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Dune ★ ★ ★

Updated below

Though it’s two and a half hours long, this is a bare bones, abbreviated Dune. Much of what makes the book such a classic had to be left out — for example, the politics, including the intricate political scheming of the Bene Gesserit witches and the wickedness of House Harkonnen. The dialogue, though good, is remarkably spare. There is character development for only two of the characters — Paul Atreides and his mother, Jessica. Those who have read the book will be able to fill in the gaps. Those who haven’t read the book will become acquainted with only two parts of the Dune story — the character Paul Atreides, and the planet Arrakis.

Thus the camera is often in Timothée Chalamet’s face, and he is a good enough actor to handle it. The deserts of Arrakis are lavishly presented as a vast sea of deep sand, sand which, when roiled by the giant worms, rolls up in massive waves and crashes against skelligs of rock like a stormy North Atlantic against the western coasts of Ireland and Scotland.

Though there is just enough narration at the beginning of the film to set up the plot for those who haven’t read the book, the film never tries to explain anything, leaving time to focus on: Paul Atreides and the planet Arrakis. That probably was smart. It would take many hours of cinema time to tell the full story. And since that could not be done in two and a half hours, why not do the key parts of the story well. The film ends, by the way, before the book does. No doubt there will be a sequel.

My only complaint about this version of Dune is that, once again, when the film industry gives us the science fiction and fantasy blockbusters that so many of us crave, it’s stories that we already know. Part of the awesomeness of Star Wars was that it was a new story, with new faces and new characters like Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. Dune gives us an old story and the stars du jour — Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Mamoa. Must they be in everything? The faces of familiar actors inevitably evoke memories of their recent roles, creating friction for suspension of disbelief and immersion in the story.

Dune is in theaters and can be streamed on HBO Max.


The Washington Post here touches on my complaint about the Hollywood star system and how the same faces keep appearing in different roles in quick succession. My complaints are two: First, that our ability to lose ourselves in a story is impaired by famous familiar faces that remind us of what we just saw them in. And, second, that re-employing popular actors again and again and again deprives us of seeing brilliant new actors of the sort that Game of Thrones introduced in droves.

The Washington Post story is here: Welcome to our future of omnipresent Timothée Chalamet. It’s not that I have anything against Timothée Chalamet, who is a brilliant young actor. It’s that I’d rather see Chalamet go do the stage for a while so that we can bring some new stars on line at the cinema.


  1. Malinda wrote:

    Hi David,

    I, too, noticed in ‘Dune’ that it seemed the veiled mysteries of the Bene Gesserit and the political intracacies were a bit purposely obscured or a tad rushed through, but like you pointed out, it’s to be expected in epics like this where some things will give way to fit the time allowed. Villeneuve called this ‘Part One’ so there will be a bookend hopefully much sooner than later (assuming it’s completed in two parts.)

    Just wanted to point out that for lots of people who’ve read the book and are part of the fandom I can see how it’s nostalgic more than a discovery, and that brings out a wish feeling for the sci fi kind of art-making of the creatively brand new (hopefully there will be some novelties to surprise us — but there’ll maybe never be another ‘Star Wars,’ though it seems like there’s many good unknowns already written that sit in the dark and deserve attention). — But for those like me who (maddeningly and embarrassingly) have not yet read the book, ‘Dune,’ (despite owning a copy for years, unforgivable) this Arrakis world of spice and sand and ‘the voice’ (what was that??) really is a totally new and startling encounter.

    I think since the book has existed since 1965, there’s going to be equally as many newcomers to the concept as there are devotees appreciating and returning to it, especially of the zoomer generation. That’s exciting. Timothée Chalamet is the perfect bridge to hook a new generation into this fandom, precisely for the reason that his past cutting edge work will bring cross-overs. He’s like an old soul in the voice of the youth’s best hopeful vision. So I think that’s lovely. It does seem perhaps that the same people dominate in the industry getting parts, shutting out other talent, but to be fair, this is really only Timothée Chalamet’s fourth lead role (or shared lead), and ‘Dune’ was supposed to come out two years ago. There was ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ ‘Beautiful Boy,’ ‘The King,’ and now ‘Dune.’ He reminds me of a young Daniel Day Lewis working extremely hard on choice material and with a depth of feeling and fearlessness few possess that are veterans; picking roles carefully and carrying the weight to show more than what the project might have been otherwise with some other less diligent actor. So yes, I think he’s earned it to carry and deliver ‘Dune.’ I can’t imagine anyone else doing a better job as Paul, as Timothée has an acute sensibility, which is innate. And without knowing the book character, Paul Atreides, the movie version offers someone who is believably rigorously tested to unspeakable limits. On a side note, I was pleasantly surprised at Jason Mamoa since it’s the first thing I’ve liked that he’s done since GoT. All of the actors were really on their game too — and my goodness, Charlotte Rampling was spine-chilling. I adore her and wanted to see more of her character, hopefully that comes to pass in Part Two.

    By the way, the effects and visuals were gorgeous; but the sounds and score by Hans Zimmer really caught me by the neck as stuff that felt new in the extreme, really genius. What did you think?

    I won’t be able to help reading the book before Part Two arrives, whenever it finally does, so I expect my experiences watching each part will be wholly different. I’ll be joining the ‘Dune’ sentimentalists by then, no longer an initiate in training.

    Monday, October 25, 2021 at 6:50 am | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Malinda: What thoughtful comments! Ken and I have often talked about how long series such as Game of Thrones have revealed the limitations of the one-off two-hour movie. Though the new Dune accomplishes a lot of visual world-building, so much is lost that only more scenes and more dialogue would be able to convey. I would be very curious to hear what you think of the book, given that you saw the movie first.

    Monday, October 25, 2021 at 8:15 am | Permalink
  3. Chenda wrote:

    I’ve twice tried to read Dune and never made it past the first few chapters. I think the author wrote in an unorthodox style ? Maybe I should give it another go.

    Monday, October 25, 2021 at 8:20 am | Permalink
  4. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Chenda: I wrote a post here a few years ago about Herbert’s dreadful writing, which makes me grit my teeth and want to fling the book. And yet, his tin-ear writing notwithstanding, Dune is one of the great classics of science fiction. Herbert’s style could be fixed by a good editor. What we need is a new edition of Dune that has actually been edited. You might try wincing through the narrative and focusing on Herbert’s dialogue. His dialogue is much better than his narrative. Someone should have told Herbert to write the way his characters talk.

    Monday, October 25, 2021 at 8:47 am | Permalink
  5. daltoni wrote:

    Monday, October 25, 2021 at 8:49 am | Permalink
  6. Chenda wrote:

    Ah yes, I see I commented on it 🙂

    Monday, October 25, 2021 at 10:41 am | Permalink
  7. Malinda wrote:

    Yes, precisely — the two hour movie as a limited framework started to get exposed back when Peter Jackson began LOTR. Then we saw GoT prove it when by Seasons 7 and 8 each episode became its own movie and the last season took that painful two years to complete. Seems like ‘Dune’ could only have benefitted from being split into three parts as well, but perhaps the money-people behind the financing don’t have that kind of artistic patience. (Or Villeneuve saw it as twin films, who knows how that got decided.) It’s really too bad for what might have been in scope, and it’s cheated the masterpiece.

    I had a good snicker with your post ‘the sin of asyndeton.’ Without having read even a single page of ‘Dune’ yet, I appreciate your examples to get a more visceral feel of what you were conveying. Going off of Herbert’s style choice and resonance, I feel already I might have an opposing experience with it than you did — simply because as one coming from a poetry writing background — asyndeton is something poets thrive on. I find in poetry that it’s the opposite complaint. If I read a poem and there’s an overuse of stray words like too many cluttering conjunctions, I want to throw that poem at a wall. But I can see how someone highly attuned to good prose and its flow in a story would find that kind of style grating, especially if it’s not what you’re inclined to. My first impression with the samples you gave are that it almost sounds like someone writing stage directions. But I happen to like it. It sort of punches out the images and clips them together like a slide show, giving them accents, giving them immediacy. (See, I’m highly guilty of if myself, lol.)

    I particularly like for ex:

    ‘Jessica’s hand went to Paul’s shoulder, tightened there.’

    Anyway, of course I haven’t yet attempted to read the whole thing in that mode so I’m also curious if now that you’ve pointed it out, will I still like the style overall? Maybe Herbert should have used asyndeton sparingly to achieve the greater punch. But to be honest sometimes I like an unconventional style choice, mixes things up a bit. Also makes the writer stand out. Some complain Hemingway used altogether too many conjunctions ad nauseum and worse, leaned on them too much. It gave him great style though. 🙂 I’ve heard it said somewhere that those critics were probably just miffed they hadn’t thought of it first.

    Monday, October 25, 2021 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

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