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Dune: Read Before You Watch


After three movies, a Hugo Prize (Tied Best Novel 1966) and the inaugural Nebula Prize (1966), it’s no wonder that Dune retains its status as a masterwork of science fiction. With its themes of colonialism, and environmentalism, this cornerstone of contemporary science fiction remains relevant to readers even 50 years after its release.

In a world where dynasties span galaxies and space travel is plotted by divination, the noble house Atreides is charged with stewardship of the planet Arrakis, where the mysterious Spice is collected for its ability to grant future sight. However, the arrangement is just a conspiracy for a rival house to seize power, and a young Paul Atreides is forced to flee into the desert alongside his pregnant mother. Braving the harsh environment, the duo ally themselves with the mysterious Fremen, a powerful band of guerilla warriors determined to free their homeworld from Imperial control. But all power comes at a cost, and as Paul rises in influence, he must choose between the total annihilation of both his house and the Fremen people, or the unleashing of a brutal holy war.


With the second part of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adaptations making waves in the cinema scene, we’ve had an overwhelming demand for the first book in Herbert’s series, so people can experience the original text prior to watching the movie. Although the movie was impressive on all fronts, a prior reading of the text definitely heightened the experience for me, especially in light of the film’s deviations from the source material.

For example, the shift to a visual medium means that a lot of Herbert’s lore and exposition is not translated as visibly into the film - details such as the Harkonnens’ political connections to both the Imperial and the Atreides families are simplified for the sake of story progression. This is not to say that the movie is inferior, however! While the book portrays Chani as a passive love interest for Paul, Villeneuve utilizes her as a conduit for Paul’s tortured conscience, representing his softer, more guilt-ridden side in contrast to the ruthless politician he slowly becomes. This elevates her into more than just an audience for Paul’s angst, and grants her the agency of an independent, free-thinking player within the complex politics of the story, a role that actress Zendaya absolutely nails.


Nonetheless, a prior reading of the book definitely enhanced the overall experience of the film, through its exploration of the world’s complex politics and lore, as well as the inner thoughts and motivations of characters. Much of the novel is narrated through the internal dialogue of differing characters, which grants a unique insight into their thought processes and perspectives that cannot be as easily translated into film. Although these hidden thoughts and changes remain within the film, knowing the specifics of these reactions provided an interesting and insightful context to the viewing experience.


Owing to the success of the previous two films, Villeneuve plans to adapt the second book in the series, Dune Messiah, into a final third segment of the story. Many Dune fans, myself included, are enthusiastic about this choice, as this decision would neatly close out the story of Paul and bring the series to a satisfying conclusion. So, if you enjoyed the movies and the first book, be sure to pick up a copy of Dune Messiah as well!



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Herbert Frank

Dune Messiah
Herbert Frank