by aidan callahan, back page editor
Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, based on Frank Hebert’s 1965 sci-fi classic, was supposed to hit theaters this December, but due to COVID-19 concerns, it has been delayed almost a year to October 2021. This news would be quite unfortunate if there wasn’t a perfect and readily available alternative: read the book instead.
Now, I know how this sounds: I too have always hated those “the book is better” people.
The Game of Thrones television series is a great alternative if you’re not trying to read thousands of pages of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, which sometimes includes page-long descriptions of the food the characters are eating. However, sometimes, just sometimes, those people are right, as they are in the case of Dune.
To be fair, no one has seen Denis Villeneuve’s interpretation of the novel, but he is not the first to tackle the sci-fi epic. In 1984, David Lynch directed an adaptation which turned the story from a profound look at human imperialism and the effect it has on our environment into the biggest ‘80s cheesefest you’ll ever see.
In the novel, the main antagonists are a powerful family called the Harkonnens. They are cunning and bent on increasing their family’s status through any means possible, even if it means destroying innocent lives along the way. They are also usually described as practically obese, a metaphor for the unnecessaryamount of wealth they hoard.
Lynch apparently read the word “fat,” laughed, then stopped reading, as the Harkonnens in his movie are over-the-top, devoid of any deeper thematic purpose, and (this is true) wear flying suspenders that comically fly them around the room as they laugh maniacally. One of them is also played by Sting, just for those extra ‘80s cheese points.
Maybe flying fat people sounds more enjoyable to you than political metaphors, but there’s plenty of funny stuff in the book that Lynch doesn’t use either. There’s a soldier who constantly breaks out into song, and Lynch decided to cast Sir Patrick Stewart in the role.
I don’t know about you, but I would love to hear Sir Patrick Stewart break out into song. But, instead, in the film his character does… nothing. Literally nothing. With not a single song and barely any lines, I wonder why they paid for Stewart’s steep paycheck in the first place.
This is not to say Lynch is a bad filmmaker, but rather that Dune simply has too much content to fit in a single movie.
Though the novel is more than 600 pages long, Herbert’s writing style does not waste any time. The characters and themes fit together in such a way that if you were to take one piece out, the rest feels incomplete.
Villeneuve’s adaptation will try to deal with this by splitting the book into two movies, but that still won’t be enough. If anything, Dune needs a TV series to fit everything it has to say.
So while we’re waiting a year to see how this new interpretation shakes out, do yourself a favor and read the book.
On the one hand, it will make you think about humans and the major consequences our actions can have on each other and the environment. But, on the other hand, it’s a sci-fi epic with heart, humor and an incredibly compelling story that will make the 600 pages feel like nothing.
Though, if you want to see the cheesiest sci-fi movie ever made, the 1984 adaptation is on HBO Max.