Last time, we discussed the circumstances leading up to the Atreides leaving their home planet and arriving on the Arrakis. From the moment they land, it is evident that the Bene Gesserits have been at work. They start muttering phrases to themselves about their long-awaited savior. This disturbs Paul Atreides because he considers the actions of the Bene Gesserits manipulation . . . because that’s exactly what they are.
As the Atreides attempt to continue the mining of the spice, it also becomes apparent that the Harkonnens’ have left them dilapidated equipment. During an excursion into the desert to watch the spice mining operation, a horrifying creature known as a sandworm appears. These monsters basically rule large portions of Arrakis, and whenever someone or something trespasses on their terrain, such as a spicing mining machine, the worms come up and devour that person or machine whole. When the sandworm is spotted, Duke Leto informs the men in the mining machine that the creature is approaching, and they call in an aircraft to lift the machine from the sand, but it breaks. This forces Leto to abandon the machine and pick up the men running it, using his own ships.
After a narrow escape from the worm, Duke Leto confronts Dr. Liet Kynes, who is supposed to be overseeing the transition of the mining operation to the Atreides. Kynes basically says nothing can be done and implies that the Duke and his family are in danger, but as stated in the previous review, the Atreides already know of this danger, but there is little they can do about it.
However, Duke Leto is not simply sitting around and waiting for the end. He instructs one of his soldiers named Duncan Idaho to find and live with the Fremen. Leto intends to use the Fremen to establish an army that can rival the Emperor’s Sardaukar. The trouble is he needs time to do this, and it is unclear how long he really has before the Harkonnens — and by extension, the Emperor — will make their move. Unfortunately, the Duke has less time than he imagines.
Still, Duncan is able to return from his mission and he brings along a man named Stilgar. He is the second in command of a Fremen community.
Unbeknownst to everyone involved, Dr. Liet-Kynes is the true leader of the Fremen, a fact which becomes relevant later. The Duke makes a good impression on Stilgar, and the man leaves. The movie makes it a point to show that Stilgar recognizes Paul as Arrakis’s savior, establishing that he too believes in the Bene Gesserit religion. The reason for this moment in the film is to demonstrate that, once again, the groundwork for Paul’s reemergence as the head of house Atreides has already been laid before the Emperor could hatch his plot, not only by the Bene Gesserits, but by Duke Leto as well. Building a good relationship between the Atreides and the Fremen is important because the Harkonnens were cruel overlords.
Where the Movie Exceeds the Book
As I said before, the movie does a much better job than the book establishing all these details succinctly. That’s really the highest compliment I can give the film, and it is not a small one. Dune is a fairly complicated book to read through and understand. Details are all mentioned, but they are spread out over time, and if a reader forgets one of these small facts at the wrong moment, the book can become very confusing, and in places, it will even seem contrived. But the movie condenses these details quickly. It ignores many of the plot points that go nowhere — such as the head of security suspecting Jessica, Paul’s mother, of being the traitor who will turn them in to the Harkonnens — and uses the extra time to establish the political situation right at the beginning. It was a smart move. On top of that, the visuals in this movie are impressive.
Another good example of the writers knowing what to cut takes place when the Harkonnens launch their inevitable attack. Despite the Duke’s best efforts, the Harkonnens come sooner than Leto anticipated, and the long sought after traitor, turns out to be an unassuming doctor named Wellington Yueh. In the book, there’s a big deal made about Dr. Yueh’s training. Somehow, the government had, supposedly, made it impossible for Yueh to turn traitor since he was the family doctor and would have special access to the family. However, the movie ignores this detail.
In my opinion, this is one of the weakest elements in the book because the way the Harkonnens work around this training is by kidnapping the man’s wife, which would be a standard tactic of any villian. The whole point behind specialized training that could override free will would be to make sure that such emotional attachments were irrelevant. But such was not the case in the novel, so it’s a plot point that goes nowhere, and the film made a smart call ignoring it.
Dr. Yueh is compelled to lower the shields and kidnap the Duke in the hopes of saving his wife, and I will say that here is a point the book does a better job establishing than the movie. Dr. Yueh already knows his wife is dead. He knows Vladimir Harkonnen will go back on his word, so rather than going along with the plot, he decides to get even the best he can. He takes the Duke’s signet ring for Paul — marking him as the rightful head of House Atreides—and makes a pack of supplies for Paul and Jessica. He hides the pack in the vehicle assigned to take Paul and Jessica to their deaths, hoping the two will escape and run to the Fremen. Then he makes a specialized false tooth filled with poison gas, which the Duke will break when Vladimir Harkonnen gets too close. He tells the Duke his plan before delivering Leto to the Harkonnens.
As the saying goes, close but no cigar. When the Duke and Yueh are taken to Vladimir, Yueh is killed right away, and when Leto breaks the tooth, Vladimir manages to activate a shield in time. Leto wipes out a good number of the Harkonnens’ in the room, but Vladimir survives.
I do take issue with this part in the movie and the book. Call me sentimental, but I felt it would’ve been more appropriate for the Duke to take out the Harkonnen leader. Narratively speaking, this would’ve closed the first half of the story and established the Emperor as the true threat. The fact Vladimir survives implies that Paul is going to deal with him at some point, but this isn’t what happens. Furthermore, there’s nothing in the book Vladimir does that couldn’t have just as easily have been done by the Emperor himself. Yet despite the fact that the galactic ruler is constantly referred to, he never does much, so when the Emperor emerges at the very end of the novel, it’s rather jarring. Plus, Vladmir’s untimely demise at the end is as anti-climactic as it is unbelievable. It would’ve been better if he’d died during this scene.
And this choice of keeping Vladimir alive until the very end confuses the story, filling it with additional subplots and schemes that go nowhere. In my opinion, this is why the ending of the novel seems rather rushed. There’s no real building to the climax. Things just happen, and the reader is only told — not shown — most of the events.
We’ll cover the fate of Jessica and Paul in the next review.