I arrived a bit late to the Dune fanclub.
Sometimes I saw it at the bookstore, sitting there on a shelf under a «bestseller» sign, but I never thought much of it. Dune. It had this giant worm-like thing on the cover. It didn’t look like it was for me.
You see, science fiction as a genre has never been my favorite. I have read some works, but mostly because they’re classics. I read Frankenstein, Brave New World, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea, and 1984 because I like classics. I would not buy a science fiction book just because it’s science fiction, like I would buy a gothic novel, for example.
But then the trailer for the movie came out and I was hooked. I immediately decided I would read the book.
Spoiler note before we start: There might be some mild spoilers ahead if you haven’t read this book or seen the movie.
Dune, the most sold science fiction novel of all time, was written by U.S.-American author Frank Herbert and published in 1965, and the story seems pretty straightforward: The spice melange is the most valuable element in the universe, not only does it extend the lifespan of a person, but it is also the thing that makes interstellar travel possible. It is also only found on the desert planet of Arrakis, the birthplace of the Fremen folk. At the start of the novel, Emperor Shaddam IV tasks Duke Leto of House Atreides with the administration of Arrakis and the harvesting of the spice. This task, however, used to belong to House Harkonnen, old foes of House Atreides. House Atreides is aware that this is a setup, but they have no choice but to accept. Soon enough, they are betrayed and Paul, Duke Leto’s son, and his mother, Lady Jessica are forced to flee and are rescued by a group of Fremen. It is here that Paul’s true journey begins, as he sets out to recover what was taken from him and to free Arrakis.
So the story seems simple enough, and the thing with Dune is that it is often criticized by readers for being a white savior story, which it kind of is, but it’s very much intentional. So let’s take a step back. If you haven’t heard this term, a white savior story is a story where themes like racism, colonialism, imperialism, etc. are discussed but that centers a white protagonist whose job is to «rescue» or «help out» the racial minorities. It’s a very paternalistic and racist narrative, and it is very frequent in literature and cinema. Some examples of this include The Help, Green Book, Gran Torino, The Blind Side, Legend of Tarzan, and, of course, James Cameron’s Avatar.
And yes, this is basically what happens in Dune. Young white man Paul, aka. the best sad boy, arrives at a planet full of oppressed brown people, joins them in their fight and eventually becomes their leader. So, yeah, it is a white savior story, but as I said before, this is very much intentional. Dune is not a book that should be read as a stand-alone (which is what I did. I still need to read the rest) because Herbert set up all of these themes in the first book and spent the rest of the saga deconstructing them. The Dune series is one of the biggest in science fiction and it is a deep exploration of complex themes such as human evolution, planetary ecology, power, imperialism, the intersection of politics, economy and religion, and survival. It is so much more than just the plot of the first book, and it needs to be read in context. This is also one of the reasons why there should be more movies.
So, yeah, I’ve only read the first book so far and I enjoyed it a lot. I look forward to reading more.
And speaking of the movie…
Dune: Part 1, directed by Dennis Villeneuve, is the most recent adaptation of Herbert’s first book to the big screen. Well, adaptation of the first half of the first book, to be clear. It is such a big story that Villeneuve decided to break it into two parts and to make the first one without knowing whether there would be a chance for a second one.
Thankfully, there is.
I loved this movie. Visually, it was indeed a spectacle. It was big and loud and amazing to look at. I was glad to see it in a movie theater (not so glad to be sitting close to some people who wouldn’t stop talking). I loved everything I saw and heard, I loved the acting and the cast, and if a movie has Zendaya in it, I will probably watch it with a lot more enthusiasm.
I love it when movies really take their time when telling a story, when they don’t rush from scene to scene. This movie is like that. It really lets scenes and feelings marinate, and it doesn’t try to lighten up the mood with a joke every time stuff gets serious. The movie is slow and long and moody and I love that.
And yet two and a half hours were not enough. The movie relies heavily on people being familiar with the story, as there are many concepts that are important (or will be later) and are not really explored. I went to see it with my husband, who has never read the books or seen previous adaptations, and he had a lot of questions. When I went online to see what people were saying, I noticed the same thing was happening there too. People who were new to the Dune universe had many questions because the movie did not explain some concepts properly.
There are other things to criticize about it, of course, like the fact that there are no Arab actors in this Arabic inspired story. Still, I loved this movie a lot and I want to see it again, several times. As soon as I went out of the movie theater, I thought that this was a movie that I will purchase and rewatch over the years.
So yeah, I really liked Dune.