Denis Villeneuve’s Dune 2021 was right to cut the best scene from the book. Villeneuve was hard-pressed to fit even the first half of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel into one movie, and naturally he had to cut out some scenes. The book spends significant amounts of time on exposition and intricate world-building, and perhaps one of the most revealing scenes comes at a dinner party thrown by Duke Leto shortly after the Atreides arrive on Arrakis.
The scene was omitted from Villenueve’s film, but in the Dune book franchise, the banquet serves as Paul’s – and the reader’s – first real introduction to the complex political arena of Arrakis. From water merchants to smugglers, and even a Guild banker operating as a Harkonnen spy, the banquet scene is rife with political sparring and subterfuge. This is also the first time that Kynes reluctantly reveals the potential of turning Arrakis from a spice-rich desert to a paradise, and it’s remembered as one of the best, most well-crafted scenes from the novel for its tense humor and macabre tone.
Despite how strong the scene is in the book, however, Villeneuve was right to keep it out of the movie. Although it provides the perfect opportunity for exposition and further character development, most of the intricacies of the character interactions are only comprehensible by also being able to read the characters’ thoughts. It would have also burdened Denis Villeneuve’s Dune movie with an excess of exposition, leaving less time to strike a balance between world-building and other important elements like action and story-telling.
One of the reasons that Dune has long been considered unadaptable for the big screen is that much of the character development is accomplished internally. Herbert reveals character knowledge by sharing their thoughts with the reader, and actual dialogue takes more of a back seat, with most of the story’s spoken word being comprised of either lies or attempts to manipulate other characters. This is partially what makes the banquet scene so interesting and perfect in the novel. Yet, what makes the scene perfect within the written word also makes it nearly impossible for Dune 2021 to do an accurate adaptation from the book.
Including the scene would also have required too much time in a movie that’s already more than two and a half hours long. Dune is set in a massive and complex universe, and it’s important for Villeneuve to accurately establish that, but it’s equally important that the first installment of his Dune franchise isn’t just exposition and world-building. By focusing on the right areas of the novel, he’s able to find a strong balance between painting the fantastical Dune world while still telling an engaging, action-packed story. The banquet scene would likely have skewed the balance too much towards exposition and could have made parts of the well-paced film drag on a bit.
The banquet scene would have been a problem for the 2021 Dune movie adaptation to fix, and it is possibly unadaptable for a visual medium, at least as it happens in the book. The only version of Dune that includes a banquet is the 2000 TV miniseries, and it’s hugely different from the novel, focusing on Paul’s relationship with Princess Irulan rather than political subterfuge by the Arakeen factions. The scene also creates less of a pacing issue in a series that’s distributed across multiple episodes, not neatly packed into a feature film. The banquet is worth checking out in Herbert’s novel, but Villeneuve made the right choice to leave it out of his Dune adaptation.
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Author: Chris Bellows