Denis Villeneuve’s new Dune adaptation faces an unusual problem for a science-fiction epic as a result of its location. The movie, which takes place on the fictional desert planet of Arrakis, subverts many of the tropes that audiences have come to associate with the genre, including the setting. However, despite the difficulties this potentially presents, it also provides scope for the film to do something genuinely ground-breaking and present its story in a relatively unique way.

Following in the footsteps of three prior attempts to adapt Frank Herbert’s original book, including David Lynch’s 1984 failure, Dune tells the story of young nobleman Paul Atreides. Sent to the desert planet, Arrakis, Paul finds his family betrayed before leading the local population in a revolt against Arrakis’ overlords, the Harkonnens. The novel, which was released in 1965, is widely regarded as one of the great works of science-fiction literature and has spawned several sequels. Despite the various failed efforts to adapt it for the big screen, Dune remains one of the most influential works in the genre, either literary or cinematic.


One of the things that makes Dune such an enticing universe to explore is the desert setting of Arrakis. Unlike many other sci-fi classics, the story doesn’t take place in a traditional futuristic environment. Instead of the gothic industrialism of Blade Runner or The MatrixDune’s aesthetic places a much greater emphasis on nature, the harshness of the planet, and the environmental dangers inherent on Arrakis. Because this is so far removed from what many modern viewers have come to expect from science fiction movies, there is a risk that the setting overly subverts current genre tropes. However, despite this potential location problem, there’s also a possibility that this point of difference will help mark the film out as something truly unique.

It’s certainly true that the novel’s setting is one of the things that helped distinguish Dune from other similar stories. The deserts of Arrakis ultimately inspired many locations in other genre classics, such as Tatooine in Star Wars. However, it may present a problem for a contemporary audience. Many of the most popular modern sci-fi hits, including the likes of The Hunger Games and Inception, are inherently urban. Even movies that emphasize the natural world, such as Avatar and Jurassic World, take place in lush green jungles rather than arid deserts. For audiences well-versed in these modern sensibilities, Dune’s distinctive aesthetic may come across as jarring.

However, while this may fly in the face of what some audiences will expect, the deserts of Dune may also help to mark the project out as something truly unique. The recent deluge of near-identical dystopian future sci-fi flicks, such as the Divergent and Maze Runner series, could mean that sci-fi audiences are crying out for something as idiosyncratic as Arrakis. Filmmakers’ willingness to repeat and recycle similar settings and looks shows that making a radically different-looking sci-fi film is a real risk. However, given the worrying scarcity of truly original visions in the genre, Dune may well be positively received.

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