Dune Movie Viewer Reactions: Roundtable Interview

The 78th Venice Film Festival, world premiere venue for the Dune: Part One (2021) movie.
The Palazzo del Cinema in Venice. Credit: Zsuzsanna Virag

Now that the world premiere of Dune: Part One has taken place in Venice (September 3) and theatrical releases have commenced this week (in over 26 countries), hundreds of thousands of moviegoers have seen the movie.

In the spirit of sharing their diverse perspectives with you, I interviewed four European viewers who had the pleasure of watching the long-awaited filmin some cases multiple times. While we’ve already heard the movie’s largely positive reviews from critics, it’s especially relevant to hear from these avid Dune and cinema enthusiastssome of whom have discovered the series recently, yet have been such an active part of the online fan community for years.

Tobias Katsch and Zsuzsanna Virag traveled to Venice earlier this month to attend the festival, while Dylan Sausset and Vincent (from Everyday Dune) saw the movie several times this week in their home countriesFrance and Germany respectively. Enjoy reading about their experiences in this roundtable interview:

Discovering Dune and Reactions to Watching the Movie

Dune News Net: How did you get into Dune? What makes this series special to you?

Zsuzsanna Virag: I came across the book in 2018, when the movie was in the pre-production phase. I was fascinated by the depths of the story, how big the Dune fan base is, and the number of artworks inspired by the series. It was also really exciting that the film was shot in Budapest, where I live, so I got to meet several of the actors and Villeneuve in person.

Tobias Katsch: I got into Dune just after the announcement of a movie adaptation of the science fiction classic by director Denis Villenueve. I had never heard of the story before and after Blade Runner 2049, which is one of my top movies, I was extremely curious about this next project by Denis. After some research, I was amazed to learn how important Dune is for modern science fiction and how many beloved movies and books were heavily inspired by Frank Herbert’s work. From this moment on, I knew I had missed out on something great and started reading the novel that same day. Over the next days and weeks, I became a huge fan of the books and I am especially loving the philosophical aspects and real-world parallels Frank Herbert condensates in his work.

Dylan Sausset: Long-time fan. Firstly, this story is not about action, like Star Wars movies. This is based more on philosophy, even when looking at details like the names of characters, the names of planets.

Vincent from Everyday Dune: The reason I got into Dune was the release of the first images of Villeneuve’s movie. I was intrigued by the image where Paul walks down the Caladan coast and awaited the subsequent cast photos eagerly. I had loved Villeneuve’s movies for some time and Blade Runner 2049 became my favorite movie of all time in 2019. His attachment to the project alone made me very interested.

But with Dune, it wasn’t just Villeneuve that hooked me. I read some basic plot descriptions and realized that this might just be the new sci-fi franchise for me, so I bought the book a few weeks later. When I had finished it in late October 2020, I simply knew that I wanted to see more of this universe and that the movie would end up being a masterpiece.

I have found the fandom to be a very welcoming place, which makes Dune all the more special to me. It’s such a rich universe that makes you question the world around you and forces you to rethink your own actions. I think that’s something we desperately need these days.

DNN: What’s your overall reaction to watching Dune: Part One?

Vincent: I was absolutely speechless. Not once was there a moment in these 2 hours and 35 minutes where I could take my eyes off the screen. It was truly one of the most masterfully made movies I have ever watched. I saw the movie a second time only a day after my first screening and it made me love it even more. A truly mesmerizing experience, a film unlike anything audiences have ever seen before.

Zsuzsanna: The film includes all key aspects of the novel. I was hoping it would be a great movie and I was not disappointedit was actually better than I expected.

Tobias: Watching Dune was the greatest cinematic experience of my lifetime. After all the hype building up to this event, I was sure my expectations could not be met but Dune is everything a true fan could have ever hoped for. With a novel as rich of details, subtleties, and deeper meanings, there were thousands ways for any director to go wrong but where most directors would have taken the easy-way-out Denis stays truthful and humble to the source material. Watching Dune awakened an emotion I haven’t felt since I was a child watching The Lord of the Rings for the first time, a very powerful and rare thing. I really hope this is only the beginning…

Dylan: I was very impressed, because it respects the book a lot. The designs of the outfits are amazing. The music… I have no words. It’s more detailed that the David Lynch movie (from 1984).

Cosplay of a Fremen warrior, by Dylan Sausset.
Fremen cosplay by Dylan Sausset, featuring stillsuit and crysknife.

How Faithful is Villeneuve’s Adaptation?

DNN: As someone who knows the story of the book, was there anything that surprised you about this adaptation to film?

Zsuzsanna: I was surprised that some important characters (e.g. Feyd-Rautha) have been left out. Because Villeneuve planned to make two movies therefore he had more creative freedom to change the chronology.

Tobias: I was surprised where to movie goes with the character of Kynes. Here the movie deviates from the book and concludes Kynes story in an extremely satisfying manner delivering one of my favorite scenes.

Vincent: The most surprising thing to me was how faithful it felt to the original novel. Villeneuve had stressed that it would be an adaptation that honors the source material, but it really feels like a natural extension of the story that Frank Herbert wrote in 1965. Not all scenes from the book are in the movie, and some nice subplots sadly had to be cut, but it’s not a problem at all. In fact, the scenes that come from Villeneuve’s own pen do the most amazing job at enhancing the strengths of Frank Herbert’s characters and his world.

I was also surprised how big of a role Jamis ended up getting. In the book, its hard to really remember him, but here, he appears frequently throughout some of Paul’s visions and his role is greatly enhanced. The character felt surprisingly three-dimensional in only a few minutes of screen time. One of my favorite changes to the book, though there are many other great things that honor the novel’s ideas, despite not being from Frank Herbert himself.

Dylan: It’s all the details that surprise me, the design and especially how he portrays the Fremen. We see their perspectives as a people and how they are distrustful of all, it is perfect.

Favorite Dune Cast Performances and Thoughts on the Movie’s Pacing

DNN: Whose acting performance stood out the most to you?

Tobias: Acting wise I especially liked the dynamics between Jessica and Paul. The duality of Jessica having the role of being Pauls mother but also being a powerful Bene Gesserit is depicted very believable and is supported by great acting.

Zsuzsanna: Every actor was great for their role and they did their best. The ones whose performances I liked the most were Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa and Timothée Chalamet.

Dylan: If I had to choose only one, it will be the mother of Paul, Lady Jessica. We see all of Rebecca Ferguson’s acting range in the movie: when she’s scared, she cries, the trembling of her hands… You see how she feels all the emotions that Paul is feeling. Crazy!

Vincent: The most common answers I have heard to this question are Timothée Chalamet, Stellan Skarsgard, and Rebecca Ferguson. I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson play an Oscar-worthy mother and son duo and Stellan Skarsgard is a menacing villain, but I would like to point out someone else: Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Liet Kynes. Her character had been my favorite side-character from the book, but the additional scenes and dialogues she gets make her better than ever. She is so very charming, so very strong and mysterious; every single moment we spend with her is an absolute delight.

Crowds in Venice watching the Dune movie red carpet proceedings, on a big screen.
Crowds in Venice, watching cast and crew of Dune on the red carpet via public screen. Credit: Zsuzsanna Virag

DNN: How would you describe the pacing of the movie? I.e. Is it fast-paced all the way through or did you feel there are passages where the story gets a chance to breathe?

Tobias: I am very thankful Denis got the chance to split the first novel into two parts, allowing this first movie to take its time to introduce the world, the characters, stakeholders and the dynamics between them. Most fans of the novels will admit that the last half of the first book feels rushed, maybe here the movies can even improve on. Overall I enjoyed the pacing of the movie.

Zsuzsanna: The action scenes are full of quick cuts but there is a balance between the action scenes and the “slower” parts (e.g. Paul’s visions or when he is learning about Arrakis).

Vincent: Absolutely phenomenal. I have often heard criticism that Villeneuve’s movies are poorly paced, and while I understand this sentiment for some of his other work, this doesn’t apply to Dune at all. Every scene has a central, driving force to it that moves plot and characters forward or builds up the film’s great intrigue or allows us to delve deeper into its world. Action sequences are beautifully sprinkled between the dialogue-heavy scenes, allowing for a constant flow between very fast paced scenes and the phenomenally intimate sequences we know and love from Dune. Twists and turns work phenomenally well and every few minutes, you find yourself surprised by this movie, even if you already know the book’s story. No one besides Villeneuve could have accomplished this.

Dylan: At the beginning, we can think that there is a long time before the Atreides arrive on Arrakis, but for someone who has read the book it is perfect. [The time spend on Caladan and elsewhere] helps explain a lot about the universe. The action scenes are few, but really well down and remind me of descriptions in the book.

Audience Reactions to the Cinematic Experience

DNN: How was the atmosphere in the theater during your screening and how did the audience react?

Tobias: Clapping, a lot of clapping.

Dylan: The first time I saw the movie (in VOSTFR) there was applause and enthusiastic reactions. It felt like the cinema was in awe. The next time (15 September) was in 4DX and there were fewer people. I was less impressed by the latter screening, because I feel 4DX does not do justice to a masterpiece like Dune: Part One.

Zsuzsanna: Unfortunately I cannot describe the audience reactions in great detail: I saw the film in a big open-air cinema and there were less people then usual, only every second seat was occupied due to social distancing regulations.

Vincent: It was a crazy feeling, because I hadn’t seen a theater this full since early 2020, before the pandemic began. Not all seats could be filled due to social-distancing measures, of course, but the ones that were available were all taken. You really got the feeling that the people around you desperately wanted to see this film as well.

The atmosphere was quite different from what I was used to as well. It’s not a Marvel movie where the audience laughs every three minutes because some joke undercuts a serious moment. In fact, it was eerily silent throughout most of the screening. You could feel that the entire audience was captivated by this film, that no one could put their eyes off the screen for a second, that everyone was fully immersed in the world Villeneuve had created. I looked around myself and saw faces full of admiration and satisfaction when the lights went on again and the credits rolled.

Banners and posters promoting the Dune movie, inside of a cinema in Germany.
Dune banners and posters at the cinema. Credit: Vincent from Everyday Dune

Dune Movie’s Ending and Repeat Viewings

DNN: What are your thoughts on the ending? Knowing that this is the first part, and the next movie is a few years away, is it a satisfying conclusion?

Zsuzsanna: It is a completely standalone movie, as it is, but it hints very strongly that this is not the end of the story.

Tobias: We have to acknowledge the point where Dune: Part One stops is not an dramaturgical ending to a story, but the end of the first chapter. It can not, and must not, be a satisfying conclusion.

Vincent: The ending was great. It doesn’t feel abrupt, but instead works as a major transition for our characters that ends the movie on an emotional high-note. I have seen the film twice, both times with people unfamiliar with the books, and they all stressed how the ending left them hungry for more. How it made them mad that they would have to wait years to see this story continued. It’s a near perfect finale to this film to me. It not only pleases long-time fans of the books, but also keeps those new to the world interested for what the future holds.

Dylan: For me the end is both very good and not… Very good because we can say, after 2 hours and 35 minutes, it covered everything we have to know from the first half of the book. As someone who knows what’s coming in the second half though, you’re like “Ohh nooo! I want to see more!” [laughs]

DNN: Tobias, you mentioned that you’ve also seen this movie twice. Was the experience different, that second time?

Tobias: Watching Dune a second time made me appreciate certain details and minor differences to the books even more. For example Denis moved the ‘I must not Fear’ scene to a different plot point, resulting in a very powerful emotional moment. Overall the second watch showed me, once more, how well thought through this movie is.

Montage of Arena Lido, an open-air cinema in Venice, ahead of Dune movie screenings.
Montage of Arena Lido, open-air cinema where some of the festival screenings took place. Credit: Zsuzsanna Virag

DNN: What would you tell people who aren’t familiar with Dune, to convince them to see this movie?

Dylan: I had one friend who didn’t know anything at all about the story of Dune, before watching it. After the movie he said “it is amazing, a lot of philosophy”. Based on our discussion and the questions he asked me—more to confirm his understanding—it’s clear he understood all of it. Go to the cinema and watch this in IMAX 2D! It will be amazing!

Vincent: I have actually managed to convince two people to watch it, thanks to an Instagram story. I told them, what I would say to anyone else: If you want to see a phenomenal science fiction movie, that feels different to the kind you have known for years, go and watch Dune. If you want to see a phenomenal cast of actors, who all deliver stunning performances, go watch the film. If you want to feel completely immersed in a surreal but beautiful world, go watch this. If you have missed the cinematic experience and want to see movies that feel like actual art on the big screen, go watch Dune… No other movie, in the next few years, will ever be as worthy of your time.

Tobias: You will regret it if you miss out on this cinematic experience, and this is one of those movies which must be watched on the big screen. If we want Dune: Part Two we have to support this project financially, so please go to the theater!

Zsuzsanna: This movie has it all: A thought-provoking story, great acting, breathtaking cinematography, and an amazing score.