“Dune” is a brilliant assemblage of sci-fi elements. Based on the novel by Frank Herbert, the recent film follows Paul, the son of Jessica and Duke Leto of Atreides. Since he is the son of a beloved duke, Paul is surrounded by mentors who teach him many things. However, when the Emperor begins to fear how well-liked and influential Duke Leto is, he gives the Duke another planet, Arrakis. All Atreides know the dangers of Arrakis and travel to the desert planet on high alert in an effort to secure their future. However, securing alliances in a galaxy is never so simple. It seems like the whole galaxy is working against them. The Harkonnens, who first ruled the planet, wish to control the land again. Although there doesn’t seem to be an oasis in the sand, the spices swirl across the sandy surface. The most valuable resource in the galaxy, the hallucinogenic spice is used by the Spacing Guild to see into the future and maintain their monopoly on interstellar travel and banking.
The best science fiction stories have an extended topos or setting. From the landscape to the society or the organizational structure, the quality of the topos largely contributes to the quality of the tale. If the topos is immersive, the story will follow.
Herbert pondered all aspects of the social structure and cultural nuances of the galaxy. Hailing from Caladan, the Atreides value loyalty and mutual respect. They grant life above all else. In contrast, the Harkonnens are a brutal race who only want to take back Arrakis for the wealth it brings. The Fremen are the native people of Arrakis and they have adapted to the environment.
A more obscure group is the Bene Gesserit, a coven of women with mind control powers and the ability to see into the future. They are a manipulative group as they attempt to ensure their survival and secure the “best course” for the galaxy. Each group of people has a rich culture with its own customs and rituals, which the novel explains in great detail – a depth the film only scratches the surface of. Yet every quality sci-fi story depicts a world full of colorful cultures.
Likewise, the two planets Caladan and Arrakis are depicted in great detail. The waves crash against the black rocky shoreline of Caladan, which blends into the lush green grass. During a conversation between Paul and his father, tombstones were lined up in the background, further showing the Atreides’ emphasis on respect, this time for the dead. Arrakis is a desert planet, introduced by gusts of wind on the faces of the characters. However, there is a uniqueness, a value in the desert. Spice, the galaxy’s most valuable resource, can only be harvested from the sands of Arrakis. The landscape and the setting expand as Paul continues his journey.
The novel slowly constructs the topos, both the planets and the people. Herbert does it in a natural way: As Paul learns of Arrakis’s existence, so does the reader. He describes with ease the dunes of the desert and the people Paul meets. Reflecting Herbert’s style, the film effectively places the viewer in Paul’s galaxy.
One of the most familiar concepts in science fiction is that of advanced machines. Futuristic yet realistic technology essentially defines the genre; science fiction is a type of fantasy that relies on realism and invites the audience to imagine possibilities.
“Dune” includes a multitude of futuristic technologies. Shields are a seemingly ubiquitous part of the galaxy, projecting overhead and protecting the body or a ship from fast-moving projectiles. Of course, ships reflect massive technological advancements. They allow easy travel between planets and even intra-planetary planets look different. Called ornithoptera, the fast vessels resemble dragonflies.
In the first minutes of the film, Paul comes across the gom jabbar. As the Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit tells her, the box holds back the pain. When Paul places his hand in the box, he experiences unimaginable pain, but when he removes his hand, it is unharmed – not even a scratch.
Countless other sci-fi works include cyborgs, but “Dune” was one of the first to do so: the characters in Herbert’s creation are artificially enhanced. Mentats are human computers for solving problems and dealing with probabilities. The Atreides and Harkonnens use mentats because they are knowledgeable and calculating.
Unique to Arrakis, the Fremen have developed suits to combat the desert heat. They cover the body with a mask that covers the mouth and nose. They work to retain as much moisture as possible – if worn correctly, they won’t shed more than a thimble of sweat throughout a day on desert sand.
Utopian and dystopian elements
While every sci-fi society has utopian components, they mostly depict dystopian foundations where people tend to live difficult lives under an oppressive group. In dystopias, the protagonist tends to feel alienated, but finds some hope. Most science fiction stories are dystopian themselves, but all include these themes.
While it might be easy to categorize brutal Harkonans as strictly dystopian, every culture has both utopian and dystopian elements. The Fremen, for example, are completely attuned to their environment and have developed a tight-knit community. However, they have their own brutal rituals. When one member challenges the other, for example, they participate in a fight to the death.
Elements are also present when categorizing planets. Caladan is depicted as a paradise: white-capped waves rolling against the shore and vibrant waves of grass. Arrakis contrasts with this happiness. The heat descends from the dunes and the sunlight is enough to kill a man in a few hours. However, the Fremen have developed ways to seize natural resources other than the spice that others crave and aim to create a type of utopia for themselves.
Paul is a remarkable example of an alienated protagonist. In addition to being trained in the ways of leadership, his mother trained him in the ways of Bene Gesserit. Paul is something different from anyone else – a combination of different ways of life, including both his heritage and the customs he adopts.
Although they may be buried below the surface, science fiction stories also contain critiques of the culture. They can cover a range of topics, such as a critique of capitalism or a condemnation of violence.
“Dune” includes environmental criticism. On Arrakis, the most precious resource is water. Intense sunlight drains almost all living things, forcing people to learn to live in harmony with the environment. The Fremen live below the surface of the planet and have created suits to make the heat bearable.
Additionally, one aspect of “Dune” can be read as a critique of imperialism: the Fremen are the native people of Arrakis, but the outsiders are in charge. Although the Fremen have adapted to the harsh environment, they are considered savages and uncivilized people – in the same way that the settlers dismissed the natives as ignorant. The Harkonnens are a brutal race. Wasting precious water on Arrakis and hunting down the Fremen, they only care about spice. Duke Leto comments that if they harnessed air and water power on Caladan, on Arrakis, they would need to harness energy from the desert. Leto knows exactly what they need to do and he has asked for help from the Fremen, aware of the adaptation of the natives. While other races view the Fremen as primitive, they are more in tune with their world than any other people.
“Dune” is made up of countless essential sci-fi elements. The topos creates an immersive setting for the audience and cutting-edge technology points to the future, where utopian and dystopian elements are at play, while a cultural critique makes the tale more than just a story, pointing out the flaws in the real world. The elements are all intertwined to create a sci-fi masterpiece.