Thoughts on Dune

In January, I finally got around to approaching Dune. In the months since, I have watched the first Timothée Chalemet movie twice, read the book, and watched the second movie, and all of my thoughts on all of it are kind of tangled up together, so here is one “review” post to cover all of it, for anyone curious.

Movie #1

I was going to wait to watch this movie until I’d read the book, but Dune was thick, a little bit intimidating, and (mostly) just never seemed to float to the top of the TBR stack. So eventually I decided I didn’t want that to prevent me from enjoying the movie, and I watched it. As a movie, without the book to compare it to, I thought it was excellent. The pacing of the questions posed in terms of worldbuilding was absolutely perfect. Usually the characters have to draw me in for me to be invested in a movie, but with Dune it was the worldbuilding that sucked me in and wouldn’t let go despite my feeling ambivalent toward most of the characters. And the arcs were interesting, especially as they were shaped by the world, even with characters I didn’t “love.”

It was very well-told, very well-paced, cinematically lovely, and the score was a good fit even if most of it wasn’t my personal favorite. And it sparked my interest in finally reading the book because I’d gotten a taste of the world and characters and I really wanted to get Herbert’s depth and understand his vision for them.

The Book – Part 1

(Part 1 for me; the first half of the book. Not literally Part 1 of the book.)

The first half of Dune was hard for me to get through. The characters I had liked for their nobility in the movie were just as gray as everyone else in the book, and I had to be in their heads; I was no longer a casual observer to the drama, but in the heads of these characters who were all compromising or outright corrupt in their own ways. Plus, the movie had already introduced all of the interesting aspects of the world in this part of the story; there was nothing new on a positive note–except the excerpts from Princess Irulan’s writings, which were genuinely my favorite part of the first half of the book. But this also meant that, overall, the first movie was a fairly faithful adaptation.

I had heard that things got weird in the latter half of the book, and I was hoping that the movie improved on things there just as the first movie had improved on this first half, in my opinion.

Though I intended to finish the book before watching the second movie, I did not manage to accomplish this and only got through the first half, so watching the second movie was also like watching the movie before reading the book.

Movie #2

I did not enjoy Dune: Part 2 as much as the first movie, but it was actually not for any of the weirdness that I’d heard about from the second half of the book; in fact, much of that was omitted altogether. No, my biggest issue with the movie was that it spent way too much concentrated time on the Harkonnens. In the book, there are chapters from the POV of the Harkonnens, and they’re… disturbing. They’re meant to be disturbing. But those chapters were brief and had several chapters of focus on the “good guys” in between, making them much easier to manage. I had to walk out of the theater for a strategic bathroom break during the movie’s focus on the Harkonnens because it was so long and so concentrated and so wicked. Yes, they did an excellent job of capturing how despicable the Harkonnens are, but this is one thing that I think the book did much more artfully.

I also just didn’t find this latter portion of the movie’s story as compelling, personally, though I couldn’t tell you exactly why–at least not without comparing it to the book.

The Book – Part 2

After watching Dune: Part 2, I almost didn’t want to bother picking Dune back up. The interest was almost dead. But I’m glad I did, because I actually enjoyed the second half of the book much better than the first–and much better than the second half of the adaptation. I started out reading through the second half out of sheer stubbornness, but I was quickly drawn in by the cultural elements that the movie had left out, how the Fremen handled family, Alia’s character and how she was viewed (and her part in the conclusion), the cunning behind the Harkonnen’s actions that is largely lost in the movies, the influence of characters from the first half (who died in the movie but not the book) in the second half, etc. In the book, Fremen society shines brighter in the second half; Paul becomes a part of Fremen society, and we become immersed in it with him. And that society-building is a huge strength of Herbert’s; Fremen society is so internally consistent, its values are clear in every detail, it is just a prime example of creating a cohesive culture around a couple of core values and traits. And I loved getting to see that showcased in the book in a way that they largely skimmed over in the movie.

The climax, too, was so much more satisfying in the book; it felt like all of the pieces came together for a really great finale, whereas the omissions in the movie left the movie’s climax kind of unimpressive.

In Conclusion

At the end of the first half of the book, I wasn’t sure I would be glad that I’d read Dune. I would appreciate having read it, for its literary history merit, but not the actual reading of it. Having read the whole thing, I am actually glad that I read it. I did really enjoy the Fremen culture and how it was built. That said, I do not think that Dune is a must-read; it is pretty morally ambiguous, so if morality and/or characters are a draw, then it’s probably not for you, and I wasn’t especially impressed with the writing style. Worldbuilding is really its only core strength, in my opinion, so I would recommend it as a worldbuilding study more than as a great read.

Movie-wise, I do still love the first movie. I still think it paced everything beautifully and it’s a great introduction to Arakkis and the setup of the Dune story. The second movie was fine, if not to my personal taste (my husband enjoyed the worldbuilding in the second movie more than I did, since it was more focused on the religion and politics that he’d wanted to see more of in the first movie); if I were to rewatch it, I would want to do so with the ability to skip the whole Harkonnen middle section, which was actually not especially relevant to the remainder of the story due to some of the omissions in the movie vs. the books. But it wrapped up the story well enough.

If I were to create my own version of Dune from this experience, I would meld the first movie with the second half of the book and find it quite an enjoyable whole, lol.

How about you? Have you read/seen Dune? What did you think? What were your favorite elements? Would you watch/read it again?

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