Dune: 1984 vs 2021
– Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear
Dune is my second-favorite book of all-time, and the 1984 film, for all its flaws and foibles, is one I enjoy and hold dear to my heart. I saw it opening weekend in the theater without having read the book, so I had no idea what I was getting into.
13-year old me loved it.
Dune (1984) movie poster
Dune (2021) movie poster
Then, I read the book – and loved the book even more. But it didn’t diminish my love for the movie. I re-visit the book, at least in part, every year. It’s that good. Of course, when it was announced that Denis Villeneuve was going to film it, and in two parts, I was over the moon. I couldn’t wait.
And, I won’t lie: It’s an amazing adaption. Villeneuve got so much right with his vision. But, this being the internet, there are going to be opinions as to who was better in the role: the 1984 cast member, or the 2021 cast member.
Because absolutely nobody asked for it, here are my thoughts on exactly that. Enjoy.
Jurgen puts in a solid performance as a restrained Duke Leto, and his anger after Paul’s encounter with the Hunter-Seeker is something to behold, for sure. But I think he will always be remembered for his whole, “the tooth!” scene.
Oscar puts in a supreme performance. I totally buy him as a competent and compassionate Duke Leto.
For me, the determining scene in the films that basically made the choice for me is the “Damn the spice!” scene. Jurgen’s Leto is angry, but still reigning it in. You feel like he’s going to snap at the next person who comes along.
Oscar, though. I felt the anger, yes. But I also felt the tiredness and the compassion for the crew in the sandcrawler. So nuanced. Oscar’s performance in Dune is his finest yet, and he feels like he belongs in the film.
Verdict: Oscar Isaac
Let’s be honest: Kyle Maclachlan was mis-cast as Paul Atreides. It’s not because he couldn’t act; no, that’s not the problem. The problem here is that Paul Atreides is 15 years old when Dune opens. Kyle was 25 in 1984 and looks it. Timothee is also 25, but doesn’t look it.
I also don’t think Kyle knows how to move his shoulders. Granted, he spends a lot of time in an uncomfortable rubber suit, but even in “regular clothes” he was stiff and unnatural.
Timothee has a lot of work to do to “grow into” Muad’dib, that’s for sure, but his performance in Dune is superb. He expresses so much with just his eyes, and he feels like a young Paul Atreides. Maclachlan’s Paul came off as much older and more of a peer to the other Atreides household members.
This is a tough one, as I feel that both performances here are great. Francesa Annis really shines as the reserved Bene Gesserit, and brings a weighty presence to the role.
Rebecca Ferguson feels a lot more relatable as a person, and she is fabulous in the role of Lady Jessica. However, I have a hard time buying her as a Bene Gesserit witch. She does a wonderful job in the role, and is certainly more physically involved in action scenes than her 1984 counterpart.
This was almost a tie, but I have to choose. Because of the slight edge in gravitas, I’m going with Francesca Annis.
However, this choice isn’t nearly as difficult. I love me some 1984 Duncan Idaho, I really feel like Richard Jordan gave you the impression he had been living in the desert with the Fremen.
But as the legendary swordmaster of the Atreides? No, not buying that one.
Momoa sells the role. I have to admit I was concerned at the casting at first; not because he’d be unable to pull it off, physically, but because I was afraid we’d get Space Aquaman.
I am here to tell you that Momoa delivers. I don’t know when he got to be this much better as an actor, but he’s nailing it as Idaho. This is his best performance in anything to date.
Nailed it with Brolin.
Don’t get me wrong, Sir Patrick is an excellent Gurney Halleck and I’d have never thought that a new actor in the role could take his place. Brolin managed to not only do it, but to almost make me forget about Sir Patrick entirely.
Thufir Hawat, Mentat Master of Assassins and life-long servant to the Atreides. A human computer and killer, and, in the books, essentially a special-ops leader (he spends a lot of time “behind the scenes” doing in Atreides foes on Arrakis).
Massive eyebrows aside, Freddie Jones looks the part of such a character. His protrayal is often alien, seldom warm, and all business.
Stephen Henderson is excellent as Thufir Hawat, but he’s too… likeable. Affable. Warm. He seems more like a friend who also is a Mentat than a Mentat who is a friend. If that makes sense. His performance is superb (as they all are), but… I don’t buy him as a Mentat.
I wanted to like Chen Chang as Yueh. I really did. And his performance (what little of it there is, and that’s the real problem here) is excellent. I would watch him in other roles, no problem.
But Dean Stockwell’s tortured Yueh is the Yueh for me. After the betrayal, his “You think you have won? You think I don’t know what I gained for my wife?” line really brings out the internal twisting that has been happening to him since the Harkonnens took his wife. Chang’s performance is way more understated and again, while excellent, I don’t think he brings out the tortured pain that Stockwell’s portrayal does.
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
Kenneth McMillan’s Baron Harkonnen is an evil, twisted, over-the-top villain who has hatched a plan to destroy the Atreides. I love every scene he’s in, all the scenery he chews and spits out.
Stellan Skarsgard’s Baron is an evil, twisted, coldly-reserved villain who gives the impression that he could out-evil and out-plot Emperor Palpatine.
They’re both very different, but equally excellent, intrepretations of the same character. I think, however, that the Skarsgard version is much more like the book Baron. Doesn’t make the choice any easier, though… but at least I didn’t have to look at Skarsgard’s nasty toes while he floated around the room. I mean, really. Put on some shoes or socks or something.
I’ll be honest: I never cared for the 1984 “Beast” Rabban. Smith doesn’t fit the role, other than coming across like the lunkhead his uncle the Baron thinks he is. He lumbers around and… eats a piece of freshly-killed goat.
Bautista is menacing. He carries the inkwine whip that gave Gurney his scar – and he looks like he can use it, too. This is an easy one.
That line is not in the book.
Moving on. I love me some Brad Dourif.
Dastmalchian is chilling as Piter De Vries. Absolutely nails the role of a twisted Mentat: cold, competent and calculating right up to the last minute. Just typing that out gives me the shivers.
Doctor Liet Kynes
Another one that’s really difficult.
On the one hand, Max von Sydow is a hard bar to reach, in general. As Kynes, he portrays a man of quiet competence, who is used to command and has no doubt that when he instructs his Fremen to do something, shit gets done. He also exudes the still air of someone who can kill you just because you’re an impediment to what he wants to get done.
Sharon Duncan-Brewster’s Kynes is all that, but without the casual off-handedness about killing. I mean, she kills plenty. I love her in the role and will watch her in other things. But I think von Sydow owned it so hard, he will be Liet Kynes forever.
“You have strength. You shall be known as Usul – which is the strength of the base of the pillar.”
This one is quick, but I am conflicted about it.
Everet McGill portrays an intense, self-assured Stilgar. He barks orders (and just about everything else!) and there’s no doubt that he is in charge when we first meet him. He looks the part.
Javier Bardem is a quieter, more soft-spoken Stilgar. To me, he mostly looks the part… unless you go by the book description of Fremen. Javier is a little… let’s say he’s got some excess water around his waist, compared to book Fremen. On that basis alone, since his performance is excellent, I have to give this one to Everet.
No contest here: Zendaya is Chani. No offense to Sean Young, but she has always felt a little mis-cast as a Fremen.
Zendaya, however, looks completely at home in her stillsuit, and her performance backs up that comfort and grace.
Look, Sian Phillips’ Reverend Mother scares the piss out of me. She’s imposing, clearly the top-tier Bene Gesserit, and someone who, though she serves the Emperor, is obviously powerful in her own right.
I don’t feel any of that with Charlotte Rampling’s Reverend Mother. Intentional, I’m sure, but not enough to take the lead.
Sian wins. Forever.
Please don’t make me put my hand in the box.
The modern take on ‘thopters actually looks, you know, like they could fly.
I think they both look pretty good, but the 2021 versions actually look like reasonable pieces of equipment, not just a wetsuit with ribbing.
This isn’t even close. Those rubber sweatbags? Gotta go.
I like ’em both, to be honest.
The one thing I miss about the 1984 version is the muffled/filtered-sounding voice. Other than that, this one’s easy.
Get the fuck out of here with that shit.