“Dune”: The progression of sci-fi film and novels throughout the years

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Charles Budan

Junior Charles Budan enjoys reading his copy of “Dune.” The original science fiction novel inspired another film adaptation, which will be released in two parts, the first of which hit theaters on Oct. 22, 2021.

Molly Rawat, Feature Editor

It is no question that Frank Herbert’s 1965 science fiction novel “Dune” paved the way for several major sci-fi and fantasy works to come. With director Denis Villeneuve’s recent release of the second film adaptation of the major text, old fans of the classic sci-fi pioneer are able to see the epic sandworms they could only previously imagine come to life before their eyes on the big screen.

“Dune” takes place in an interplanetary empire and is about a young boy named Paul Atreides, son of a duke, who is sent to rule a supposedly desolate and inhospitable planet called Arrakis. Though he may be set up for failure, this planet harbors a particular substance of utmost importance to the people of this universe and therefore puts into motion the primary conflict of the series.

While “Dune” (2021) only covered the first half of the first book in the multi-volume series, David Lynch’s “Dune” (1984) attempted to fit the entire four hundred-plus page novel and has been considered to be an absolute dumpster fire by several audiences. Unfortunately, many believe that his surrealist tendencies took away from the truly complex aspects of sci-fi itself. 

Space fantasy fan and junior Charles Budan recognized the 1984 adaptation included a lot of unnecessary elements in terms of the sci-fi nature of “Dune.” However, he maintained that the 2021 adaptation did a great job at remaining true to the book and there is not much he would change. 

Although many think Villeneuve’s adaptation is a snoozefest with its massive scale, outstretched visuals of sandy deserts and too much of the color orange, it was received well by others. Budan particularly likes how Villeneuve uses space in his films, “where everything can just look so cool yet still be so plain.” He thought both the performances and production design in the movie were great. 

Even Lynch saw “Dune” as a “huge gigantic sadness” in his life, but this does not signify the film itself as a complete disaster. In reality, it shows the difference between artistic styles, fictional genres and the progression of how sci-fi is viewed as a serious genre by audiences. Perhaps Lynch’s surrealist style was not a proper fit for “Dune,” which is hard sci-fi in comparison to more whimsical fictional genres. 

Sci-fi fan and senior Alec Hennings described how the sci-fi genre should exist. “Sci-fi seems to have turned more into a game to see how authors can create new stuff with their imagination, guns, ships, planets, languages, etc., not necessarily how to critique the human condition, and I think the genre of sci-fi has been harmed by that.” What may make a work fall under the sci-fi genre is its critique of humanity, rendering Lynch’s adaptation a failure in that aspect.

Budan noted the difference between some fictional genres that people conflate with sci-fi. “I like a lot of the series that are more like space fantasy than they are hard sci-fi, that is kind of like what ‘Star Trek’ is, but with “Dune”, it is surprisingly similar to stuff like ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ (the series that ‘Game of Thrones’ is based on), where it focuses more on the political side of stuff rather than the cool spectacle,” he said.

Another fictional genre associated with sci-fi is dystopian fiction. “I think sci-fi kind of serves the same purpose as dystopian, but it can also implement that sense of wonder that more fantasy series will have that you typically won’t see in dystopian series,” Budan said. 

This is not to say the several genres are not similar or cannot overlap, but it definitely changes how artists may illustrate and portray the story, especially when converting it from one medium to another, and how viewers will approach the story as well. 

Authors, directors and all creators of stories must understand how to best present their media, and consumers must also know how to take it in. In sci-fi’s case, fantastic spectacles of advanced technology, non-human beings and more are all part of the fun, but the purpose of the genre as a whole has almost always blossomed out of societal critique. 

In the case of “Dune”, it is still up for debate whether the novel has fallen victim to the white-savior trope or is instead a critique of it. If Herbert was critiquing this trope in his book, not only did he influence several other huge sci-fi works, but Herbert also depicted an idea later conceptualized by Edward Said in his 1978 book titled “Orientalism”. 

Budan and English and humanities teacher Lynne Lundberg agreed one of the main purposes of sci-fi is to critique society. “All fiction starts with the question: what if? With sci-fi, it is ‘what if,’ then something that is not true to our culture, but that you could imagine being true, and that might be scientifically possible in the future. The advances that we think will be all good might bring out the worst in us,” Lundberg said. 

Since sci-fi has such a valuable message, it is often considered an entertaining yet serious genre that influences society and its decisions. Lundberg explained that sci-fi stories were not always taken seriously, though. “There was a long time in which sci-fi was not taken very seriously. It was pulp stuff; it would be published in magazines.” 

She recounted another popular sci-fi novel regarding how the genre has been viewed by audiences in the past. “In Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five,’ one of his main characters, Kilgore Trout, is a sci-fi author, and his books are published as dying novels with dirty pictures; they sell them in porn shops, and all that is kind of a reference to the disdain for sci-fi.”

Though sci-fi has come a long way, its journey is far from over. Dune: Part II is expected to be released on Oct. 20, 2023. Though that may seem like a long wait, those who love sci-fi know that it takes time and effort to create fantastically imagined predictions for the future of the universe that must be taken seriously by all members of society.