Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two has taken cinemas by storm. The sequel is outpacing the box office gross of its predecessor, and is receiving rave reviews. It has a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, with some reviewers saying it may be one of the best science fiction films of all time. The world of Dune is quite dense, complex, and at times overwhelming. Frank Herbert’s sci-fi opus contains multiple fictional cultures, lineages, histories, and even languages.

Villeneuve’s first entry, Dune (2021) was not the original theatrical adaptation of the book. That would be David Lynch’s Dune (1984), which was poorly received by audiences and critics. The two adaptations contain many visual and narrative differences, which I will dive into below. 

Narrative Differences

Dune, Movies, Paul Atreides

Dune (2021) and Dune (1984) have many narrative similarities, as can be expected. David Lynch’s Dune covers the entirety of Herbert’s first book, while Villeneuve’s first entry covers roughly the first half. Both approaches had their flaws. Lynch’s at times moves at lightening speed, not giving you time to digest what’s happening. Villeneuve’s adaptation, on the other hand, was criticized at release for being far too slow in the first half. The Weirding Way, a type of close-quarters combat, was often referenced in the 1984 film. Paul Atreides stressed the importance of teaching it to the Fremen to secure victory. It is entirely absent in the 2021 film. 

Also absent in the 2021 version are internal monologues, which the 1984 film tirelessly utilized  for exposition. Often, they were completely unnecessary. The most noticeable scene affected by this choice is Paul’s attempted assassination by the Hunter-Seeker. The moment loses all tension as Paul distractingly whispers a play-by-play of what we see on screen. The 2021 version gives us exposition more naturally. We learn about Arrakis alongside Paul as he researches the planet with holograms, providing information akin to a Discovery Channel documentary. When we learn about the Fremen, the information comes from Duncan Idaho and Dr. Kynes, characters that have extensive relationships with the group. We learn about the Voice and the Bene Gesserit alongside Paul as he is guided by his mother and the mysterious organization. 

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Character Differences

As mentioned earlier, Dune (2021) only adapts roughly the first half of the novel. Major characters like Freyd-Rautha, the Emperor, and Alia Atreides (Paul’s sister) are not in the story yet, unlike the 1984 film. The Guild Navigators are also present in the former but do not exist in the 2021 version. This could be attributed to both Lynch’s pension for the strange, and Villeneuve not finding them necessary for his more focused film.

Lady Jessica also has a heftier role in 2021, feeling much more essential to the story. In David Lynch’s version, she was often sidelined. The Baron in Lynch’s version has open wounds on his face, maintains a truly disgusting level of incestuous lust for his nephew (gross but true to the source material) and delights in overt cruelty. Meanwhile, 2021’s Baron is more subtly evil and manipulative, preferring others to do his bidding rather than directly getting involved. 

Design Differences

Dune, Dune 1984, Movies, Glossu Raban

Design differs drastically between the two films. In both adaptations, the Harkonnens possess a black, leather wardrobe, and House Atreides sports Western Military garb. In Dune (2021) the costumes are more streamlined and sci-fi. This contrasts with Lynch’s campy, over-the-top costuming. The modern Harkonnens are pale, often bald, brutes. In 1984, they have hair – usually red – and Sting’s Freyd-Rautha is noticeably tan.

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Other design differences include the Sandworms, weaponry, Fremen, and space-craft; most of which Villeneuve captured more accurately according to the novel’s descriptions. Due to limited CGI and special effects in the 1980s, many things look far different between the two versions. Most noticeably are the defensive shields, which have a much more boxy, geometric look to them in 1984. Obviously there are also set and cinematography differences, but that comes down to the vision of the directors more than technical limitation.

Directorial Differences

David Lynch, Denis Villeneuve, Directors, Movies, Dune

David Lynch (Left) and Denis Villeneuve (Right)

It’s very important to note the differences between these directors. David Lynch is known for his strange, out-there films like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive. These are all lower-budget, surreal, and more niche films. He had not directed an adaptation prior to Dune, and the budget for Lynch’s Dune was well over two times his second most expensive film. Choosing a director like Lynch – who at the time was known for his strange style – to adapt an even stranger book to appeal to general audiences was a very poor decision.

The studio also allegedly heavily cut the film to be more accessible. Lynch has since expressed disappointment with the film after studio interference, saying “I don’t even like talking about Dune really, but I’ve said before I knew when I was signing the contract that I was signing away final cut and from that moment I felt like, looking back, I started selling out.” In a 2020 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Lynch shut down any potential love left for the franchise or curiosity for Villeneuve’s adaptation, saying, “I have zero interest in Dune.”  Denis Villeneuve, on the other hand, directed a few higher budget films like Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049 prior to his take on the franchise. Villeneuve’s experience with higher budgets, lack of reports of studio interference, and more approachable style is more attractive to general audiences. These are likely reasons for the preference audiences and critics have for his film.

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The Franchise Continues

As you can see, there are many differences between the two films, both narratively and stylistically, that likely caused the differing reactions between the two. Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the second half of the novel, Dune: Part Two, is in theaters now. To find out where you can watch these films, check out our article “Where Can You Stream Dune Part 1?”

If you’ve already seen Dune: Part Two, check out our Video Review and Spoilercast.

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