Dune (2021) vs Dune (1984)

For those not yet familiar with Dune, this epic story was created in novel form by Sci-Fi writer Frank Herbert in 1965. Herbert created a tale deep and complex which has become a classic of the genre, leaving an undeniable mark on modern story telling. Clearly for example influencing George Lucas as he penned Star Wars in the following decade, while also featuring themes prominent in George RR Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ books, which of course went on to create TV gold in Game of Thrones

Set in the year 10,191 and in a universe where planets are controlled by family houses under the overall rule of the Emperor, the rarest & most valuable commodity is Melange or ‘Spice’, a substance which is vital for fuelling interstellar travel, while also extending human vitality. The natural hallucinogen produces only on the sand dunes of the desert planet Arrakis, and it’s production has been controlled by the sinister house Harkonnen for many decades.

The house and its army at the behest of the Emperor, have ruled with an iron fist over the native population, a skilled set of freedom fighters known as the Fremen. But in a twist of fate, the Emperor passes control of Arrakis and its unique value to house Atreides, who despite reservations, leave the comfort of their own planet Caladan, in order to exploit the opportunity provided to them, and the subsequent riches that the control over Spice production will yield.

However as suspected by Duke Leto Atreides, all is not as it seems. The Emperors move has infact been made to destroy the threat he perceives on his rein, by the growing influence the house is seeing in the universe. He joins his forces with those of the Harkonnen, and they attack, first taking out Leto (who is betrayed from within), leaving his son Paul and his lady (Paul’s mother) running for their lives. Their only hope of survival being to find the Fremen, and with hope that the Arrakis natives will form an alliance in which to help them fight back and gain their revenge.

In 1984 cult film director David Lynch made the first successful attempt at bringing the story to the big screen. Starring Kyle Maclachlan (Twin Peaks) in the leading role of Paul Atreides, it came hot on the heals of ‘Return of the Jedi’ as the studios were keen to capitalise on the unprecedented success of the Star Wars phenomenon. The film tries hard to faithfully convert Herberts text into a 136 minute movie, bringing the narrative to the big screen with a huge (for the time) estimated budget of £40m. Looking back however, the film largely feels like it came before Star Wars and has not aged particularly well, with costume & set designs reminiscent of earlier B movies.

Quite simply even the vast budget was still not able to cover the grandness of the idea. David Lynch himself was reportedly unhappy with the way the film came out and felt constrained by the producers, never quite able to work how he wanted to and having the final cut taken out of his hands. It ended up flopping on its cinematic release, and despite its strangeness growing in cult status over the years on VHS & DVD, if ever there was an 80’s movie that was crying out for a remake, then Dune was it.

Fast forward to the present, and in 2021 we have part one of the definitive version of the tale, delivered to us by visionary director Denis Vileneuve (Blade Runner 2049) in a 155 minute, £165m spectacle that visually and sonically takes your breath away, from the opening to closing credits. An astonishing modern piece of cinema presented some 56 years after Frank Herberts novel, respectfully recreating many of the pivotal scenes from the book shown in the earlier film, but undoubtedly taking the story to a whole new level.

The cast in 2021 is sublime with Timothee Chalamet (Interstellar / Homeland) broodingly brilliant in the lead role of Paul, strongly supported by the likes of Oscar Isaac (from Disney’s Star Wars trilogy) playing his father, Rebecca Ferguson (Doctor Sleep) playing his mother, as well as Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones / Aquaman), Josh Brolin (The Goonies / Deadpool 2) and Javier Bardem (Skyfall/ No Country For Old Men). The 1984 version featured a supporting cast with the likes of Sir Patrick Stewart (Star Trek Next Generation / The X Men), Sting (The Police), Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap) and Max Von Sydow (Ghostbusters 2 / Needful Things) all very well known actors now, but less so at the time.

Due to its restricted cinematic run time, the original Dune feels disjointed and rushed throughout, and there is also a feel that the movie does not take itself or the genre too seriously (again in a B Movie kind of way). Many of the character portrayals have also not aged well, with the evil Baron Harkonnen for example, played as a camp revolting rogue, with tongue firmly set in cheek, an element removed in 2021 which remains serious, with a dark intensity throughout.

Dune benefits greatly from being presented in the modern age, with the 2021 film (Pt 1) likely to be considered a neo classic of the sci-fi genre, featuring stunning visuals and special effects that bring the tale to life in a way just not possible in 1984, and probably beyond even Frank Herbert’s wildest imagination. The run time which sits in excess of the whole of the original version, allows the time to adequately explain the background of the complex narrative, bringing the story up to the point of the Artreides betrayal, with Paul and his mother forced to flee and navigate the dangers of the desert, until they first come into contact with the Fremen.

Within the dunes they must cross, live giant Sandworms who hunt at every vibration caused by movement on the sand. The impending doom of the mythical creatures is shown in both films with the distant rippling of the dunes, quickly drawing closer to the source of the vibration, creating suspense reminiscent of how Spielberg used the Sharks fin in ‘Jaws’. Again the special effects available today bring these iconic monsters to life in a way just not possible before.

An underlining theme throughout the story involves the relationship between Paul & his mother, and their bond to the ancient magical order of ‘Bene Gesserit’, which is inexplicably linked to dreams and premonitions that Paul experiences prior to, and on arrival of his new home planet. He is perceived as a chosen one by his mother and is instantly viewed with mystique by the Fremen, who hold a prophecy of being led to true freedom, in an ultimate fight against the Harkonnen.

Pt 2 (due 2023) will complete the tale of Paul Atreides revenge, and only once this has been released will we truly know how to view the modern tale as a whole. But Pt 1 is without a doubt a fine start, handling all aspects of the story impeccably, and very much delivering the Dune the cinematic audience and existing fan base deserve.

Check out the trailer for Dune (2021) here :


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