The 94th Annual Academy Awards ceremony just concluded, and Dune took home the most awards tonight - six Oscars. Best Achievement in Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound, Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score), Visual Effects, and Production Design. Not that we needed the validation of the Academy to tell us how important a film this is, but we have it nonetheless.
If there’s a sci-fi museum somewhere, with the hallowed hall carrying memorabilia or images of the best works ever created in that genre, there is little to no doubt that the highest mantle would carry something from the writing desk of Frank Herbert, the celebrated author of the Dune series of novels. Or now that there’s a Denis Villeneuve movie based on the first novel, the said mantle could even have a prop from the set. The point is, if sci-fi were a religion, Dune would be its holiest of the holy scripts. One of the main reasons why us sci-fi geeks love it so much is because we see how the themes addressed in Herbert’s epic saga are undoubtedly timeless. No, it wasn’t a story told way ahead of its time - because those themes were relevant then, and they’re even more so now. If you haven’t had a chance to read Dune, do it now. It’s a deep-dive you won’t regret. If reading is not your thing, fear not for Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 movie adaptation, which has just won six Oscars, will satiate that thirst for great storytelling nonetheless.
Dune is a coming-of-age saga of a young man named Paul Atreides who is wary of leaving Caladan – his home planet full of water and life. His family, House Atreides, and its retinue, are supposed to go to Arrakis a.k.a. Dune, an arid planet with a rough ecosystem. However, Dune is full of spice called melange, a psychoactive chemical that is the main natural resource powering the entire Empire. Melange enables interstellar travels and without it, the economy of the empire would collapse. The moment Paul enters the Arrakis’ environment imbued with spice, his powers awaken.
This contrast between Caladan and Dune represents something most of us can relate to - the world then and the world now. Most of us live in an inhabitable environment. We don’t have to wear special stillsuits to keep us moisturized, and gigantic sandworms aren’t our daily window view. The chaotic environment of Arrakis draws some parallels to Earth’s own changing climate. Replace the fictional spice with the very real and scarce oil, and you’re suddenly reading the story about how we’re over-exploiting our planet’s resources.
But that’s not all - Dune challenges the world’s obsession with capitalism, about how it’s a system steeped in short-termism. It also explores what happens when religion is allowed to interfere with state politics. The presence of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, a pseudo-religious body comprising only of women, as the de facto right hand of the empire, also shines light now how those to often claim ‘to serve’ end up in positions of great power enabling them to manipulate events at a large scale.
Finally, and this is the most important aspect of the story, Dune acts as a great warning sign against hero worship. The world needs heroes, yes, but what we often get in the guise of heroes, are demagogues. Dune shows us the difference between the two. While we won’t get too much into that because this will no doubt get explored in the sequel, we’ll leave with a quote from Frank Herbert from 1979 when he was asked about the message of Dune.
"The bottomline of the Dune trilogy is - beware of heroes. Much better to rely on your own judgment, and your own mistakes."
Later, in 1985, a year before Herbert passed, he wrote -
“Dune was based on this idea of the infallible leader because my view of history says that mistakes made by a leader (or made in the leader’s name) are amplified by the numbers who follow without question.”
So does this pique your interest in what is arguably the greatest sci-fi story ever told? If so, then can watch it on Amazon Prime Video.