Friday, October 22, 2021

Dune Today

I saw Dune. I recommend it as a film. 

I still remember when I first read the book in 11th grade. I checked the paperback out of the school library, but hadn't read it by the time it was almost due. I remember looking at the back cover during play practice one afternoon, thinking "Giant sand worms? Ugh." 

I almost turned it back in, unread, but instead I renewed it. I don't remember how I started reading it (at night? on the school bus?), but I do remember being completely lost for at least the first hundred pages. But I kept going. 

At some point, around the time the characters arrive on Arrakis, I think, I had a handle on things and was hooked. I think I might have reread it right away after finishing to understand it better, then read Dune Messiah. And then soon after, Children of Dune, which came out in 1976. 

By my senior year I was trying to do an extra-credit paper for English on some theory or other I had developed about it all. (I thought I was so smart to have figured out the Atreus reference in the name Atreides.)

I did not appreciate the 1984 David Lynch movie version, but not because I disagreed with his primary stylistic choices. It wasn't the boils on the Harkonnens I disliked: it was the casting of 25-year-old Kyle MacLachlan as Paul and the use of a gun-like object to represent the Bene Gesserit power of the Voice. I agree with a friend of mine who says the whole thing feels like a cartoon.

Now I look at the new movie and feel much more comfortable with how it is made, while recognizing that the story itself is problematic in ways I didn't recognize as a teenager or young adult. Not everyone agrees with the idea that it's a White Savior story, but it's hard to get around the fact that it takes for granted that breeding humans for certain traits leads to a "better" human in some sense, since the story makes no sense without that. So it clearly relies on eugenics as an unquestioned truth.

What happens in the next few books shows the problems of all this, to some extent, in Frank Herbert's sometimes clunky way. But will those be made into movies, and if they are... what downsides will be shown?

I don't know. But compared to most Hollywood films, at least I can watch it. Maybe that's nostalgia speaking.

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