***Spoiler Alert for Dune... All of them. Book and movies. Go read the book.***
I watched Dennis Villeneuve's Dune this week and have to say, it's beautiful. The film managed to capture a huge part of what makes Dune a phenomenal novel in a way that David Lynch's Dune doesn't. I've seen two versions of Dune(1984) and the extended cut is actually the inferior of the two. So, lets start with a simple ranking of best to worst: Book (of course), 2021 film, 1984 director's cut, 1984 extended cut.
Frank Herbert's Dune is often lauded as one of the greatest works of science fiction ever written and I would agree that it is. It's a dense text that, much like Tolkien and Middle Earth, is focused on the land. Arrakis and its ecology are essentially their own character in the book and how the other characters interact with it and it with them is a major theme. The book takes the trope of the Chosen One and flips it around examining it from every angle. Herbert lays out the folly of following one piece of what it means to be human to its extreme. Powers in the shadows continually push humanity past its limits through genetics, emotional indoctrination, mental conditioning, and consolidation of power into a feudal space empire. Generation after generation, they seek to create a super-being, the Kwisatz Haderach.
In this, we see an intricate pattern of dominoes set to topple when Duke Leto Atreides is given the Planet Arrakis and its spice production to manage. This sets his son Paul on a path to become a super-being or die in the desert.
I could go on and on about the plot, but if you want that, watch the movie(s). I want to talk about the themes, so I can pinpoint the real difference in quality between the new and old versions of the movies. Besides the ecology and potential of humanity, the other major theme is the power and curse of foresight. Seeing the future and what it holds, but being unwilling or unable to turn away from the horror that will ensue from the seemingly inevitable choices. In bringing these across, Dune(2021) is hands down the better film. It's honestly the better film in almost all respects. Don't mistake me though, I still love Dune(1984).
Starting from the bottom of my list, the extended cut of Dune is bad. It starts with 9 minutes of meandering narration meant to set up the movie, but it's really, really, boring. In total the film is about 40 minutes longer , but those 40 minutes add nothing but disappointment to the movie. The directors cut, which is just the Theatrical version, has just the right amount of narration in the beginning then unfolds into a Shakespearean-space-opera-fever-dream. It misses the themes from the book, and leans into he epic scale and grandeur of the universe that Herbert creates. Everything in Dune(1984) is big. From the acting to the sandworms to the score, David Lynch pulled no punches and threw in a few Eddy Gordo headstand kicks for good measure.
The score was the one thing that I think Dune(1984) did better than Dune(2021). Toto(yep. Africa by Toto, Toto) wove an incredible, memorable score. The triumphant gallop of it's orchestral base being hardened by the grit of metal guitars stirs the soul and helps suspend the disbelief of watching Kyle McLaughlin ride a giant worm into a throne room. It's a perfect pair to the over the top nature of Dune(1984) but it's also great composition. Evidenced by it's main theme's leitmotif being used in the final moments of Dune(2021). The instrumentation is matched to the rest of Dune(2021)'s score, but it evokes the same sense of wonder and power the sands of Arrakis guard. Aside from that moment, I found the music of Dune(2021)mostly forgettable. Not bad, but it didn't stand out to me until the moment I heard that ghost of familiarity. The rest of the sound design was outstanding, though. The sounds of different languages; the buzz of the ornithopters; the subtle, but distinct, difference in the drum sand; and the pulse of the personal shields were auditory ambrosia.
The world of Arrakis is a huge part of Dune. Dune(2021) manages to bring the grand scale of Herbert's storytelling in a few shots. In the space of moments the film moves from the tiny desert mouse, the muad'dib, and shows how life can survive in such a hostile place. Then brings in the massive majesty of Shai-hulud and gives the worm more personality than I had ever imagined. I watched the massive master of the desert stare at Paul, eyeless, as the boy stood an a small rock outcropping. Shai-hulud laughed a low, rumbling, infrasonic chuckle as if to say, "Rock is but sand I have not passed through, boy. This planet belongs to me and all my kind." Then it slithered away smoothly back into the deeps of the sand. Staring into that reverse-urchin mouth was awe inspiring and I was only watching it on TV. There was so much detail in so small an action. Even the sand had a ton attention paid to it. The way it moves and shifts with the coming of the worms and the red sparkle of the spice floating through the air added life to the world.
My biggest disappointment to Dune(2021) is that I have to wait two years to watch the conclusion. I have little doubt it will be worth the wait if the second part retains the same level of realism and detail. Where Dune(2021) leaves off Dune(1984) throws the story into overdrive. It condenses two years of character development into a spice raid montage and water of life psychedelic-space-trip. It culminates in Paul becoming the Kwisatz Haderach and toppling the emperor with desert power all in about 20 minutes. It's a blown-out spectacle of an ending but not all that close to the original text. I'm intrigued to see where the end of Dune(2021) goes. What will we see of the Fremen? What may we learn of the other houses of the Landsraad and of the Sardaukar? How will Paul's visions affect him and the choices he makes in Part 2? Only time will tell. Are there things you wanted to see in Dune(2021) that weren't there or are you hoping for some more epic worm riding part 2? Let me know in the comments and Stay Sound!