In 1965, Frank Herbert graced the world of science fiction with what many have described as one of the most influential pieces of sci-fi ever written that would inspire many iconic stories to follow. Dune was and still is considered the golden standard, the peak of world-building and storytelling, and Herbert’s skill at his craft is evident to see through almost every single word present in the six novels that make up the Dune series. The book’s caliber and quality is almost undebatable; those who start the series rarely leave unsatisfied. That is why for a very long time, it was disheartening to the fans of the series that this book had countless directors attempt to tackle the complex story, with not much of a success… ever. Sure, some adaptations were funny in their stupidity, sure, some adaptations were nostalgic, but Dune was simply too vast of a world to bring to life.
But in 2021, all was going to change for the Dune fans. Denis Villeneuve was but a boy when he first found out about the saga. Enthusiastic and curious, he fell in love with the story and a seed of an idea was planted in his mind. A seed that would grow into a dream and then a reality; he wanted to direct a successful, compelling and accurate version of Dune. Villeneuve’s passion and dedication for the story is seeping from every crevice of every scene, and it is easy to understand that the movie is a direct mirror of Villeneuve’s genius imagination as he read the book, both as a boy and an adult. It is unanimously agreed that this version of the movie is the best. As all things in life, it does not come without its critics, but the overall consensus is that this movie is, just as the book was, a breathtaking masterpiece.
Anybody who knows me will also know that I am a huge fan of the 2021 movie, and I encourage everybody to go watch it. But that is easier said than done, because a big question immediately raises itself; what medium is best? Between 2D at home, 2D at the cinema, 3D, IMAX or 4DX, which version is superior and offers the viewing experience that Villeneuve aimed for? After viewing all 5 versions of the movie, I can only try to be an advocate of the difference in strengths and weaknesses of each, and in order to deliver the most immersive and impressive experience it is crucial to watch the movie in the medium that suits you best while also simultaneously remaining captivating and doing the beautiful shots in the movie justice!
For those that have never heard of Dune, though, it might be fit for a quick synopsis (spoiler-free, of course) to introduce you into this new galaxy. Taking place on the most valuable planet in the universe, Arrakis, Dune can be perceived as a number of different stories, depending who you decide to focus on. From a macro-perspective, it is the story of a vicious political battle over the most precious substance in the universe that can only be found on Arrakis: the spice. As the antagonists, the ruthless and dangerously cunning Harkonnens try to take back the land they previously owned, the land that holds the ever-important spice, and the protagonists, the Atreides try desperately to survive while also freeing the oppressed native Fremen from a future of cruelty. (Even today, many parallels can be drawn from Herbert’s fictive work to the modern world!) On the other hand, from a micro-perspective it is a coming of age story as Paul Atreides is pushed into a destiny way ahead of his time, a destiny that he may not ever be ready to fulfil. He is crowned a messiah and has to step into his role whether he wants it or not. In short, the tragic coming and going of a deity. The story has something for everybody: strategy, backstabbing, romance, jaw-dropping descriptions and thrilling action that will suck you into the story like no other work.
Now with a general ensemble view, we can finally dive into the true discussion: what is the best way to watch Dune?
2D can be split up into two main methods; either at home, or at the cinema. Let’s begin with the most basic option: watching the movie at home, either on a tablet, on a phone or a laptop. It is important to understand that a lot of things go into a good movie: from the obvious imagery and acting, to the sometimes forgotten musical score and sound effects. And Dune has undoubtedly one of the best soundtracks written this decade. Hans Zimmer truly outdid himself this time, pushing the boundaries of music itself and inventing new instruments and sounds solely for this movie.
That is why, without any sort of filter, I believe this is the worst way to watch the movie. This movie was made on such a huge scale, that tablet speakers or tiny phone screens aren’t going to do it justice. Impactful scenes that had given me goosebumps and tears in the cinema now left me with close to nothing. The rumbling of the bass in the cinema that had caused me to forget my surroundings now was nothing more but an annoying whir. Also, the movie tends to be quite dark. So dark, in fact, that at-home watchers have reported unsatisfying experiences with visibility when it came to watching certain scenes in the movie. In short, at home, the movie’s insane visual imagery and soundtrack are reduced to… well, alright at most. The plot is still astounding, the acting is still phenomenal, and the movie is still very much watchable, but Dune was made with bigger plans in mind. (More on that when we talk about IMAX)
Alright, so then, what about 2D in cinemas? I believe that this is a relatively good way of watching the movie! The luminosity issues are resolved given the darkness of the room, and the sound output is satisfying enough to convey the emotions Hans Zimmer intended to convey. Controversially, I preferred watching it in 2D than in 3D in cinemas; the 2D did not subtract that much from my watching experience and for a less exhausting time (since this movie is so well made and draws you in so effectively, you’ll leave the cinema as exhausted as the characters!) I believe 2D is the better option!
I’ll start off by saying that in this case I am biased. I’ve never been a big fan of 3D, since it didn’t really ever add anything jaw-dropping to the mix. I stick by that opinion even today. Dune wasn’t that much greater in 3D, and I definitely didn’t feel like I got my money’s worth, seeing as I paid more than I would’ve had to if I’d gone to normal 2D.
Just as with 2D, the sounds were amazing, there were no light-related issues, and a few scenes were slightly enhanced by the addition of 3D, but not enough in order to make the extra money worth it. Sometimes, certain areas of the screen were annoyingly blurry, subtracting from the viewing experience. Overall, though, it is still a decent way to watch the movie, but only if you know that you enjoy
(For those that are unfamiliar with the concept of IMAX, it simply entails a wider and taller screen together with higher overall resolution.)
I believe it is important to highlight that Dune was filmed with this medium in mind; utilizing IMAX cameras, Villeneuve postulated that the movie’s scale could be captured on the largest cinema screen available! And correct he most certainly was. Watching the movie on an IMAX screen added another level of grandiosity to the whole thing; shots that were astonishing to begin with now became so enthralling I couldn’t physically convince myself to look away. Compared to 2D or 3D, this version is 100% superior in my eyes.
Dune was meant for this. Dune was created in order to be viewed like this. Alright, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but watching Dune in 4D felt like seeing the movie all over again. On top of the stunning plot and characters and together with all the benefits of 3D screening, every scene had an added impact, an added sense of implication and emotion, while also being able to interact and engage all my senses. The result? An unforgettable experience. Legitimately, I walked out of the theatre still in awe of what I had witnessed. A movie had managed to interact with me on such a deep level, both physically and mentally, that I was left speechless for at least another 10 minutes after it had finished.
With minimal spoilers, here are a number of scenes that, with the addition of 4D, become a completely different experience. Firstly, 4D cleverly punctured scenes where characters were being stabbed or punched by replicating the feeling! Naturally, it never was bad enough to hurt, but it made certain injuries and deaths feel even more impactful. Another fascinating moment is the almost perfect imitation of rain in the room, together with vibrations in all jet (ornithopter) flying scenes. Plus, our first encounter with terrifying, man-eating monsters named sandworms was augmented into something so chilling (both physically and metaphorically, as erratic winds blew through the room to simulate the size of the monster). These were big details that I expected, but what truly took my breath away were the small details; the strong fragrance that creeped through the room and penetrated my mask as poison simultaneously flowed through the hall in the movie, the fog that was summoned whenever the characters were caught up in sand storms, or the swift move of the chairs that accompanied the swoosh of the camera, this astute attention to detail made a huge difference.
But everything has a down-side. I believe that despite all the aforementioned benefits, 4D would not be good for people who do not like the extremely immersive feel; sometimes you just want to watch from afar, without feeling like you are directly involved in the heart-racing events. 4D is not for that. People who want a more relaxing outing to the cinema and not an immersive exhausting experience (since the movie in and of itself is already super exhausting) would prefer a different medium for the viewing.
Also, it is definitely not for people who get motion sickness quickly since there will be a lot of movement, and if you have a weak stomach or get dizzy quickly, it could become nauseating. Naturally, there are a number of other restrictions on 4D, like, for example, people with acute back problems, epilepsy (4D utilises bright, flashing lights to intensify moments like lightning or car headlights) and a number of other complications that can be read before buying tickets to 4D movies.
In conclusion, Dune is an amazing movie, and the 2021 adaptation is largely regarded as the most accurate and intelligent approach to the book. Each medium has its benefits and drawbacks, and even if I despised watching it on my laptop, you might love it! It all comes down to preference, and, in the end, the rich story and its plot twists, complex characters and transfixing world-building will still manage to shine through, no matter where or how you watch the movie.