New Dune movie captures world of original novel with magnificent casting and cinematography

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Promotional material courtesy of IGN.

Dune was released on October 22, 2021, with Timothée Chalamet starring as the protagonist, Paul Atreides.

By Mia DeNunzio, Archie Williams High School

Dune, released Oct. 22, 2021, adapts Frank Herbert’s bestselling science fiction novel into a film with fantastic cinematography and dazzling actor performances. Denis Villeneuve is the second director to create an adaptation of the novel, David Lynch being the first in 1984, and Denis succeeded in both pleasing seasoned fans and welcoming those unfamiliar with the story.

Dune centers around Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), who govern the fictional planet of Caladan. By orders of the Emperor, they leave Caladan to rule the desert planet of Arrakis, which is populated by the Fremen tribe and contains melange, often called “spice,” the most valuable resource known to the universe due to its vitality to interstellar travel (it can increase lifespan and awareness). However, harvesting melange raises the attention of gargantuan sandworms, who inhabit Arrakis.

One obstacle the movie faces as an adaptation is making itself accessible to those who haven’t read the book, while also engaging those who have. Though the Dune movie easily conveys the plot to those who have already experienced the story through the book, it can be confusing to people who do not already know the plot.
However, if one manages to focus on enjoying the film rather than picking up every bit of information, this is not as much of an issue. The movie doesn’t cover the entire first book of the Dune series, but that made the pacing more enjoyable than the book. Overall, it includes the main elements of the original plot.

During the process of adapting Dune, the director made the conscious decision to diversify the cast and writing. One choice was changing Dr. Liet-Kynes’s (Sharon Duncan) gender, from a man to a woman. Though this change led to more female casting than in the book, which mostly featured male characters, the essence of the character didn’t change at all. 

This ended up as a waste of an opportunity to explore another woman’s perspective. In fact, the movie focused less on her than the book did. Though the character’s gender does not need to be a crucial part of the role, the movie could have highlighted the change to make it more meaningful.

In the book, the malicious character of Baron Vladmir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), the ruler of House Harkonnen and enemy of Duke Leto, perpetuates the harmful and mistruthful idea that gay men are predatory by making his sexuality a main reason for why he is evil. The movie fortunately discards that entire part of the story, but it made it seem that the Baron was an unnecessary character, because of his lack of contribution to the plot. Most of the time, he didn’t seem to serve any purpose whatsoever, and cutting him out entirely would have improved Dune.

Some aspects of the casting, however, fantastically transfer the characters from book to film, especially with Rebecca Ferguson’s performance as Lady Jessica. She captures the role flawlessly with both the stoicity and violent emotions it requires. By casting other well-known actors, including Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, and Jason Momoa, the producers were able to publicize the movie well. One issue with the movie, however, is that it didn’t include Zendaya as much as audiences and fans expected it to. Though her character appeared on screen as much as she needed to, Dune’s advertising made it appear as though she would be included more than she truly was. Even the trailer was misleading.

Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) stand with two members of the Fremen tribe: Chani (Zendaya) and Stilgar (Javier Bardem). Courtesy of Movieweb.

Throughout the movie, the cinematography is dazzling, capturing breathtaking desert scenery in a way that the book lacks descriptions of. Caladan’s landscapes, shot on the coast of Norway, provide a stark contrast to the open desert of Arrakis, which was filmed in Wadi. Viewing this in theatres is an experience in and of itself.

Finally, the costumes are creative and strengthen the worldbuilding. The stillsuits, which protect the characters in the harsh climate of Arrakis, are realistic and well-designed. The attire of members of House Atreides is elegant, perfectly fitting their characters.

Overall, Dune serves the book well with both memorable cinematography and performances from actors, carving out a space for itself as one of the top science fiction movies of 2021. I rate Dune 4.5/5 stars. 

This story was originally published on The Pitch on November 8, 2021.