/Dune, an unadaptable novel
Graphic by Bell Jackson

Dune, an unadaptable novel

By: Jacob Gross  

Director Denis Villeneuve attempts to adapt Frank Herbert’s novel “Dune” with a grand vision, capturing a political space opera with the same societal resonance as the novel. “Dune” has a vision that will satisfy long-time fans of the book, but as a movie, it still falls flat in its pacing and disjointed themes.    

Set in the year 10,191, “Dune” primarily follows the story of Paul Atreides. The house of Atreides is sent to govern the planet Arrakis. Their primary responsibility on the planet is to mine and refine a substance referred to as the spice, without which interplanetary travel is not possible. In exchange for running the refinery for the Emperor, the Atreides house is promised massive riches. 

Upon their arrival, the Atreides house is met by catastrophe after catastrophe. The planet Arrakis, colloquially known as Dune, is a near uninhabitable, desert wasteland. To survive outdoors, people must wear a suit that reuses sweat as drinkable water. The planet is also crawling with giant, man-eating worms that are attracted to rhythmic sounds. On top of their aforementioned struggles, there are insiders attempting to assassinate the Atreides family. 

Played by Timothée Chalamet, Paul is caught in an internal strife. The native people, known as the Fremen, declare him to be the messiah, and his mother informs him that he is the result of selective genetic breeding, designed to create a mind that could bring the galaxy to peace. Throughout most of the film, Paul does not know how to handle this information, but he eventually rises to leader. 

The novel “Dune” by Frank Herbert has a difficult screen history, with several half-hearted and bloated production attempts. Long called an unadaptable movie, “Dune” adaptations have been disappointing fans since the 80s. 

As a novel, “Dune” has long been important to the culture of sci-fi. Initially, the book received low sales, with there being exponential growth around it as the decade continued. Since then, “Dune” has won a Hugo award and a Nebula award, with many fans saying it is the best sci-fi book ever written. 

Despite its immense popularity, “Dune” has never had a successful onscreen adaptation. This is not entirely the fault of rushed directors or poor budgets, but partly has to do with the fact that the film is unable to do things that the novel can. Sitting at just over 700 pages with a narrative that is broken into three parts, “Dune’s” format is difficult to condense into a film.  

The book features descriptions and philosophical ponderings on the nature of power. I have always thought that films cannot get away with inward narration, as it is incredibly jarring for a mostly visual experience. Thankfully, the movie does not do this, but it would have to do something similar to capture this key facet of the novel.  

“Dune,” in many ways, is a good movie. Timothée Chalamet did a great job in the role of Paul, and his character arc makes me excited for the next installment of “Dune.” It was written with complex and compelling characters; it has beautiful art and CGI and enough of the social and political ideas that made the original novel so culturally relevant. The very nature of the plot makes you question power and authority. Paul and the Atreides house are as ostensibly influential, but their own power could not save them from the fate that awaited them on Arrakis.  

“Dune: Part 2” is set to premier on Oct. 20, 2023, and is the last scheduled part for this adaptation, but Denis Villeneuve wants to make “at least three Dune movies,” according to Yahoo Entertainment.  

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Jacob Gross is a writer for The Alabamian. He is an English major with a creative writing minor. He has played guitar for a few years and really enjoys painting even though he believes he is bad at it.