Dune: What Was Good And Bad About The 2021 Adaptation?

Fans have wanted a faithful Dune adaptation for a long time, but how good is Dune 2021 and how does it compare to David Lynch's 1984 adaptation?
Dune 2021 film snap shot

The 2021 film Dune, directed by Denis Villeneuve, is an adaptation of Frank Herbet’s 1965 science fiction novel of the same name. The story surrounds Paul Atreides, the son of Duke Leto, and his concubine the Bene Gesserit Lady Jessica. 

Paul is highly intelligent for his age and starts to display other gifts as well while living a luxurious and comfortable life on Caladan, his home planet. This all changes, however, when his father is tasked with taking over spice production on the dessert planet Arrakis.

Compared to Caladan, Arrakis is an incredibly harsh environment where inhabitants’ most precious possession is water, and where sandworms roam beneath the sand.

Unfortunately, the Duke and his family’s relocation to Arrakis is part of a bigger plot to take down the Atreides family and after being brutally attacked by Harkonnen soldiers belonging to the Baron, Paul and his mother must survive alone in the desert.

Their only hope lies with the desert people known as the Fremen, and the chance that Paul is the chosen one spoken of in the Bene Gesserit's prophecy.


Planet Caladan and space ship Dune 2021

From the very start of the film, emphasis is placed on water. Cinematographer Grieg Fraser, known for Rogue One and Lion, and Denis Villeneuve seem to take great care when composing scenes to highlight the beauty and the abundance of water on Caladan with shots of rain, puddles, lakes, sea, and even glasses of water. 

Paul discovers more about himself after confronting his mother outside in a thick mist, which to me represented the way in which his life on Caladan, a water planet, had been shielding Paul from his true self/purpose.

All this is then juxtaposed with the views of Arrakis with its vast deserts, immense heat, dryness, and of course the sandy dunes. This helps to cement the idea that Caladan is the past and Arrakis the future, and more importantly that change is coming, and an inciting incident has taken place and cannot be ignored.

Musical Score

Dune 2021 score composer Hans Zimmer

As usual, Hans Zimmer’s score perfectly suits the film and seems to reflect Paul’s state of mind throughout. There is something dreamlike and ethereal about the music when Paul is first seen having visions of Arrakis and Chani, whereas when he leaves Caladan it’s less sure but more resolute. 

Zimmer’s score is so subtle as Paul goes through the Gom Jabbar, yet it changes the scene from something that could have been bearable to something thoroughly excruciating to watch, enhancing both Paul’s pain and Jessica’s emotional turmoil.

Once Paul conquers the pain and transitions to being closer to the Kwisatz Haderach, the music no longer hides but comes out full blast emphasizing the scene as a defining moment in the film.

One element of Zimmer’s score that is particularly poignant is the use of bagpipes during the scene in which the Atreides family and their men arrive on Arrakis. As the doors of the ship open on the planet, a man can be seen playing the bagpipes and the instrument continues to feature heavily throughout the scene. 

Due to bagpipes' association with the military and memorial services, the use of the instrument here seems to foreshadow the later invasion and deaths of the Atreides men at the hands of the Harkonenns. It is as though by the time they land on Arrakis they are already dead.


Sand Worm CGI effects from Dune 2021

Every family and people’s technology has been given a distinct aesthetic making it easy to tell at a glance which ships and equipment belong to whom. Though occasionally they look too clean as though they have come out of a video game. The ornithopters, especially, look great, and how I would imagine them to appear from Herbert’s descriptions of them in the novel.

The worms are also well done and avoid looking too clean as though they have come out of a video game compared to the ships. They have a dirty, chaotic look to them, making them seem more realistic and dangerous.

I was also impressed with the way in which the shields were presented. In David Lynch’s adaptation, due to the limitations of technology at the time, the shields looked more like they belonged in Minecraft than in a sci-fi epic, but in Villeneuve’s the shields are slick and give the impression that they could be a plausible technology used in the future.

David Lynch vs Denis Villeneuve

Dune 2021 film vs dune 1984

The 2021 adaptation of Dune is not the first attempt to bring Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic to the big screen, director David Lynch produced his version in 1984. Lynch makes an admirable effort to squeeze a sci-fi monolith into one film; unfortunately, he wasn’t entirely successful. 

The first half of the film is quite faithful to the novel, including dialogue straight from the book; however, after the time skip there’s a pacing issue and everything feels extremely rushed. The film comes off more like a music video than a feature film, with lots of styles but no substance. 

On the other hand, Villeneuve made the decision to spread the story over two films fixing the pacing issue and allowing him to take more time building up the characters, so they seem less two-dimensional.

The two directors also interpret the Baron differently, while Lynch’s the Baron, played by Kenneth McMillan, is grotesque and cringy (in a good way), Villeneuve chooses to present the Baron as more sinister, which Stellan Skarsgard pulls off nicely, the audience also sees much less of the Baron in the 2021 adaptation giving him a darker more mysterious quality.

Hopefully, the second film will show the Baron in all his villainous glory.

Duncan Idaho vs Jason Momoa

Jason Mamoa as Duncan Idaho in Dune 2021

Jason Momoa plays Duncan exactly how I imagined him to be, both his diplomatic side with the Fremen and his relationship with Paul.

Villeneuve also enhances Duncan’s role, taking a conversation that occurs between Paul and his mother in the book and giving it to Duncan, making him more of a confidant for Paul and his subsequent death all the more tragic.

Speaking of which, I think Villeneuve and Momoa did Duncan’s death justice, giving him the final moment he deserved.

Gurney Halleck vs Josh Brolin

Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck Dune 2021

I don’t know who I expected to play Gurney, but I wouldn’t have expected it to be Brolin. Brolin plays the role much more seriously than how Gurney is portrayed in the book where he hides his seriousness behind music and playfulness. In fact, both he and Patrick Stewart in the 1984 adaptation made Gurney more severe. 

I would have liked to see Gurney’s playful side a bit more in this first film, to produce a greater contrast to the role he will have in the second film. Having said that, his combat scenes were great, and Brolin sculpted Gurney’s character in such a way that when he runs straight into combat, calling his men to follow, it is believable.

Lady Jessica vs Rebecca Ferguson

Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica in Dune 2021

Rebecca Ferguson is who I envisioned playing Jessica if a film adaptation of Dune was made and low-and-behold she was the actress cast. Jessica is a complex character torn between her duty as a Bene Gesserit and her love for her husband and son. 

It is established early on that although she is with the Duke for the benefit of the Bene Gesserit, she is not fully under their control, choosing to give the Duke a son rather than the daughter who would bring the Bene Gesserit closer to their goal. While keeping up the appearance of a dutiful Duke’s concubine, Jessica always follows her own mind and instincts. 

Rebecca Ferguson conveys Jessica’s complexities well, especially her internal conflicts over her responsibilities as a Bene Gesserit, a Duke’s lover, and a mother. The Gom Jabbar scene is particularly compelling to watch. 

Though Ferguson does show more open expression than Jessica in the novel, in my opinion, I can concede that due to the inability to present each character’s internal monologues, the actors have to show more obvious emotion than the characters do in the book.

I thought Ferguson and Timothée Chalamet acted well opposite each other, with Ferguson portraying a mother who is both strict and loving believably.

I did think that some of the scenes from the novel that illustrate Jessica’s abilities, including tense scenes with Dr. Yueh and Thufir Hawat, were omitted from the film by Villeneuve, whether deliberately or due to lack of time. The addition of these scenes would have made Jessica even more formidable.

Paul Atreides vs Timothée Chalamet

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides Dune 2021

Paul Atreides is not the most interesting character. Creating well-rounded characters was not necessarily Frank Herbert’s strongest suit and Paul suffers from a lack of depth, with everything coming easily to him simply because he’s the ‘chosen’ one. 

However, Timothée Chalamet makes an admirable attempt to flesh out Paul’s character, getting a balance between the privileged Duke’s son comfortable in his lifestyle and the boy who is willing to give up all that for something new and uncertain on Arrakis. 

One scene I, and many other people probably, would have liked to see brought to life is the diplomatic dinner hosted by the Duke just after he and his family arrive on Arrakis. When the Duke is called away to attend to something, Paul and Lady Jessica are left to entertain and keep things civil among the guests. 

The scene allows viewers to see some of Paul’s training in 'The Way' put to use, as well as the contrast between the way he uses his training, as a slightly arrogant, naïve teenager, compared to how Jessica uses hers as an experienced Bene Gesserit. It would also have foreshadowed the risks Paul is willing to take later on and Jessica’s more cautious nature.

Standout scenes are those in which Paul has his senses heightened by the spice and his perception expands beyond the present, his fight against Jamis (played by Babs Olusanmokun), and the Gom Jabbar scene.

Paired with excellent directing choices made by Villeneuve the Gom Jabbar scene is a pivotal point in the film and Chalamet conveys the gradual increase in pain so well that I could almost feel it myself. 

The fight scene, as well, had that realistic edge that other battles in sci-fi can lack; it was messy and inelegant and designed to be so by fight choreographer Roger Yuan. I look forward to seeing what Chalamet does with Paul in the next film, as Paul became a religious leader and presents many paths for the character.

Overall, I think that Dune 2021 managed to live up to many fans' lofty expectations as well as it could and is leagues better than David Lynch’s adaptation (sorry David), even if not everything is perfect.

However, half the story is still to come, and it will be interesting to see how Villeneuve adapts the rest of the novel, as that is where everything kicks off.

A graduate from UEA with a BA in English Lit. with Creative Writing. An aspiring writer and editor, loves anime/manga, films and books.

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