Dune was one of my favorite movies of the past couple years. The book is a sci-fi classic with clear opportunities for a blockbuster Hollywood treatment, but over the decades we’ve only gotten a couple…flawed…attempts to adapt it to the large and small screen.
For me, the Denis Villeneuve movie finally hit that sweet spot where it follows the book, but isn’t afraid to make the story its own. All the pieces fit together. It feels like Dune. I can’t wait for part 2 to release.
I found Justin Kownacki’s blog recently, and I love the way he digs deep into storytelling. In this article, he provides a phenomenal analysis of Villeneuve’s Dune, and points out several elements that make it work so well.
Special effects aren’t the only reason why Frank Herbert‘s 1965 sci-fi novel Dune has been so notoriously hard to adapt for film or TV. The first book in Herbert’s epic saga introduces readers to a complex story world that spans across multiple planets, political conflicts, alien technologies, and secretive religions. Squeezing it all into one film — even at 2.5 hours long — was always going to be a tough job.
The 2021 adaptation of Dune by writer-director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriters Eric Roth and John Spaights solves this problem by cutting the story of the Dune novel in half. Although this choice angered some critics who feel like the movie “just ends in the middle of the story,” it actually ends at a point that satisfies the script’s central question. So while this choice may not be satisfying in the traditional “what happens next” sense, it does work in the “what change is this film trying to document” sense.
But in order for Dune to work at all, its screenwriters had to tell a lot of story at a relatively brisk pace. (In fact, while I thought pacing was one of the places where Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 fell short, I’d say he just about nails it in Dune.)
So, why does Dune work so well as an adaptation?
Let’s look at seven ways Villeneuve, Roth, and Spaights solved some of the biggest problems in any epic adaptation: exposition, story structure and the pace of information.