In 1965, Frank Herbert wrote Dunes, a complex science fiction masterpiece that in 2003 was declared the most successful science fiction novel ever written. Although the book was an undeniable success, it was considered by the filmmakers to be a somewhat cursed concept, much like the pirate theme before the first. Pirates of the Caribbean came with. Every iteration of the book on the big screen has failed miserably. With such complex and intricate content, it makes sense that most filmmakers would be unable to tackle it, at least without falling into the same madness that previous directors David Lynch and Alejandro Kodorowky succumbed to in their individual performances. However, Denis Villeneuve, director of the 2021 reincarnation of Dunescould have got away with it, thanks in part to his masterful understanding and depiction of the famous desert Dunes is so famous for.
Villeneuve succeeded for two reasons, one of which was an amazing art department that invested hundreds, if not thousands of hours into creating this beautiful universe. Even before the audience discovers the main setting of the planet Arrakis, they discover two very different alien planets: Caladan, the ocean planet ruled by House Atreides; and Giedi Prime, the homeworld of the evil House Harkonnen, which is set to return for the sequel. Both places are worlds apart (literally) and reflect the two houses. Caladan is depicted much as it is depicted in the book, as a beautiful natural planet with wide open spaces and an environment that symbolizes freedom and life. Interiors are spacious and minimalist, showing a level of decadence as well as a great respect for the past. Despite being a highly advanced human civilization, the interiors feature intricately carved walls reminiscent of ancient Japanese culture and a distinct lack of reliance on fancy gadgetry. The few technologically advanced elements depicted are paramount in appearance, such as the spooky light that follows protagonist Paul Atreides (played by actor Timothée Chalamet).
Giedi Prime is quite the opposite, a dark planet overrun by industrialization. There’s nothing to suggest life here, with even the Harkonnens themselves drained of color like walking corpses. Compared to Caladan’s natural culture, every inch of space in Giedi Prime is taken up with complex and menacing machinery in constant use. Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, the film’s antagonist, is repeatedly shown to have a heavy addiction to these machines, constantly using them in unnatural ways. Unable to walk or lift his own enormous body weight, he uses anti-gravity devices implanted in his skin to help him float, and later uses a black tar bath to heal his poisoned body. The atmosphere on Giedi Prime is sweltering, leaving audiences with an overall feeling of dread and stuffiness reminiscent of the Death Star.
Caladan’s atmosphere greatly reflects the ancient heritage of House Atreides, carrying a heightened sense of a culture in touch with and respectful of their past. Meanwhile, Giedi Prime is a dark and dangerous place that reeks of mischief, summing up House Harkonnen perfectly. The gracious and honorable House Atreides is also a force to be reckoned with, reflected in the harsh climate and cliffs present on the planet. Instead of suppressing everything natural like the Harkonnens, they live alongside nature, respecting it and using it to their advantage. Even their airships are respectful of the natural world, mimicking dragonflies. Although these two planets are very different, they are both distinctly humanoid, with recognizable technology and design concept, unlike Arrakis.
This is again seen in the two houses’ very different approaches to spice gathering and stewardship of Arrakis. The Harkonnens wish to dominate it through fear and force, while the Atreides aim to work alongside the Freman, who are so closely tied to the planet that they might as well be part of it.
Arrakis itself has the atmosphere of a completely alien planet, as it is entirely hostile to human life. There is nothing on the planet that could sustain humans, with limited water and heat so strong that little or nothing can survive. Even the Freman cannot survive, thus rejecting human life as the planet is, and they rely on the aid of their technology to live. Their stills are the perfect example of this, as they relish and recycle all available water to survive, creating a culture that worships every drop of moisture. Although their survival relies on technology, it is important to note that their equipment reflects nature like the technology of the Atreides. The Fremen exploit it rather than conquer it like the Harkonnens. fans of Avatar may feel like it’s reminiscent of the Na’vi, their reverence and co-inhibition with the living planet.
This sheds light on the second reason why Villeneuve was so successful in masterfully creating the atmosphere of extraterrestrial planets. Nature in the film is treated as if it were its own character, an omnipresent being that has a personality. No matter how advanced a civilization is, nature, the wild and unruly beast that it is, will never be tamed. This is why House Atreides would likely have been able to fully harness Arrakis’ immense power. It is a culture that relies on and exploits nature, unlike the Harkonnens who aim to control it. If they hadn’t been stopped by the Harkonnen invasions, chances are House Atreides would have found a way to live in harmony with the planet, much like they did in their own world.
Dunes creates a restless atmosphere of awe, both thrilled with the natural beauty of the various planets, while teaching the audience about the consequences of disrespecting the natural order. It is a reminder that failing to understand one’s place in the bigger picture and placing humanity apart from nature can have disastrous consequences. It shows how life can thrive when humanity respects nature. Therefore, nature will help them and help them adapt to the harsh environment, just like the big-eared rodents who drink their own sweat to survive the extreme heat, and the Fremen who live in harmony with the infamous worms. sand and desert.
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