We are in the middle of what I am calling Dune Mania. All through Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Letterboxd it is Dune, Dune and more Dune, but not just the 2021 version. People are taking the time to revisit the 1984 adaptation from famed director David Lynch. Both do things good and both do things bad, but the main question that everyone is asking is: what is the best adaptation of the book? Well as someone who has seen both movies and read the entire book, I think I might be able to answer that question.
The Dune novel by Frank Herbert is incredibly long and dense, full of mythology, large sci-fi driven worlds and incredible political intrigue. But again, long and dense. I decided before the newest version was released that I would take on the daunting task of reading this reference material, all 794 pages of that material, to fully be prepared for the epic that we would see on screen. I can also now give my takes and opinion on which adaptation is the best. So let’s take the time to examine both and break them all down.
I have to give just a little bit of background before we dig deep into the adaptations. Dune is a science fiction story written by acclaimed writer Frank Herbert. The story is about a boy named Paul and his family of House Ateides who have been sent to a dangerous planet Arrakis to bring peace and harmony. In the background, the evil Baron Harkonnen is lurking in the shadows with a ruthless plan to end the Atreides line once and for all. But Paul is more than just the son of a Duke, there are more supernatural things about him.
Dune 1984 is weird to me, much like pretty much everyone else. It did it’s best with the technology that was at their disposal, but I think most people can agree that this film really isn’t that good. Now most of this has to do with the performances, very spotty visual effects and just the overall weirdness of the film. Now, we all know that David Lynch is extremely quirky and weird in his filmmaking, but this is something even even weird for him. You also have to discuss the studio interference which has been confirmed by so many involved with the production. We’ve seen how that has gone so many times before.
In terms of the actual adaptation itself, it’s an extremely mixed bag. On one hand, it does tell the entire story in about a two and a half runtime, but on the other, with a book as dense and full of detail as this, that means you have to either, leave out a lot, or cram so much in that it is so confusing. I hate to say it, but they did both. This film is so crammed with exposition and unneeded material that it was an extremely tough pill to swallow. Then you jump to the third act and so much time has passed with very little to catch the viewer up, that you have no idea what is going on.
Dune 1984 has the makings of being good, but in the end falls victim to heavy studio interference and the impossible task of cramming extremely heavy source material into a very short runtime. I think Lynch and the team did the best they could, but to no avail due to the heavy task that they were given. An adaptation of this denseness is incredibly difficult to accomplish with the resources and the time given and Lynch and his team were just another victim of this daunting task.
Now we move on to this year’s version of Dune. Denis Villeneuve was given the incredibly daunting task of adapting this extremely dense material and up to the task he was. This has been a passion project for Villeneuve and it absolutely shows. We’ve talked about it countless times, this is a technical achievement. The performances are stellar, the direction from Denis is incredible, but the story, the story is where it gets good.
This one does it right. This is the most accurate and well executed adaptation of the source material that we’ve ever witnessed. The attention to detail, the little moments and the ability to let the story breath are the most important aspects of this. This is also a clinic in how to do proper world-building with heavily dense source material. Nothing is too hard to understand and the story is told so seamlessly that it doesn’t feel forced. On top of being world-class writing, it is also very accurate to the source as well, not leaving out too much, but trimming out the fat that wasn’t needed.
In the end, this adaptation is by far, and nothing even comes close, the most seamless and accurate adaptation of this novel to date. You can tell that Villeneuve truly cared about this and the studio gave him the opportunity to adapt it the way he wanted. It also helps that Denis has the ability to tell the story in parts with Dune Part Two scheduled to release in October of 2023. That is a luxury that Lynch didn’t have and that showed to be a problem. This is the best case scenario for fans of the Herbert novel.
Let’s get to brass tax. The 2021 version is so much better and it’s not even close. When it comes to just purely the adaptation from the source material to the screen. Dune 1984 again falls in the trap of heavy studio interference and the need to adapt the entire story into one movie. The fact that Denis gets the opportunity to make two films to complete the story gives him the edge in what he is able to accomplish. It leaves time to breathe and gives us the character moments that are crucial in the book. That makes me extremely excited for how the story will end and Part Two in 2023.
Jack Lautaret is a film critic and the founder of the FinaticFilms YouTube Channel. He is a member of the Online Film and Television Association. Twitter: @JackLautaret