Dune is my favorite novel. Well, I should say that the first three Dune books are my favorite novels, as they sometimes shift in order. The point is, I really like them. So I've been following along with the news of Denis Villeneuve's film adaptation with some mild trepidation. I don't think there's reason to go into full-blown anxiety mode yet, but I'm worried. These books are dense, intricate, and difficult to adapt. 1984's adaptation should tell you everything you need to know about that--but don't watch it, I wouldn't wish that on anyone (DO watch the Sci Fi channel Dune miniseries if you can find it).
Recently I saw this piece on Vanity Fair which had a bunch more details and updates, including some of the first set photos. There's a lot of info here, so I thought I'd boil it down to three things: why I'm not worried, why others are worried but I'm not, and why I am worried.
Why I'm Not Worried
Seriously this cast is amazing. I'm pretty sure everyone is on board with it at this point. Timothee Chalamet, Josh Brolin, Zendaya... I won't go through it actor by actor for the most part, because I don't think it's necessary. There's just a lot of talent in this lineup, and it'll be exciting to see them work together on a project this grand.
I'm not sure if there's any other director alive who I'd be less worried about adapting Dune than Denis Villeneuve. Sicario, Arrival, and Bladerunner 2049 are all beautiful pieces of cinema, in a variety of ways. He's talented, and he knows how to make visually stunning and compelling stories come to life. If anyone can do a good job with Dune, it's probably him.
The Composer For Dune
I, along with many others, would have loved to see (hear) Jóhann Jóhannsson reprise his performance with Arrival on Dune, and so it was a shock when it was announced that the composer had passed away suddenly. Fortunately, Hans Zimmer has stepped in to compose the score for Dune, and given that he's recently said how much a fan of the source material he is, we may get an even more stellar performance than usual.
There Will Be More Than One Movie
One of the huge problems with David Lynch's Dune adaptation is that it tries to fit everything into one movie. The novel itself is split into three distinct books, and it's quite long. Since we found out that Villeneuve has gotten permission to do the story in two movies (moreover that he wouldn't do it unless he could do it in more than one movie), I've been comforted. I would personally probably rather see it as a trilogy (as I said, the book is split into three books, really), but two is better than one for sure.
Why Others Are Worried But I'm Not
Some of the Cast
I saw at least one friend (who also loves the source material) point out that he was worried that Timothee Chalamet was too young to be Paul. Then, he immediately contradicted himself by pointing out that at the beginning of the book, Paul is 15. But since both visual adaptations we've had (Lynch's and the Sci Fi channel miniseries), the actor cast for Paul was much older, it's probably changed our perceptions. Chalamet should do well.
For those who have maybe only read the first Dune novel, it might surprise you to find that some are concerned about this casting choice. After all, playing a daring warrior should be no problem for Momoa, especially after Aquaman, right? The issue is that later in the Dune series, the character of Duncan Idaho becomes more complex and important. There's some concern that Momoa hasn't done anything that nuanced yet, and I get it. However, I think if we get to the point where Dune Parts 1 and 2 are so successful that they're adapting the rest of the series, it'll be a great problem to have. And I think Momoa hasn't shown everything he's capable of yet.
Change Related To Female Characters
There are two changes that Villeneuve is quoted as making in the Vanity Fair piece related to increasing the role of women in the story. First is expanding Lady Jessica's character arc, and the second is changing the ecologist Liet Kynes to a woman. I'm sure there are a lot of concerned internet trolls who are worried about "ThE hOlLyWoOd AgEnDa," but I'm really not. Neither of these changes should impact the fundamental story in any way, and both could introduce interesting potential.
Why I Am Actually A Little Worried
The Baron of House Harkonnen
In the novel, Baron Vladimir is a grotesque and repulsive villain. His cunning and malice are equaled only by his appetite. He's a morbidly obese murdering pedophile. Villeneuve has said that he thought that at times the Baron was "flirting very often with caricature" as his reasoning for making some changes. What changes? Well he didn't give a lot of detail, and Stellan Skarsgård was conspicuously absent in the set photos, so my mind is in speculation mode. There are three comments in the Vanity Fair piece that I'm unsure about. They say that the Baron is a "rhino in human form" and "created with full-body prosthetics." In light of Villeneuve saying he was moving the Baron to "less of a madman and more of a predator," I am in extreme speculation mode.
Will Villeneuve’s Baron be some sort of evil Robocop? I get that I'm speculating here, and I LOVE Stellan Skarsgård for this role, so this might all be much ado about nothing. But if they change the evil Bacchus villain into some kind of mechanical Rocksteady, I'm going to be very disappointed.
Dune as Ecological Prophecy
The second thing I'm concerned about is Villeneuve's comments about Dune being prophetic. It appears to me that he's trying to take the source material of Dune and look at it through the lens of climate-change. There is a deep and interesting ecological narrative in Dune. And yes, our world is rapidly changing. But I don't believe they are the same story. Climate change is real and matters, but it’s about preventing an apocalypse. Ecologically, Dune is about reclamation, and the dangers thereof. Those are distinct narratives, and trying to force Dune into the story of climate-change would, in my opinion, drastically alter the impact of the source material, as well as feel shoe-horned.
All in all, though, my two biggest concerns are fueled mostly by speculation. Everything we have hard information on so far is encouraging. So I suppose we'll just have to wait and see. At the very least, regardless of what Villeneuve does with the story or what the actors do with the characters, it’s wonderful that a sci-fi adaptation as ambitious as this still found a home in Hollywood.