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Dune - The Attitude of the Knife


In Frank Herbert's bestselling novel Dune, one of the lessons Paul Atreides learns is the attitude of the knife - cutting off what's incomplete and saying: "Now, this is complete because it's ended here." It's a lesson that Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures have taken to heart with their upcoming film adaptation; instead of trying to film the entire story at once, they've decided to film it in two parts. According to Legendary's CEO Josh Grode "there's a logical place to end the movie before the story is over." Denis Villeneuve (director of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049) is directing the film and he's assembled a hell of a crew to help him breathe new life into Arrakis. However, all the fans are desperate to know one thing: Where will his film end? In this feature, I will discuss three scenes from the novel that could serve as the film's ending. I will explore them in detail, so if you haven't read the book, I strongly suggest you close your browser now and buy a copy. I'll be including scenes that don't appear in David Lynch and the Sci-Fi Channel's versions of Dune. Now that that's out of the way, let's get started!


Scene #1: Harkonnen Victory

The novel is split into three parts, or "Books", chronicling Paul's rise to power on the desert planet Arrakis. At the end of Book One, Paul and his mother Jessica flee into the planet's southern regions to escape their enemies, the Harkonnens. Their noble family, House Atreides, is overthrown and Paul's father Duke Leto has been killed. House Harkonnen is back in control of Arrakis. While hiding away in the desert, Paul has a series of visions triggered by the planet's "spice" melange. The mind-enhancing drug gives Paul the power to see the future and even read genetic memories passed down to him by his ancestors. He learns, to Jessica's shock, that her unknown father is the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen; and she will soon give birth to a daughter named Alia. Paul also foresees a future for himself and his family - the Fremen, the planet's desert-dwelling nomads, will give them sanctuary. They will gain power and prominence amongst the Fremen and Paul will become Muad'Dib; a messiah destined to free the Fremen from the Harkonnens forever. As he and Jessica come to terms with his new abilities, Paul mourns his father and swears to avenge him.

When I heard of Legendary's plan for Dune, this scene was the first possible end point I thought of. As the end of Book One, it's the earliest point Denis could choose to end the film... but it's not the most ideal. At this point in the story, only a few clashes have taken place: a failed assassination attempt, two skirmishes between Atreides and Harkonnen forces, and the final attack that drives Paul and Jessica into hiding. Viewers who haven't read the book will expect at least one more battle or conflict before the credits roll - and sadly, they won't get it here. As for Paul's visions, they could work both for and against the film if it ends here. Although they set up future events and pave the way for the next film, the revelations Paul uncovers would be too much, too soon. Newcomers and casual viewers won't have the time to absorb Paul's discoveries before the film ends. If Denis Villeneuve's Dune is to succeed, it will need a more exciting ending. Luckily, the ideal scene may be just around the corner...


Scene 2: The Testing Station

In the early scenes of Book Two, Paul and Jessica are rescued by their swordmaster Duncan Idaho and Imperial ecologist Doctor Kynes. They take shelter in an abandoned testing station - one of several the late Duke wished to investigate - which is, in fact, being used as a secret outpost by the Fremen! Paul learns that Kynes is the mysterious Liet; a Fremen leader who commands all the tribes on Arrakis. Liet sends for a Fremen tribe led by his brother, Stilgar, to take in Paul and Jessica. However, Harkonnen forces discover the outpost and attack, intent on taking the last of the Atreides dead or alive. Paul and Jessica escape, but Idaho dies defending them and Liet is captured. The Baron orders his men to execute Liet and reinstates his older nephew, Rabban, as ruler of Arrakis. "The Beast" Rabban has already earned a reputation for brutalising his subjects, but his uncle orders him to oppress the planet harder than ever! Meanwhile, Paul and Jessica begin their search for Stilgar's tribe.


Before I started on this feature, I re-read the first two parts of Dune. I realised two things when I reached this scene: it’s the literal halfway point of the story; and potentially, the best place where the new film could end! It gives the reader time to absorb Paul’s revelations before topping them off with one more – Liet Kynes, the Imperial ecologist ordered to betray the Atreides, is bound to protect them by his Fremen connections! Liet faces a difficult choice in this scene, which in itself makes for a satisfying climax you might see at the end of a film. And then, there’s the Harkonnen attack. Although it’s on a smaller scale than the later battles in Dune, it has the makings of a big screen finale worthy of The Lord of the Rings’ battle at Amon Hen! Compare this scene with the climax of the Fellowship of the Ring film, and you’ll see they have a lot in common. Paul and Jessica are our heroes running from a fight they can’t win. The Harkonnen soldiers are Dune’s Uruk-hai, an unstoppable menace our heroes must escape from. Finally, Kynes and Idaho are this scene’s Aragorn and Boromir, two warriors giving their lives to ensure the heroes escape. The battle already has the right components in the book, but Denis could raise the stakes higher if he wishes. In January, Dave Bautista (the actor playing Rabban in this year’s film) teased a fight scene between himself and Jason Momoa in the new season of Apple TV’s See. Jason is playing Idaho in the new film, so many people – including myself – mistakenly thought that he and Dave would butt heads in Dune as well. Rabban and Idaho never crossed swords in the book… but there’s still a chance they may fight on the big screen. Peter Jackson created the Uruk-hai Lurtz to give the Fellowship one last fight at Amon Hen, so Denis could bring The Beast Rabban to Liet’s station and give Liet and Idaho the fight of their lives! Whatever happens, it’s guaranteed to be a tearjerker. Duncan Idaho is one of the book’s most beloved characters, and he’s being played by one of today’s most loveable hunks! Fans of the character and the actor will want to pack tissues.


Scene #3: The Spice Agony

In the final scene of Book Two, Paul and Jessica have joined Stilgar's tribe. Paul has proven himself in combat and finally met the girl of his dreams: Chani, the daughter of Liet Kynes, who has appeared in his visions since before he came to Arrakis. Now, it's Jessica's turn to earn her keep. She agrees to undergo the spice agony; a ritual in which she will attempt to become the Fremen's new Reverend Mother. To do so, she must "change" the Water of Life - the bile of a drowned sandworm - and absorb the memories of the previous Reverend Mothers. Jessica performs the ritual without declaring her pregnancy, putting the unborn Alia's life at risk. Mother and daughter survive the ritual, but Alia awakens to consciousness prematurely and takes on the Reverend Mothers' memories as well. Jessica succeeds in changing the Water of Life - making it safe to drink - and secures her place among the Fremen! Stilgar's tribe celebrates by drinking the changed Water, and Paul and Chani become lovers.


Jessica’s rite is the very last point where Denis could end the film. I have my doubts, but I chose to include it because the rumour mill’s been working overtime the past few months. A screenplay, supposedly by the films’ screenwriters Eric Roth and John Spaihts, has appeared on the web. I haven’t read it myself – nor do I intend to for fear that it’s fake – but if it’s real, then it’s likely Denis Villeneuve’s Dune will end with Jessica changing the Water of Life. For me, it’s both encouraging and worrying. At this point, Paul and Jessica have achieved their immediate goals: they’ve joined the Fremen and claimed new positions of power. Also, Paul has fulfilled his visions of Chani – one of the first plot threads established in the book – and the two have become a couple. The last remaining members of House Atreides have two goals left, and they both become the focus of Book Three: amassing an army and taking back Arrakis. Book Three picks up two years after Paul and Jessica join the Fremen, so ending here could work in the film’s favour. However, I believe it could be a gamble. If the leaked script is genuine, and most of its scenes make it onto the screen intact, the finished film could be anywhere from two-and-a-half to three hours long. I wouldn’t mind it being so long, but not everyone has the energy to sit through a three-hour film without stopping. If Denis wants the film to succeed, he and his writers will need to make every word and second count. The pacing will need to be as tight as a doorseal; and the dialogue sharp as a crysknife. They’ll only get to make a second film – and adapt the rest of the story – if the first film succeeds. If Denis plans to leave off here, I truly hope it does.



Unless the screenplay is proved genuine, there's only one sure way to know where Denis Villeneuve's Dune will end. Will you be seeing it this Christmas? Where do you think it will end? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook & Twitter. And until December, may Shai-hulud clear the path before you!

 
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