Denis Villeneuve knows more about ‘Dune’ than Frank Herbert

Dune, the $168 million Warner Bros. movie based on the first half of the science fiction novel by Frank Herbert, comes out on October 22. It will appear both on HBO Max and in movie theaters. I’m a huge fan of the novel. It remains to be seen if I will be a fan of the movie.

When I read about the decisions director Denis Villeneuve made with making the movie, I have my doubts.

From Vanity Fair:

In an intriguing change to the source material, Villeneuve has also updated Dr. Liet Kynes, the leading ecologist on Arrakis and an independent power broker amid the various warring factions. Although always depicted as a white man, the character is now played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster, a black woman. “What Denis had stated to me was there was a lack of female characters in his cast, and he had always been very feminist, pro-women, and wanted to write the role for a woman,” Duncan-Brewster says. “This human being manages to basically keep the peace amongst many people. Women are very good at that, so why can’t Kynes be a woman? Why shouldn’t Kynes be a woman?”

I’m happy to answer that question. Because Frank Herbert wrote Liet Kynes a man.

The above quote, if accurate, sends up a few red flags with me. First, I’m not at all comfortable learning director Denis Villeneuve is a self-proclaimed male feminist. I’ve found that when men identify as feminists, you can start the clock on how long until they’re accused of all sorts of abusive and creepy behavior. Case in point, Joss Whedon and Harvey Weinstein.

Secondly, women play a very powerful part in the Dune universe. Women make up the Bene Gesserit, a pseudo-religious organization that control, well, everything. Bene Gesserit women are the behind-the-scenes power brokers in the universe the story of Dune takes place. By making Liet Kynes a woman, it brings into question if she’s a secret member of the Bene Gesserit. How does Denis Villeneuve address this problem?

Thinking you are better at telling 'Dune' than the Frank Herbert - Bent Corner
Denis Villeneuve

By gender-swapping Liet Kynes, Denis Villeneuve comes across as if he’s better at telling the Dune story than Frank Herbert.

Thinking you are better at telling 'Dune' than the Frank Herbert - Bent Corner
Frank Herbert

That, in my option makes Denis Villeneuve come off as cringe and more than a little obnoxious.

My default belief is that the story of Dune is best told in the written form with Frank Herbert making all the decisions. Not all books make good movies. I plan on watching the movie (on HBO Max). I’m more than willing to change my opinion. The problem is when I read things like Liet Kynes being gender-swapped to a women because the director is a male feminist, I have my concerns.

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