Dune (2021)

Composed by Hans Zimmer

The third, latest live-action adaptation of Dune (a great sci-fi novel written by Frank Herbert back in the 60s) has been eagerly expected amongst nerds. Reception of the various adaptations have been mixed, as the book is actually quite hard to translate to film. David Lynch’s 1984 film failed to adequately convey the complex workings of Frank Herbert’s fictional universe to casual audiences. A 2000 TV mini-series with more time to work with did a better job, but necessarily sported a smaller budget. Dennis Villeneuve seeks to strike the right balance by splitting the story over two big budget films. The first part is visually stunning and quite faithful though missing a couple pieces of worldbuilding from the novel (such as why everybody fights with swords instead of guns). The movie also ends rather abruptly, despite closing with an important development in the main protagonist’s character. For the most part, however, my criticisms are more small quibbles, save one element: Hans Zimmer’s score. Zimmer professed great enthusiasm for scoring Dune, to the point that he chose it over frequent collaborator Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. He is also a big fan of the book, so this was a passion project for him. The end result is a score that is so focused on ambience and industrial noise that, if not for the film’s incredible visuals and strong performances, would have nearly stripped it of emotion.

It would be wise to attempt a basic summary of the story itself. While there are battles, the emphasis of the story is on politics, religion, and psychological conflict. The basic story is that the desert planet of Arrakis supplies a star-spanning human empire with spice. This spice has many purposes, enabling some humans to gain incredible abilities, and whoever controls the spice can control the course of the empire while making immense profits. As a result various powerful aristocratic houses strive to gain control over its collection and distribution. The Emperor hands the planet over to the House Atreides. The villainous House Harkonnen, however, makes a power play. Paul Atreides and his mother Jessica (a Bene Gesserit who can manipulate others through the use of her voice), find themselves seeking refuge with Arrakis’ desert-dwelling Fremen. Paul takes advantage of a prophecy to set himself up as a messiah figure and vie with other powerful figures for control of the empire. Continue reading