This afternoon, I went to the movies to see the new Dune: Part One directed by Denis Villeneuve. I went expecting not to like it, but ended up liking it a lot—but not quite so much as David Lynch’s magnificent 1984 Dune, as fragmentary as it was. What threw me off were all the stills of Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides. I kept saying to myself, “Why, he looks like a whiny little bitch!” In the actual film, he was quite good, at least as good if not better than the wooden Kyle MacLachlan in the David Lynch film.
Where the 1984 Dune came across as fragmentary, Villeneuve’s version plugged many of the gaps, such as the death of Duncan Idaho and the role played by Liet-Kynes, who seems to have changed both gender and race in the new film. (No matter, Sharon Duncan-Brewster was not only stunning: She could act!)
Frank Herbert’s original book is probably the closest the science fiction genre will ever come to a true epic. And as such, it is pretty much unfilmable. The new film does not tell the whole story: It stops just as Paul Atreides and Jessica are accepted by the Fremen, but does not show how Paul and the Fremen defeat the brutal Harkonnens and the whole empire. That was the weakest part of Lynch’s masterpiece, and I suspect that it would take a bit of doing to make it as interesting as Part One.
Whichever version you choose to see, I highly recommend you read the novel first. It is incredibly dense, but it manages to carry you along. To be confronted by the likes of the Bene Gesserit, the Spacing Guild, CHOAM, and Tleilaxu Face Dancers without having encountered them in the novel might be a bit much for most viewers. I’ve read the novel three times in the last half century, and I love it—despite its many flaws. As I said, it is probably the closest to an epic that you will ever see in the sci-fi genre.