By Gavin Smith
Dir. Denis Villeneuve, U.S., Warner Bros.
Solemnity. That’s what’s most striking about every iteration of Dune—the epic 1965 science-fiction novel, David Lynch’s 1984 film, the 265-minute miniseries aired in 2000, and now Part I of Denis Villeneuve’s two-part endeavor, by far the most successful and most uncompromisingly dead-serious (or if you dislike it, self-serious) adaptation of Frank Herbert’s opus.
We’re in an age when genre films are reluctant to take themselves too seriously. What was the last Marvel film or horror movie or action thriller you saw that didn’t reflexively undercut itself with knowing comic asides and quips? There’s even a touch of deadpan comedy in the super-serious 2001: A Space Odyssey. Think of HAL attempting to talk astronaut Bowman out of pulling his plug; it plays like a breakup scene. There are no (intentional) laughs in Villeneuve’s Dune (Oscar Isaac’s unfortunate delivery of the words “desert power” invites invidious comparisons with that of his miniseries counterpart William Hurt). But there’s excitement aplenty and staggering visual invention in this movie. It is, as they used to say, action-packed.
The challenge facing any critical exegesis of this or any other adaptation of Dune is that Herbert’s world-building novel (elaborated upon in five sequels) drops you into a fictional universe so fully imagined that the uninitiated cannot help but be daunted. The 884-page paperback edition even features a 31-page glossary of terminology, four explanatory appendixes, and a map, for god’s sake. So here’s a Bluffer’s Guide to everything pertinent to the world of Dune.
The action is set in the year 10191, i.e., roughly eight centuries from now. Humanity has colonized the galaxy, but its social and political structure is now a hybrid of medieval feudalism and Victorian imperialism. A balance of power exists between the “Landsraad,” a federation of competing noble families and an Emperor (unseen in Part I of Villeneuve’s film) who grants planetary fiefdoms. Hatching a Machiavellian stratagem, he decrees that the rapacious and corrupt House Harkonnen cede its 80-year governance of the planet Arrakis, aka Dune, to its rival, the humane and honor-bound House Atreides. He correctly anticipates that this will reignite a centuries-old vendetta and precipitate the fall of the Atreides dynasty, and that is Dune’s mainspring.
Though a virtually barren world whose surface is composed almost entirely of sand, Dune (“the third planet of Canopus,” the glossary helpfully notes) is not just any old sand planet—it’s the galaxy’s sole source of “melange,” or spice, “the most valuable substance in the universe.” Produced by leviathan sandworms and perilously harvested by mining rigs, melange, when ingested, has a mind-expanding effect and endows the suitably trained with the power of precognition.
The multidimensional awareness melange furnishes is vital to the “Spacing Guild” for the provision of interstellar travel and to the Bene Gesserit, “an ancient school of mental and physical training established primarily for female students” per the glossary. A mystical religious order, this sisterhood uses melange to amplify its “weirding ways,” which make possible almost superhuman powers of prescience, sharpened perception, mind control, and unique fighting skills. Like the Vatican in the Middle Ages, the Bene Gesserit exerts a strong influence over the Emperor and the noble houses. (For completists, HBOMax will be putting out the 10-episode Dune: The Sisterhood in 2022.)
Happily, you don’t need to know any of this to be able to follow the film because as the action unfolds, Villeneuve, unconstrained by running time (unlike Lynch), lets you know what you need to know when you need to know it. His more measured approach spares him having to resort to voiceovers or expositional dialogue to deliver chunks of information, a problem that burdened Lynch and the miniseries’ writer-director John Harrison.
The first shot of Dune is, of course, an image of the sands of Arrakis. Immediately, in one of several departures from the novel, Villeneuve introduces the planet’s indigenous people, the Fremen, as they launch a guerilla attack on a spice-mining rig operated by their brutal oppressors, the soon-to-be-former occupying army of the Harkonnens. It’s shrewd to open with the Bedouin-like Fremens, since they don’t play a significant part in the action until near the end of Part I. It also makes clear upfront that among other things, this is a story of colonizers and the colonized, and of resistance, insurgency, and revolution.
Dune is the positively cosmic coming-of-age story of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), son to the Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson)—a member of the Bene Gesserit, appointed as concubine to the Duke. We learn that Jessica has displeased the sisterhood by giving the Duke a son and heir. This creates an unwelcome complication in their secret, millennia-spanning project to intermix the bloodlines of the noble families through arranged marriages in order to eventually produce a “Kwisatz Haderach,” i.e., a male Bene Gesserit, described in the film as “a man powerful enough to bridge time and space, past and present.” And so, as relocation to Arrakis looms, Bene Gesserit high priestess Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) puts Paul to the first of many tests he will face over the course of Dune. By successfully withstanding a life-or-death pain-inflicting device, Paul demonstrates not only that he has inherited his mother’s powers of mental discipline but also may in fact become the Kwisatz Haderach the sisterhood are seeking to engineer. He is already experiencing prescient dreams of what lies ahead on Arrakis, which Villeneuve presents in fleeting flash-forward glimpses. Under his mother’s tutelage (and Dune is something of a mother-son story) he has almost mastered the powers of the Bene Gesserit, which complement his intensive training to become a warrior, the responsibility of his father’s trusted lieutenants, the stern, seasoned Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and the dashing Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa). In another of Herbert’s counterintuitive anachronisms, warfare in 10191 is a matter of swords and knives, and poison is also a favored instrument: both evoke the Roman and Renaissance periods.
What follows, once House Atreides arrives on Arrakis and the Duke sets about implementing his kinder, gentler approach to colonial occupation? A swift cascade of insider betrayal, an overwhelming sneak attack, and the decapitation and destruction of House Atreides at the hands of the Harkonnen forces—with a little help from the Emperor’s mighty Sardaukar warriors. It’s at this point that we’re properly introduced to the Atreides’ sworn enemy, the malevolent Baron Vladimir Harkonnen—played by Stellan Skarsgård as if he’s Apocalypse Now’s Colonel Kurtz and coming in a distant second to Kenneth McMillan’s obese, pustule-encrusted degenerate in Lynch’s version. And as the Baron’s brutal nephew, Glossu “The Beast” Rabban, ex-professional wrestler Dave Bautista looks fit for purpose. (It will be interesting to see who Villeneuve will bring on in Part II to play the Baron’s other, even more sadistic nephew, Feyd-Rautha—it shouldn’t be too hard to top Lynch’s choice of Sting.)
As the action shifts to the desert, Paul and Jessica endure a series of narrow escapes; in one of the film’s highlights, we get a demonstration of how handy sign language and Jessica’s mind-controlling Voice can be when the chips are down. And Villeneuve gets more mileage out of Idaho, who barely registers before he’s perfunctorily killed off in the previous adaptations. In another departure from the novel, the film early on establishes the close bond between Paul and Idaho in a scene in which the latter is preparing to leave for Arrakis as an advance man tasked withcontacting the Fremen. When Paul tells him of a prescient dream of his death, the swashbuckler brushes him off: “Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when you’re awake.” He obviously didn’t get the memo in the film’s epigraph, “Dreams are messages from the deep.” Part I’s MVP, Momoa delivers a winning, vigorously physical performance and steals the second half of the movie.
At the end of Part I Dune circles back to the Fremen, who give mother and son sanctuary in their “sietch” or cave warren. Here Paul finally meets Chani (Zendaya), the girl he’s seen in his dreams, and his destiny finally intersects with his prescient visions. This is the point in Herbert’s narrative that best accommodates an organic intermission. Part II will play out in the rugged world of the Fremen as Paul and his mother adapt to their water-centric customs and Paul’s rise to power begins.
Frank Herbert began life as a newspaper man, and he was still a journalist when his first science-fiction novel, The Dragon and the Sea was published in 1956. Dune’s origins lie in research Herbert carried out in 1957 for an article about a Department of Agriculture project to stabilize the sand dunes of Oregon. From there Herbert developed an interest in environmental issues and desert cultures. Drawing upon the messianic overtones of T. E. Lawrence's role in instigating the 1916 Arab Revolt and the fact that three of the world’s main religions originated in the deserts of the Middle East, Herbert conceived a novel that would explore both mystical and ecological themes. Two other influences: Herbert had been introduced to Zen in the 1950s and Dune is somewhat informed by its teachings; he was also a mushroom cultivator, so it's no shock that his experiences with the psychedelic effects of psilocybin were also pivotal to the conception of melange.
Dune first appeared in 1963 as two separate novels that were serialized in Analog. Herbert eventually reworked and expanded them to form a single book. Published in 1965, it went on to win that year’s Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 1966 Hugo Award. It’s considered to be the all-time best-selling science fiction novel, published in multiple languages and with sales approaching $20 million. (Orwell’s 1984 likely has the edge on it, however.)
Part of the reason Dune became a worldwide cult, a must-read for 1960s and ’70s youth, was that its publication coincided with the nascent ecological movement. In fact, the novel’s emphasis on water as the basis of the Fremen’s culture seems newly relevant as the world anticipates a global water shortage. There are also obvious parallels between oil and spice as substances that come from the desert and upon which human civilization depends. And the nonjudgmental conceit of a powerful, naturally occurring narcotic that has mind-altering effects certainly aligned the novel with the era’s emerging drug culture.
Dune stands apart from such comparable novels as Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy (1951–53) and Arthur C. Clarke’s Imperial Earth (1976) due to Herbert’s conscious decision to pay as little attention as possible to the intricacies of future technology. Dune is often categorized as so-called soft science fiction, because it focuses on political maneuvering, the potentialities of multidimensional consciousness, and a singular religious mysticism that is seldom found in science fiction. All of this is contained within a framework of imperial decline, a colonial struggle for control of material resources, and revolutionary uprising, tellingly referred to in the novel as a “jihad.”
Herbert’s son described the novel as “a spiritual melting pot,” and the novel occasionally makes reference to the “Orange Catholic Bible,” which codifies a syncretic religion incorporating myriad belief systems from Islam to Christianity to Buddhism to Sufi mysticism. (The Fremen are described as adherents of “Zensunni.”) Other Islamic terms such as mahdi (“the rightly guided one,” a Messianic figure who will rid the world of evil and injustice) recur throughout. Time will tell if Villeneuve’s Paul turns out to be just another anticolonial freedom-fighter leader or a full-on religious mahdi, a more complicated proposition. While some link Paul to the hoary old Joseph Campbell “hero's journey” template, Herbert differed, stating that “the bottom line of the Dune trilogy is: beware of heroes.”
As an epic novel with a cult following, Dune is science fiction’s answer to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. But the “Duniverse” has continued to expand beyond Herbert’s death in 1986. His son Brian and Kevin J. Anderson, keepers of the sacred flame, continued to build out the Dune franchise, co-authoring some 20 prequels and sequels, some partially based on Herbert’s notes. The Dune Encyclopedia, published in 1984, featured essays by 43 contributors who extrapolated aspects of Dune lore not found in Herbert’s writings (the book lost its canonical status once Herbert and Anderson’s prequels and sequels diverged from a number of its entries). In a reductio ad absurdum, a novelization of Lynch’s Dune adaptation was published as a movie tie-in. At this point, Dune devotees might seem akin to Grateful Dead followers, keeping the faith even after Jerry Garcia’s death. (In a Venn diagram of Duneheads and Deadheads, there’s surely wide overlap.) However, aside from its fancy Wiki site, Dune lacks the fandom and fan service that has attached itself to Tolkien, Marvel, and Star Wars. Why? Perhaps because it’s just too trippy, too arcane, and less fun. No two ways about it, reading Dune is a slog.
Herbert’s novel and the films it inspired owe something to Lawrence of Arabia, in which a foreigner adopts the ways of a desert-dwelling people and then leads them on a military campaign. It owes even more to Henry V. As the star of David Michôd’s underrated The King, a Netflix film that came and went in 2019, Chalamet must have experienced more than a little déjà vu when he was offered Dune. In Michôd’s film, Chalamet plays untested Prince Hal, who must step up after the death of his father, King Henry IV, and leads an army to do battle in France. Emerging victorious, his leadership vindicated and sealed by his defeat of his main foe, The Dauphin, in a single-combat showdown, he claims the conquered King Charles VI’s daughter’s hand in marriage, ensuring that his dynasty will eventually rule France. (That’s basically Part II of Dune, glimpses of which can be found in the trailer for Part I.)
Hollywood quickly latched onto Dune. It was optioned in 1971 by Arthur P. Jacobs, producer of the Planet of the Apes franchise. Jacobs hoped to attach David Lean, but when that didn’t fly his next choices included Haskell Wexler and Charles Jarrott. Future Woody Allen and Mike Nichols producer Robert Greenhut, who had originally brought the novel to Jacobs’s attention, wrote a treatment and John Boorman collaborator and scenarist Rospo Pallenberg was hired as screenwriter, with shooting scheduled to begin in 1974. Jacobs dropped dead of a heart attack in 1973 and that was that. No future production of Dune would shoot on American soil (or sand). The production of the Lynch version was based in Mexico, the 2000 miniseries in the Czech Republic, and Villeneuve’s version was filmed in Norway, Jordan, Abu Dhabi, and Hungary.
In December 1974, the rights came into the hands of French producer Michel Seydoux (great-uncle of Léa Seydoux), who hired Chilean writer-director Alejandro Jodorowsky. In theory Jodorowsky was a logical choice: if the surreal mysticism of his “visionary” films El Topo and The Holy Mountain wasn’t enough to suggest his affinity for the material, remember that this is the man who would go on to become a proponent of shamanic “psychomagic,” a holistic healing treatment that expounded the power of the unconscious to understand the language of dreams.
Jodorowsky saw the film in decisively spiritual terms, and there was clearly more than a little magical thinking going on. He envisaged an 11-hour film in which his son, Brontis, would play Paul Atreides. The rest of the cast, partly I suspect in Jodorowsky’s dreams: Salvador Dalí, Amanda Lear, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, David Carradine as Duke Atreides, Geraldine Chaplin, Alain Delon as Duncan Idaho, Hervé Villechaize as Gurney Halleck, Udo Kier, and Mick Jagger. Pink Floyd would provide the score. The preproduction design team in Paris included the Heavy Metal (Metal hurlant) illustrator Jean Giraud (aka Moebius) and the soon-to-be-legendary Swiss artist H. R. Giger. Dan O’Bannon, future screenwriter of Alien and Lifeforce, headed the special effects department. It was bound to end in tears. With a budget of $9.5 million and the screenplay, designs, and storyboards all set, Seydoux was unable to sign up a U.S. financial partner and backed out. Herbert visited Jodorowsky and later recalled that his script “was the size of a phone book.” It’s said that O’Bannon checked himself into a psychiatric hospital for two years after the film fell apart. Frank Pavich’s 2013 documentary Jodorowsky's Dune tells you everything you need to know.
Enter Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis, who bought the rights from Seydoux in 1976 and induced Herbert to write a screenplay which, at 175 pages, would have meant an unacceptable three-hour running time. In 1979 De Laurentiis hired Ridley Scott—fresh off Alien—who enlisted cult novelist and screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer to have a go. Scott planned to divide the novel into two parts, worked on three drafts of the script, estimated a budget at of $50 million, but then abandoned ship, realizing that the project would take years to complete.
At this point it might have seemed that Dune was simply unfilmable. But by now the success of Star Wars had created a certain momentum. Ironic really, since George Lucas looted countless elements from Herbert’s novel over the years; Star Wars begins on a desert planet in a galaxy ruled by an tyrannical Empire; Luke Skywalker comes of age as he begins to harness the mental powers of the Force, goes into a massed battle against the Empire, and then discovers (like Paul) that he is a blood descendent of his mortal enemy; and just like the Bene Gesserit, the Jedi Order are endowed with mystical abilities, including the power of suggestion (“These aren't the droids you’re looking for”); and let’s not forget the reference to “the spice mines of Kessel” and Return of the Jedi’s sandworm-like Sarlacc… No wonder Villeneuve described his version of Dune as “Star Wars for adults.”
De Laurentiis was like a dog with a bone and, as an admirer of The Elephant Man, convinced David Lynch to sign on. Lynch threw himself into adapting the novel, and even envisaged a sequel, drafting an adaptation of Herbert’s1969 follow-up, Dune Messiah. (The outrageous mutant Guild Navigator, designed by Carlo Rambaldi, first turns up in the second book, but Lynch couldn’t resist building the film’s opening scene around it.) The 1984 version of Dune was shot at the Churubusco Studios in Mexico City on a budget of $45 million, with an obligation to bring the film in at around the two-hour mark. (In the end, it ran 136 minutes.) Contrary to legend, Lynch says he found De Laurentiis and his daughter Rafaella delightful to work with/for—after all, De Laurentiis bankrolled his next project, Blue Velvet. Lynch spoke of being attracted to what he saw as “the internal adventure, one with a lot of emotional and physical textures.”
When coldly measured against the novel, Lynch’s Dune inevitably falls short and the list of charges is long: the expositional introduction, delivered for some reason by the Emperor’s daughter and Paul’s future bride Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen), supplies more information than a Dune neophyte can reasonably take in (God help you if you came in late); the narrative is heavily abbreviated and often rushed, hurrying from one highlight to the next, leaving precious little time to register who anybody is or what everything means, let alone enjoy Lynch’s prodigious visual inventiveness; the evolution of Paul (Kyle MacLachlan) from youth to revolutionary leader is so compressed that it more than strains credulity, as is the seemingly instantaneous romantic bonding of Paul and Chani (a miscast Sean Young); the messianic dimension of Paul’s transformation is omitted completely, although in the film’s final scene MacLachlan acquires the requisite gravitas; Lynch’s direction of the battle scenes is weak, with ray-guns replacing swords and the Fremen now equipped with a “weirding module” weapon so that all they have to do is point it and shout “eee-sah!” for things to go boom (which I admit, is kind of cool); Paul’s mystical visions become rather embarrassing clichéd montages of drops of water, hands, faces, and what have you; the dialogue tends toward the ponderous, and many of the actors in the impressive Anglo-American cast are all but lost, especially Freddie Jones as the Duke’s Mentat (a human advisor with supreme powers of computation). Lynch also retains things he probably shouldn’t, like Gurney Halleck singing a ballad while strumming his nine-string “baliset,” one of the book’s lamest conceits and not a good warm up for Patrick Stewart, three years out from Star Trek: The Next Generation. And that ending where Paul causes the rain to fall at long last? Come off it. Finally, the music by—Toto? Seriously? J. Hoberman seemed to have nailed it, describing Lynch’s film as having “the feel of a seventh-grade science project run amok.”
All the same, despite Lynch’s misgivings about the final cut (“a fiasco… Dune took me off at the knees, or maybe a little higher”), his film can’t be dismissed. It counts for something that Herbert himself gave it his seal of approval. Lynch is notably faithful to the novel through the device of letting us eavesdrop on Paul’s thoughts with judicious use of voiceovers, which never become an expositional crutch. (Villeneuve doesn’t go there.) Working within the limitations of pre-digital special effects (i.e., blue-screen shots, scale models, and miniatures), the film has a look and a mood—and a strangeness—that feel basically right. Lynch’s predilection for industrial textures and sound is applied effectively to the Harkonnen clan’s scenes, and contrasts well with the gilded grandeur of the Emperor’s palace and the baroque, ornamental interiors of the Artreides home world and their Dune fortress. Lynch’s costume designs do Herbert’s fictional universe proud, so much so that Villeneuve retained the earlier Dune’s design for the Fremen water-recycling “stillsuits.” Moreover, many of Lynch’s cast members have the necessary conviction, particularly the aforementioned McMillan, José Ferrer as the Emperor, Brad Dourif (truly outlandish as the Mentat Peter De Vries), and, as the women of the Bene Gesserit, Francesca Annis as Jessica; Siân Phillips, channeling a little of her I, Claudius imperiousness as the Reverend Mother Mohiam; De Laurentiis’s stately wife Silvana Mangano, briefly, as the Fremen Reverend Mother Ramallo; and Alicia Witt as Paul’s eerie and precocious little sister.
There’s a Hollywood saying that the biggest tragedies in filmmaking happen in the cutting room. Lynch’s first assemblage (before special effects) was over four hours long, and what I’d give to see it. The 15 or so minutes of deleted footage available on the Dune DVD go some way towards addressing the final cut’s problems, and their elimination, whether by Lynch or De Laurentiis, was certainly to the film’s detriment.
When Universal sold Dune to television, they added material to pad the film for the convenience of the network schedulers—a common practice in the 1980s. The main additional scene concerns Paul’s killing of a Fremen warrior in an honor duel. But Universal unaccountably opted to launch the TV version with a ludicrous nine-minute prologue that begins with a zoom in to the cover of Herbert’s novel followed by a lazy random pan around deep space and then a montage of drawings illustrating a voiceover recounting of the superfluous historical backstory of the film we’re about to see. This is followed by a lengthy passage of scene-setting oddly interspersed with paintings of the film’s key characters. Lynch was appalled and took his name of this version. Hence there’s another Dune out there on DVD, written by Judas Booth and directed by Alan Smithee.
The next, surprisingly not-so sorry chapter in the dramatized-Dune saga came 16 years later. Richard P. Rubinstein, erstwhile George A. Romero producer, acquired the rights to the novel and came up with Frank Herbert’s Dune. This three-part, 260-minute miniseries for cable TV’s SciFi channel was written and directed by former Romero A.D. and Tales from the Darkside veteran John Harrison. The miniseries format is arguably the best way to go given the sheer scope of the novel, not to mention the fact that Herbert wrote Dune in three parts. This version is probably the most comprehensive—although it inexplicably omits one of the story’s high points, namely the escape from captivity of Paul (charisma-free Scottish actor Alec Newman) and Lady Jessica (a well-cast Saskia Reeves). Plus, for Dune connoisseurs, this is the only version that attempts to depict Jessica’s “weirding ways” in a scene in which she easily overcomes Stilgar (Uwe Ochsenknecht) at the Fremen “sietch.” Harrison employs a double exposure/blurred motion effect to convey her moves, with pleasing results. It’s curious that Villeneuve didn’t see fit to come up with a way to handle this.
Here, the future is standard issue: brightly lit and cleanly designed. The special effects are state of the art, albeit with lavish use of green screens, the costumes are without exception dire, and the direction is dutifully pedestrian. You’d never know that this Dune was shot by, of all people, Vittorio Storaro, who falls back on his usual heavy-handed color-coded lighting (saturated reds for the Harkonnen scenes, warm earth tones for the Atreides, blue for the blue-eyed Fremen).
Once again there’s an introduction by the Princess Irulan (Julie Cox), this time for each episode yet more succinct than the one in Lynch’s film, summarizing what we need to know as the camera slowly zooms in on the planet Arrakis; Harrison’s approach to disclosing relevant background information is to have characters spout ingenuous speculations or blunt statements. Princess Irulan’s prologue is followed by a rapid-cut, action-packed montage of images ending with the symbolic death of Duke Leto Atreides (William Hurt)—a prescient dream from which Paul Atreides awakes and which also serves as an encouraging trailer of things to come for the wary viewer.
While the series does stick to the structure of the novel and even offers, for example, a more extensive sense of the Freeman culture in the Atreides garrison town, it also introduces significant, though not particularly useful additions, most notably in creating larger roles for the Princess Irulan and the Emperor (Giancarlo Giannini), who only appear at the end of the novel. To his credit, Harrison doesn’t stint on Paul’s mystical revelations, but he throws everything he’s got into the Freeman’s storming of the Harkonnen/Imperial stronghold and his battle sequences are efficient enough (if overly prone to big explosions).
The one insurmountable problem is that, aside from Hurt and Reeves, the acting is mostly awful. Newman painfully misplays Paul as a sullen, peevish youth who resents the duties that are expected of him, and then settles into a blandly wooden register, a far cry from MacLachlan’s enthusiastic and spirited take and Chalamet’s more circumspect and boyishly engaging characterization. The main offender is Ian McNeice who gives a very, very obvious performance as the Baron.
The Dune miniseries was deemed a success and led to a sequel, Children of Dune, written by Harrison but directed by Greg Yaitanes, with Susan Sarandon and James McAvoy joining the existing cast. Rubinstein, meanwhile, continued to exploit the property and in 2009 partnered with Paramount on a new adaptation to be directed by Peter Berg. When Berg dropped out, Taken director Pierre Morel was next up. Eventually this project foundered, and Rubinstein sold the rights to the company producing the current version, Legendary Entertainment—although Rubinstein’s deal ensured he still has his name on the Villeneuve film’s credits.
“There was the sharpened clarity, the inflow of data, the cold precision of his awareness… Awareness flowed into that timeless stratum where he could view time, sensing the available paths, the winds of the future… the winds of the past: the one-eyed vision of the past, the one-eyed vision of the present, the one-eyed vision of the future—all combined in a trinocular vision that permitted him to see time-become-space.”
That’s Herbert’s description of the multidimensional awareness of Paul Atreides, aka “Maud’Dib,” aka Mahdi. You may think it’s mumbo-jumbo, but that’s what Villeneuve must fearlessly translate into cinema, if his approach to Herbert’s novel is to give us the definitive movie Dune.
It’s clear enough from the reverence with which he approaches the material that Villeneuve is a true believer when it comes to Dune, a book he read at age 14. It’s there in the steady, deliberate unfolding of the narrative and in the imposing monumentalism of the visuals—subdued color, gloomy, somber interiors, a sweeping sense of scale. This Dune is a long way from Lynch’s eccentric visual style. To be sure, Villeneuve teeters at the brink of the portentous and grandiose—but he doesn’t fall into it. We’ll wait and see, and don’t forget: fear is the mind killer.