Frank Herbert’s novel Dune is one of my all-time favourites, and when I found out that there was a (supposedly terrible) movie, I had to watch it.
Dune is a highly complex book filled with politics and intrigue and permeated with secrets, particularly regarding “the spice” (read: ultimate—yet poorly understood—space drugs). The movie tells us half of those secrets—along with the ultimate purpose of the spice—in the first five minutes, stripping the movie of a lot of the mystery that made the book such a compelling read, and setting the tone for the next hour and a bit of heavy-handed storytelling. I can see what David Lynch was trying to do, but for fans of the book, the movie falls incredibly short of expectations.
One of the best features of the book, in my opinion, was the characters. Each character is fully realized, complete with inner thoughts and life, which Herbert juggles artfully so that it never feels like one person is blending into one another. The movie compensates for this by using voice over—often quoting lines verbatim—to give the same sort of insight, and fails miserably. As a viewer, I felt pandered to and a little insulted.
In the book, secondary characters such as Duncan Idaho, Feyd Rautha and the Shadout Mapes still feel rounded and complex because we see them multiple times with multiple people and get a sense for different relationships. For the sake of the movie’s plot, there were a lot of scenes cut and so these characters were reduced to little more than cameos for the sake of the plot, to the point where I felt like they didn’t even need to name Duncan in the movie.
This stripping down for the sake of the plot presents other problems as well. There are numerous themes that run throughout the novel—the importance of water, destiny, vengeance, etc.—that work to drive the action and provide motivation for the characters. The themes drive the book, but it feels like action drives the movie. Each theme gets mentioned but is never fully realized, which takes a lot of power away from the story, and a lot of motivation from many of the characters.
Because of this, there was something about this bare-bones version of Dune that felt to me more like a glorified revenge plot, since Paul’s driving motivation seemed to be to avenge the death of his father at the hands of the Harkonnens instead of the various motivations given to him by the themes of water, destiny, and love.
The simplification of the story was my biggest problem with the movie, because the book was never about the action; it was about the ideas and the motivations behind that action. I feel like the movie failed because it focused on the least important aspect of the book—the plot—making for an ultimately clumsy and shallow adaptation.
That said, the opportunity to see Sir Patrick Stewart with a mullet makes up for it just a little.