1984 and 2021’s Dune: Contrasting Films with the Same Name

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Dune 2021
Photo: DUNE 2021 - Warner Bros. / Villeneueve Films / Legendary Pictures

When it was announced in the early stages of 2017 that Legendary Entertainment had acquired film and TV rights to Dune, the world collectively sighed. Everyone who is a fan of the 1965 Frank Herbert novel of the same name – the novel which Denis Villeneuve‘s Dune is based on – was downright fearful. The reason for this is simple: the 1984 version.

1984 and 2021’s Dune: Contrasting Films with the Same Name

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Cinematographic Excellence

In 1984, iconic film director, David Lynch, released his Dune unto the world; a largely ambitious attempt by film producers to capitalize on the sci-fi phenomenon largely powered by the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek. Whereas the latter is a contemporary of Dune – with its TV show debuting one year after the 1965 Dune novel was published – the former takes inspiration from it; with George Lucas recounting on more than one occasion that Star Wars owes plenty to the Herbert classic. Therefore, the 1984 cinematic version of Dune surely could not fail.

But it did. There have been many criticisms of the 1984 movie: from garnering overwhelmingly negative reviews, to poor casting decisions (Patrick Stewart as a pug carrying Gurney, for example, is not an inspired choice) and some typical Lynchian surrealism creeping in – something not appreciated in a story already difficult enough to follow. However, above all else, the main problem was pacing.

The original novel is 412 pages of storytelling masterclass; covering complex themes surrounding politics, war, peace, religion, gender and human relationship. To tell this story in one film, then, is no easy task. Unfortunately, the 1984 Dune suffered from attempting to tell the entire story in just one single two hour flick. In contrast, the 2021 Dune has told only half of the story (officially titled as “Part One”) in just shy of three hours – meaning it has benefited immensely as a film from its structure and pacing. When watching Dune 2021 in a cinema, there is never a point where you lose interest; it captivates your attention from start to finish and does well in explaining some of the lore to viewers who may be unfamiliar with it.

Whereas the 1984 Lynch version suffered from a number of questionable casting decisions, the 2021 version did not. Jason Momoa playing sword-master fan favorite Duncan Idaho (originally played by Richard Jordan), for example, is one such excellent casting decision. Momoa looked and felt far more like a Duncan than Jordan could manage – this is not a knock on Jordan, but rather a knock on the casting. Patrick Stewart was replaced by Josh Brolin – a far better fit for devoted soldier henchman turned tribal nomad. Patrick Stewart looked and sounded far too sophisticated, waspish and elegant looking to be believable in the role, whereas Brolin succeeds in capturing the rugged elegance of the character in ways which Stewart, for all of his glory, simply could not.

Though the beloved Kyle MacLachlan (best known for playing Twin Peaks‘ Dale Cooper) was an inspired choice to play protagonist Paul Atreides in the Lynch version, Timothée Chalamet was a more than fitting replacement in the Villeneuve version. Whereas Kyle – like much of the 1984 Dune cast – is a tremendous actor who did the best he could with what he was given, for reasons not fully understood he just looks less the part of sci-fi heir-to-the-throne than Chalamet and for that reason, even the casting of Paul was an improvement on the original.

The larger world of Dune felt more accurate in the new version, also; with far more cultural sensitivity and inclusion present throughout. For example, in the 1984 flick, Chani – love interest of Paul – was played by white Caucasian actress, Sean Young; an odd casting decision rectified with the casting of Zendaya. Stilgar, leader of the Sietch Tabr Freman tribe in Dune, was also whitewashed in the 1984 film – played by Everett McGill and now rightfully replaced by Javier Bardem, who looks far more the part of Stilgar than McGill. It is clear, then, that this film has paid closer attention to some of the finer elements of the story and has attempted to make culturally and physically accurate casting decisions.

Then, we have the choice of director. In 1984, David Lynch was fresh off of the successes of the 1980 retelling of The Elephant Man – an eight-time Academy Award nominee (which tragically failed to win any) which no doubt played a crucial role in Lynch securing and assuming the role of director for Dune. However, Lynch’s typical style of movie – which ranges from neo-noir to ultra surrealism – was never going to fit a film like Dune.

Dune is a ready-made story with its own universal complexities and was in need of someone able to bring the story to life, as opposed to a unique and imaginative storyteller in his own right. Compare this to Villeneuve, who boasts the likes of Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival in his filmography, and it is clear that though Lynch is a tremendous, wonderful director among the greatest ever, he was simply an inferior fit for this film than Villeneuve.

The box office confirmed that, also. With a budget of $40–42 million for the 1984 version, it failed to make this back; drawing in only $30.9–37.9 million and therefore placing it among one of the more ambitious cinematic flops of all time. 2021’s Dune had a far greater budget of $165 million and as of this writing, has already made back (in less than a week) $147.2 million of that budget. Therefore, there is little to no doubt that the Villeneuve film is destined to be a blockbuster hit which revives what had for the longest time between a dead project.

Conclusion

Without giving away the story of the film – as we believe its excellence warrants your viewing it in a cinema and coming to your own conclusion – it is clear to see that Villeneuve’s 2021 version of the 1965 brings the film to life in ways many of us never thought possible. Again, make no mistake, Dune is a complex tale for any film director to bring to life – its sci-fi elements inspired Star Wars and its even more complex themes of politics, struggle, humanity etc inspired Game of Thrones. Villeneueve has succeeded in finally doing justice to a 1965 book largely deserving of a great movie (or series of movies, as there will be a “Part Two” sequel) re-telling and we at LWOS Life cannot wait for the next one.

Could there be some awards coming Dune’s way? Entertainment betting sites and Maxim Bet Online Gaming might just be able to provide you with the odds. Whereas we mentioned at the start of the article that everyone who considers themselves a Dune fan sighed at the announcement of a second attempt at a Dune movie in 2017, we can now rest easy. It is in good hands and in cinema now.

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