry and reason the emperor set up Leto backs up this guess.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul ends up being sort of the good guy regardless of the books, just to meet movie expectations.
I don’t know how you make a character that saw the jihad and blood on his hands in visions, openly complained about the rails that his life has been set on by the Bene Gesserit, and *still* clearly chooses this route to take, a hero. Villeneuve might be going for a whole trapped by prescience route, or he might be going for “This is what Paul really wants”.
Because the alternative of not having the Atreides Jihad was death of humanity across the stars.
Or at least that was what I understood about Paul’s dilemma.
Ordos? Only became famous because Dune 2 the RTS needed a third prong to make the game a game. Not that that failed the game in anyway. Game spawned an entire genre.
To paraphrase an aphorism of NN Taleb, a book that can be captured in a summary isn’t worth reading. I re-read Dune every year or two. This and Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun remain personal favorites.
I really like yet am also bothered by Wolfe. His descriptions of physical space are disorienting, pretty much all the time. My goofiest dreams are much more grounded than his settings. I am sure he is doing that deliberately but I find it distracting.
Speaking of ignorant critics, it just struck me that, by the time of Dune Messiah, Paul recognises himself to be a genocidal mass murderer on a scale never seen in the whole of human history. (As I recall, he even has a premonition of this in the first novel). Given that Paul’s empire-building is explicitly called a jihad, and that the whole story is cribbed Ibn Khaldun anyway, then either he cops out at the end as Lynch (or the studio probably) did and makes the end peaceful, or he risks being cancelled for islamophobia or something. Things would be easier if the Fremen were white, but then they wouldn’t be the good guys. I wonder if Villeneuve has thought of that …..
you are right that there are premonitions of this in the Dune already, with Paul seeing armies of Fremen flying Atreides flag (which is green and black.. hint hint? Albeit it has the red hawk on it often too) and carrying the shrine of his father’s skull conquering worlds. He tries hard to avoid that future, but… as we see with Messiah, he fails miserably (IIRC, it’s already hinted in Dune he fails and he accepts it at the end).
Maybe it’s better the critics are ignorant this time around.
He starts getting premonitions of that on the first page. (This is not too surprising, given that the first three books, or at least the first two and the first 50% or so of the third, were conceived as a whole and just written in three parts.)
Lambert and Yves, I hope this becomes a regular NC feature. I have enjoyed it immensely. I have not read the book nor seen any visual adaptation, so will make no further comment. Thanks for a great read!
Midnight Cowboy is better as a movie than book, at least i think so. I had to search out a copy after seeing the movie because the book was out of print at the time.
Also, while i like the book, “Fried Green Tomatoes” is better as a film as are both Jaws and The Godfather.
“Peter Jackson’s New Zealand + glittery CGI”
Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies are a premier example of how CGI should be used though. The CGI was used to add to and enhance extensive practical effects (especially what is probably the last great hurrah of film miniatures). Compare them to the contemporaneous Star Wars prequels to see actual overuse of CGI (especially Episodes II and III, which are notorious for how much was pure green screen).
Jackson himself would inexplicably give in to the siren song of pure CGI with his Hobbit movies, which very conspicuously look different (worse) than the older LOTR entries.
If memory serves from the announced trilogy, LOTR was a monumental risk to Jackson and his band of misfits and also to the actors involved. Launching the trilogy in back-back-back sequence was a rare accomplishment to actually make decent bank at the box office and also receive reasonable to strong acceptance from critics. No streaming services were in place back then either, so word of mouth still meant a good bit to the non-Tolkien fan potential.
I always enjoy Two Towers so much more than Return of the King.
On the topic of better book or better movie, my rule of thumb is: if I read the book first, the movie disappoints. If I saw the movie and then read the book, the movie usually comes out ok to good because it enriches my experience.
As an example of reading the book first, with Allende’s The House of Spirits I got so annoyed that a generation had been cut out of the movie that I walked out.
The exception is Eco’s The Name of the Rose, where I thought the movie was stunning.
With LOTR it’s a mix: I watched the trilogy before reading the book and then re-watched the director’s cut. I find the film unusually faithful to the books except Legolas’ surf stunts and the tacky ending.
Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been a hoot, yet its attempt filtered out into so many other films.
The Shining is IMO vastly superior to the book – read Dune about 45 years ago & I think I struggled to get through all of them & wasn’t all that taken with the Lynch film. I like Villeneuve & recently watched the excellent Incendies which not in a nice way stuck with me for about a week.
Thanks for the excellent appraisal Lambert & I will give it a go but at home wearing headphones, while she watches something else in the room next door.
I guess it would be much easier to compile a list of films that did the original book a disservice – after many years I’m still horrified at what was done to one of my favourite novels – John Fowles’ The Magus.
M.A.S.H. was a much better movie than the book for me. The book read rather like an essay while the movie had impact.
I read the first Dune a few times years ago and enjoyed it, but didn’t care for the sequels.
If I can figure how to get it, will be interesting to see if my projector/sound system can do it justice.
Just came back from IMAX viewing in 20% filled theater (yay!) The sound-track is intrusive, loud, and instantly forgettable (unusual for a Zimmer score), as is most of the dialog. At least the soundtrack only obliterated one dialog exchange in this film. The desert scenery is superb but usually not immersive. They are walking on sand, not through a desert. Things blowd up real good. Motivations are often missing or conveyed clumsily. Acting by the Paul and Jessica characters is good, the others are barely there including Leto. (I was actually reflecting fondly on the weirdness of the Lynch version and Jurgen Prochnow’s superb Leto.) I hope Part 2 appears, but doubt that after viewing that one once I’ll revisit both or own it. I doubt that they’ll catch the genocide and ecocide that Paul unleashes.
I’m not going too far afield, but not only is Arrival arguably at least as good as its fascinating source short story (Ted Chiang’s “The Story of Your Life”), but it’s the one movie I think people should definitely see before they read the story. The movie is shaped to have a big reveal/twist, and in the short story that’s just part of the setup. No twist. So for full effect and no real spoilers, see the movie first.
RE Dune, to me it is in a class with only Avatar as worth seeing for the visuals alone. The rest is gravy. (And yes, those stark stone palaces seem kind of silly for human habitation – but still, gorgeous.)
The Critical Drinker has dropped a video on his take of ‘Dune’ and it is generally favourable-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2cAnvB9Ovg (10:07 mins) – swearing alert!