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Dune: The cult Sci-Fi novel and the new movie

by Gary Packer 2 months ago in review · updated 2 months ago

As the latest movie version of the book awaits on the horizon I look take time to compare the early impressions to the classic novel

Dune – the 1st in a 6-book series, written in 1965 by Frank Herbert is potentially one of the littlest known sci-fi novels in modern times. However simultaneously it has sold 20 million copies worldwide with an influence on culture to match. It can be felt all over the place, from movies such as Star Wars, The Chronicles of Riddick, and The Matrix, to tv shows like Star Trek, to books such as Game of Thrones and, quite possibly every sci-fi novel written after it. Similarly so its influence on pop culture is so big that it has been parodied and referenced in everything, from The Simpsons to The Big Bang Theory, South Park, the videogame Fallout, and believe it or not in the lyrics of Weapon of Choice by Fatboy Slim. Some when they hear the name ‘Dune’ will have images in their head of the 1984 movie by David Lynch, starring a young Kyle MacLachlan, which had a soundtrack scored by Toto (yes them of Africa fame) and Brian Eno. The movie itself, although a flop has gone on to amass a cult following. More recently an updated 2-part movie, filmed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049) starring an ensemble cast, was to have its 1st part released in December of 2020. However the global COVID-19 pandemic caused the movie to be pulled, and a future release date of October 2021 issued. In preparation of the release of the movie last year I decided to read the novel.

A famous quote within the Dune series

Firstly (and to just get it out of the way) the book itself is fantastic. I will avoid spoilers here, as to talk in too much depth would give away enjoyable and import aspects of the book. The book covers a variety of themes, from feudalism, environmentalism, capitalism (all the ism’s), religion, addiction, heroism and legend, sexual equality, eugenics and finally ecology. To label it strictly as a sci-fi novel as well is slightly misleading. Yes technology is present and mentioned, some of it quite advanced (especially in later books), but it is by no means the main trust of it, other than the odd mention of an interstellar spaceship here or there. It could be set now, or in ancient medieval times. Which adds greatly to the appeal – I enjoy sci-fi books but can appreciate how they can be overly reliant on technology, and sometimes the level of detail they can go into, can be overbearing.

Even 50-odd years after 1st publicationthe the book still holds appeal

The story centres around the titular planet of Dune, formally known as Arrakis. A huge desert planet, largely uninhabited other than by a small population of Fremen and gigantic sandworms. In this universe, planets are held and magistrate over in a feudal system by royal houses, such as the Harkonnens and Atreides, which form the Landsraad ruled over by supreme leader Shaddam Corrino IV. The planet Arrakis or Dune, at the beginning of the novel is set to be transferred to the house Atreides, ruled by Duke Leto Atreides, ending the stewardship of The Harkonnens. Appearing valueless, the huge desert planet is in fact the only known source in the galaxy of ‘Melange’ or spice as its informally known. The spice allows users heightened mental abilities (computer AI are outlawed in the universe, so individuals using spice carry out huge mental computation), and in some cases precognitive powers, and extends lifespan along with giving users completely blue eyes. It is extremely addictive, with excessive use causing the benefits it grants to dimmish. The spice itself, is also instrumental in the use of interstellar travel within the universe, with navigators using it to safely traverse ships through warp-space. As Duke Leto prepares to up-root his family from the water-rich planet Caladan, he senses is walking into a trap, but somewhat feels destined to continue none the less. Upon arrival he attempts to broker and form a relationship with the native Fremen, to protect himself and family from the inevitable danger that is lurking for them. Before long, the danger reveals itself, before sending the family and all associates scattering to the wind, sending their lives into directions that will have consequences not just on the individual, but the galaxy, and the future.

An example of the exerpts, from other books written within the Dune universe

The book focuses on a whole cast of characters, with them all being important to the multi-layered, and complex story at the heart of the novel. The machinations, dealings, backhandedness, secret meetings, and conversations between characters has an almost Game of Thrones vibe to it at times. Similarly to that book series, chapters change focus from one character to the next, so in a sense the book (initially) doesn’t have a central character. It is told in 3 segments, Dune, Muad’dib and The Prophet, by which point the stories focus is solely on Paul Atreides, a prophetic character, and son of Leto. His character finds himself, unwitting thrust into the role of hero, and caught within the constraints of having to deal with the weight and pressure of the situation he has no choice in. Between chapters, there are also excerpts from books written within the universe, such as the Orange Catholic Bible, as well as quotations from books by The Princess Irulan. These give broader insight to this universe the book is set in, as well as characters and situations that take place. Overall the book is very dense, and there is a huge amount explored in its writings, and it’s the type of book that re-reading will reveal even greater depths and meaning. Frank Herbert himself was quoted as saying he wrote the book in a manner allowing it to be read from any one characters point of view, or from any one of the themes discussed within it.

The Hollywood version of the gigantic Sandworms patrolling Dune

The richness of this book (no doubt as well as the rest of the series) makes it no surprise to be the type of thing picked up by Hollywood. Admittingly the book probably would have been better made into a tv series; however Denis Villeneuve took on the project with the proviso that his book adaptation would be split into 2 movies, feeling it was the only way to do the book justice. Ironically enough the movie, will have a companion tv show on HBO max titled Dune: The Sisterhood which will focus on the Bene Gesserit – of which Paul Atreides mother, and concubine of the Duke Leto is a member. This quasi-religious sisterhood have for thousands of years have been using eugenics to advance their own agenda and power across the universe, and have a large part in the events which unfold on Dune. The movie, or the 1st part was due for release last year, however COVID-19 caused its release to be pulled. Warner Bros. considered releasing the movie on their streaming service HBO Max. However after many objections by the director and cast, it was agreed to push the release back to October 2021 along with a 4-week run on their streaming service. Hopefully, the world resembles something back to normality by then, and we can have the chance to experience the movie on the big screen as intended. A quick viewing, along with cast quotes, shows this movie really is designed with the big screen in mind, and will be a visual fest for the eyes. Similarly so, the excellent ensemble cast assembled along with the director of such pedigree gives hope that the movie will pay perfect respect to the book and give us all the thrill that comes from reading the book.

The trailer for the modern take of the classic novel!

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Gary Packer

Jack of all trades, master of none

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