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Dune: The Dawn of Science Fiction

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

After several delays during the COVID-19 pandemic, this highly anticipated film has set a release date. “Dune” follows the story of young Paul Atriedes as his high-born family is called to duty on the planet Arakis. Loosely based on Islamic theology, mysticism, and history, “Dune” is referred to in the science fiction community as the story that inspired it all. Highly regarded as the father of science fiction, Frank Herbet and 1965 his novel conjure images of a desert planet and create an entire geo-political galactic conflict that sets the stage for this coming-of-age sci-fi novel. After releasing a first attempt film in 1984, Dennis Villenueve’s 2021 remake promises to do justice to this epic story. 

“Dune” first came into my life in the summer of 2018. My older brother picked up the book on a whim and promptly forced my entire family to read all 800 pages. We all finished the book within a week and were passing it around for round two shortly thereafter. We each identified with the characters at a profound level and were drawn to the Islamic allusions and artistry. Our nerdy little hearts felt heard and understood. “Dune” was where philosophy married science fiction, and while we never considered anything God-like, this book became our holy text. 

As indisputably horrible as the 1984 adaptation is, my family clung to it as a comfort film and our only visual manifestation of our favorite story. To say we were excited for the 2021 adaptation would be an understatement, and I was privileged enough to see an advanced screening courtesy of Warner Bros.! 

The Cast

This film features a star-studded cast that not only brings audiences to the box office, but life to Frank Herbet’s 1965 novel. While Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Fergusun are undoubtedly the leads, they are joined by several stars who are no strangers to space. Star Wars alum Oscar Isaac, and Marvel actors Josh Brolin and Dave Bautista join the cast, as well as Zendaya, Jason Mamoa, and Javier Bardem. This was the best performance Timothée Chalamet has delivered to date, as he embodies the lead character, Paul Atreides. 

The Music

In addition to the unparalleled acting performances, Hans Zimmer never ceases to amaze audiences with his ability to curate the perfect score. His music, as featured in major Hollywood films ranging from “Dunkirk” to “The Lion King,” has been known to captivate listeners and build tension like no other. Zimmer struck the perfect balance between an intergalactic dystopia and homage to the story’s historical Islamic allusions. Listen to the film’s soundtrack here.

Cultural Ties

In regards to “Dune’s” Islamic roots, the story pulls from a variety of aspects of Islamic and Middle Eastern life. The spice trade (i.e. the central conflict of the story) alludes heavily to the oil politics of the Middle East. The battle for control of the spice trade parallels the real world issues surrounding land and power disputes over natural resources. Additionally, the galactic women’s fashion mirrors that of Islamic women’s fashion. Veils are used as a depiction of status. This is seen by Rebecca Fergusun’s royal attire and the garb of the desert-dwelling population of Araknis. This use of the veil to deliver a sense of otherness is not new to science fiction lovers, however “Dune’s” fascination with veiled culture lends itself to the larger interpretation of Islamic mysticism. The character of Paul Atriedes follows a similar character arc to that of the Prophet Muhammad. Rather than a crusade through the desert planet Araknis, young Paul engages in a jihad, or a spiritual struggle within oneself against sin. As he fights to liberate the planet Araknis from its oppressors, Paul channels his spiritual training to fully realize his greater purpose.

While many viewers may feel that this film is reminiscent of the space sci-fi they know and love (i.e. “Star Wars”), I assure you that it is the exact inverse. Frank Herbert’s vision and beautifully crafted execution paved the way for science fiction in the 20th century and beyond. While I simply cannot recommend his book enough, this film exceeds all precedent and expectations. The film succeeds in engaging audiences with a captivating cast and massive spectacle, and Herbert’s political and societal structures — the true genius of this storytelling — are on full display. The explicit creation of cultural norms, such as spitting as a sign of respect in a desert planet where water is sacred, and deliverance of a comprehensive governing system, explained by the House system and ruling Emperor class, hold the story together and immerses the audience into a world beyond their own. 

See “Dune” on October 22, 2021 in theaters everywhere and on HBO Max beginning October 21, 2021. 

Alia Davis

CU Boulder '23

Alia is the Director of Outreach and a writer for Her Campus CU Boulder. She is a third year student majoring in International Affairs and Anthropology. When she isn't articles, she can typically be spotted on a run, watching Wes Anderson films, or re-reading Dune.
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