DUNE: 2021 Movie Review

I read Dune in its unabridged entirety in 2010 as a sophomore in high school. That’s when I had the ominous feeling this would be made into a new movie … our teacher forced us to see the David Lynch production. I felt it was a real trip–not bad, but nothing like it should be. The book was incredible.

It was very long, and I remember it being somewhat figurative–religious-like–and hard to read. Dune graphically enhanced my reading abilities. I loved the story and where it was going. That year I thought, “This deserves to be remade into a new movie.” It now is.

Screenshot 2021 10 28 dune original book Google Search

This entire article is one big spoiler alert. So, if you know nothing about Dune and or have not seen the new movie, at least watch the film. That said, this is my review of the movie, some plot breakdown and reveals.

Dune is about the conflict between House Harkonnen and House Atreides. Two of several Noble Houses supporting the Emperor and his interests. I think it is more than a Tale of Two Houses. This is no Romeo and Juliet. Early on, the movie shows Atreides as noble, organized and fairly powerful. It’s mentioned the Emperor (less like the Sith than House Harkonnen), fears them as their power. As Vladimir Harkonnen is forced by a powerful witch to not harm his enemies, he manipulates them into a conflict and gaslights the Fremen against them. This sets up a truly extravagant plot.

The biggest conflict is between Paul and the universe, and the world has it coming.

I think the film doesn’t show us just how dangerous or massive Paul’s holy war will be, but we know he is destined to conquer the Empire and essentially adopt it. Immediately, we see Macbeth’s tropes of dangerous fate-knowing Witches, Vile Foes, Rightful Kings, Local Folk and Dangerous Twists. But the story is predictable and the tension unwinds into a fluid and powerful scene flow. After all 2+ hours of it, it blew me away in a way most movies and Netflix shows just don’t. It was a powerful momentum.

I’d take this time to also mention the combat. It’s a major deviation away from tasers, ray-guns and other light-energy weapons. This is no Halo and even more feudal than Star Wars–it is a story of knights, villains, and noble houses in space. Planetary armies and super-empires have great power. While most private or planetary factions are limited to prevent effective uprisings or wars, they have well-disciplined armies. This is a world of sword-fare and knife fighters. While armies with rifle-like weapons seem to exist, the sword-knife melee is emphasized. Super-weapons exist, but they seem fairly average within greater future-science fiction dogma.

To me, the bodily ability and will of the people in Dune is more powerful than technology. In essence human law, math and culture–including human intelligence–has replaced advanced technology. In this story human beings can be tools, navigators, computers, moral beings, Machiavellian villains, prophets and godlike entities.

Dune Rebecca Ferguson

*Those exposed to Spice develop supernatural and transhuman powers. Those exposed to too much run the risk of becoming Lovecraftian entities.

In my opinion, based on my recollection of the massive tone I read as a sophomore, the 2021 Dune take is fairly close to the book. It’s a true spectacle in both an adaptation of a book and a future-fantasy epic in its own right. I really liked the beauty of the film visually and how each scene seemed to fit in a nice, progressive plot. But to call it “nice” might not be the best choice of words. Dune is gritty, cruel at times, with the harshness of survival and the painful trials of Destiny among its ploys. The biggest cruelty in Dune is the evil sadism of House Harkonnen and its sinister patriarch. In my opinion, they toned down the villain from the book’s original (and disgusting) version. Yet it is a good case of a classic good vs. evil story.

The focus on power and destiny, which might shape our protagonist from the young pupil of his Great House to a cosmic messiah, might have cruel turns. I suspect the transformation of Paul is bigger than his other duties or expectations. In many ways, he is a narrow character and an older spin on the “Chosen One” style protagonist.

While the entire plot seems oddly ripped-off by the original Star Wars, it is also unique and epic. It is a very complicated, rich story based on a fundamental simple plot: how could someone who loses everything unite people against the emperor and take over the galaxy? It is a prospect of destiny that’s begun but has clearly only just (begun) in “part 1” of Dune.

I love that this movie focuses on prophesy and destiny without making fate like some cruel inevitable god-force or a stupid in-story construct that “must be” followed. While themes of hardened gender roles, brutal violence, feudalism, and oppression–including legitimized oppression–are strong, themes of good rising, native rebels winning against their enemies, and unification of many vs. a corrupt few are also there. It is a simple plot and a vastly dimensional story. I think it is the biggest event since Lord of the Rings or possibly Avengers: End Game.

Maybe, that’s overstating.

Most films do not set up the plot like this, in vast and epic ways. Part of the magic of Dune is that it is a classic speculative sci-fi set in a feudal anti-future. It isn’t a futuristic urban-heavy dystopia filled with clutter or human chaos. In many ways, it is the stark opposite of most heroic and fantasy epics.

It is a film not unlike some of the dystopian and neo-mercantile Anime flicks of the 1980s and 90s. I get classic fiction vibes, dystopian future vibes, and a native vs. invader vibe pretty strongly. I like the rebellion aspects and unification arc. But much of this is destined, foreshadowed and beginning. Paul, in ways, is a vessel for change, not an agent for it. He is compelled but more of a rallying figure than a dynamic hero. Like his mother, he has a kind of “magic”, a form of supernatural voice. With his skill of convincing speech, he can home into a specific pitch and command others.
However, his ability to live like the Froemen and become one of them is his true power.

Dune's booming thopters are the reason to see it in theaters - Polygon
But they never get the Ornithopters quite right.

To dabble a bit deep in the nerd pool, I feel Spice is well represented. I could bring back a lot of book themes and statements, the Spice-fed Navigators are not represented, details are different. It seems a bit slow-paced in parts.

… but I can’t complain too much.

The cycle of life, death and reuse of once-living matter is strong. Spice is the purified essence of life and consciousness; kind of like “Adam” in Bioshock. The Sandworms make and recycle it. The strong dependence of humanity on this natural resource is eerily similar to our use of oil, which is largely from Middle Eastern reservoirs. The cycle of Spice and its practical and preternatural effects is a powerful gravity center in this story. Without it, a vast cosmic empire let alone the Spice-enabled deep space travel would not exist.

I think the “computers are bad”- “drug-like powder is good” dichotomy is just stupid. But the film makes it work and makes the sci-fi backstory less important. Safe to say, John Conner won. It could be that both social complexity, mass chaos (too many human factions in too many conflicts and colliding interests), and a war with computers/toxic reliance on smart tech resulted in the new feudal age.

Based on what I’ve learned of Dune and the new movie, this galaxy and others in the greater cosmos are part of a rising human empire. This mega-dominion is ruled by the Padishaw Emperor, a series of rulers of a human distinction.

This establishment has to be ended in a Jihad-style “holy war” largely because Paul Atreides is destined too. The story deals with the force and delusions of power, leadership, central authority, religion, religious war and fate. It seems Paul himself wants this power, to be the emperor and end the old regime, but it is also forced upon him and he struggles with this fate. In the course of the film, it seems he begins his role in this journey to power but it really is just a start.

Spice and the people most exposed to it seemed akin to psychedelics and the “acid culture” too. It is a drug. It is akin to the food as well. And it gives takers a powerful mix of abilities. While the real “blue eyes” of Spice addicts and tribes who are heavily exposed to it, more closely resemble those of “Alien Grays” … the movie does good enough with that. Those who consume too much become almost hypnotized by it. It seems like a neurological substance with intelligence-boosting, mind-altering results.
It gives you supernatural mental powers like super-cognition, precognition, and telepathy. In a sense, the ultimate spice-mutated organism is a Sand Worm or becomes like one. The whole “Spice turns you into a worm eventually” trip I find too far out. Again, this whole movie like the book it’s based on is a trip into New Age.

The Eyes of Ibaad

The film is not for everybody and I feel the audience may divide into enthusiastic camps (ironically including book people who might actually praise this version) and “meh” to “not another young male savior” camps.
I felt the movie did not promote a culturally appropriating hero. Instead, it is a powerful prince forced into situations and survival–in many cases against his will. This is not another Star Wars or Avatar (let alone Last of the Mohicans), but fans might dislike the plot, the characters or the length and pace of the film. For a true introduction without so much as a Death Star busting resolution, it is a trip. … I hope it leads to much more.

I love the introductions to the players and the conflicts, the good pacing of events and major scenes and even the prophecy aspects and faithfulness to the text. In my view–as one who read all 1,500+ pages of the unabridged novel– the 2021 Dune version is a strong adaptation.

*Some hard-nosed bookies might disagree and have a deeper comprehension of the book’s points.

One thing I like is how the story, being of the 1940s–and in many ways pre-liberal and non-conservative–is different than 90% of films out there. It really doesn’t have a religious/real religion, political, or simple moral. The story runs a long time and features arcs of stability, conflict, destruction, survival and anticipation.

If there is a moral it is this: have power but don’t trust in powerful figures. A hero, leader, or savior can truly save you or lead people right … or they can fail, die or be consumed by greed. In the story, characters change, some die, and fate rules all.

The end leaves you feeling all will be resolved but the journey is long. Instead of being a heroic or class tale built on hope or the purity of justice, it is built on the bedrock of established roles and the twist of a period-ending conflict. In this story destiny is firm and known, good is not the underdog, and both good and evil have real power. Evil or even the “lawful neutral” emperor could win, or House Atreides or Paul could win. This adventure is not tripping with cheeky moralisms or “good = victorious” trips. It often falls to the powerful and organized–not always the just.)

I kinda wish the Froemen had stronger leadership power and more volition in this too. The next part will be bigger, more intense and perhaps harder. I feel this is a major cinematic spectacle and truly compelling. I’d really love to see this spawn a film saga based faithfully off the books–but we shall see.

Hollywood, it seems, is the ultimate determiner of fate.


Dune is strong. It is meaningful fiction that is rooted in its literary source and it has solid effects and visuals. The story is good. To me, the major shortcoming is that it might be too close to the source material, but some scenes seem too long or slow. Many films based on epic books do this: scenes can be shortened a bit, that first battle could last 10 minutes instead of 20 minutes, etc … but it had great sound production, acting, core scenes, and of course action.

My ending review note, Dune 2021 is a good film to watch after enduring the months of COVID and political struggles. It’s a refreshing mix of appropriateness and fiction, speculation and uprising. It is a film I do recommend and truly enjoy. I would call it a 4.5/5 film, a solid A.
To me, it is the kind of epic coming of age adventure that’s rare and fun to watch … a bit like Star Wars or Avatar but in ways more original.
See it for yourself, hope my review at least revealed some things and added perspective. But watch it first before you read anything! I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

Leave a Reply