10 Biggest Changes Between the 2021 Movie and the Book

Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune offered a much more faithful adaptation of the text than David Lynch’s 1984 film of the same name. This was helped by splitting the lengthy novel into two parts, and as a result, the film has been much more successful with both audiences and critics.

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Nevertheless, there are still several changes Villeneuve made that are necessary for making an entertaining film adaptation, removing some scenes, minor characters and details about building a world. if Dune: part 2 is still in development, this list won’t mention any scenes or characters likely to appear in the sequel, but instead changes that affect only the first half of the story.

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The Gom Jabbar Scene

Dune 2021 Paul Gom Jabbar scene Villeneuve

While this scene in Villeneuve’s adaptation is very closely related to Herbert’s book, including identical lines of dialogue, the main difference here is the placement in the story. While the 2021 Dune During the first half hour of the film, this scene gradually builds up, the book opens with the arrival of the Venerable Mother of the Bene Gesserit at Caladan.

It’s obvious why this scene was moved later in the story, as the world of Dune has so many concepts to introduce to beginners who are new to the Dune franchisee. Overall, it’s a minor change, but still a significant departure from the book’s structure.


The CHOAM Company

The Bene Gesserit arrives in Dune 2021

The CHOAM Company, short for Combine Honnete Ober Advancer Mercantiles, is one of the driving forces behind the herbal economy in Dune. The company is run by the Padishah Emperor and the Greater Houses of the Empire, although the Bene Gesserit are also silent partners in the scheme.

The company’s absence is one of the less noticeable changes to the story since their role in the early story of Dune is not entirely clear. Like the Emperor himself, CHOAM’s influence takes place behind the scenes. While the company is absent from Villeneuve’s Part One, there is still potential for the company to be more present in Dune: part 2.


Leto smells a trap

Duke Leto on Arrakis in Dune

A fairly minor change from the book is a change in Leto’s character that makes him much smarter than he appears in the book. Even before leaving Caladan, Leto sees Arrakis as a trap for House Atreides, but he hopes to outsmart his enemies by recruiting the Fremen to his cause.

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Although Leto suffers the same fate as in the film, this adds an extra element of tragedy to his passing, with his acknowledgment that things could have turned out differently had he not been so reckless. There’s a hint of this characterization in the film when Leto utters the “I thought we’d have more time” line to Jessica, but in the end it’s clear this was tweaked to simplify the already complex character.


The Backstory of Sardaukar

A group of Sardaukar walking with their weapons in Dune (2021).

While the audience glimpses the origins of Sardaukar and their home planet, Salusa Secundus, the film omits several details characteristic of the fighters. In particular, a discussion at the beginning of the book between Paul and Leto Atreides discusses how the Sardaukar are the most formidable fighting force in the universe because of the brutal environmental conditions they had to overcome on their home planet. This leads Leto to the conclusion that the Fremen must be the only match for the Sardaukar, since Arrakis is “as awful a place as Salusa Secundus.”

While confrontations between the Fremen and the Sardaukar will likely become more frequent in the second cinematic installment, this is a crucial detail that is oddly omitted from the film.


dr. left Kynes

Sharon Duncan-Brewster in Dune movie

Another change in the 2021 adjustment of Dune is with the character of planetologist Dr. left Kynes. Along with the changing of Kynes’ gender in the casting of Sharon Duncan Brewster, the character’s death is significantly different than in the movie. Herbert’s portrayal of the scene is much less cinematic, showing a gradual and painful death in the herb fields, where the Harkonnen leave him without a still life to die of heat exhaustion. The version in the film is much more direct, as Kynes sacrifices himself to help Paul and Jessica survive. Kynes drops off a thumper to attract a sandworm, and in turn kills her and the surrounding Sardaukar troops in a much more spectacular way.


Princess Irulan

Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) hides from the hunter-seeker in Dune (2021)

Although it is likely that she will appear in the second part of Villeneuve’s Dune, an important element in the book are excerpts from Irulan’s writing that tell the history of Arrakis and Paul’s rise to power. These excerpts come from in-universe titles such as “The Manual of the Muad’Dib” or “A Child’s History of Muad’Dib” that introduce Paul as someone who will become influential in the universe before the reader meets him.

However, this device is more suited to prose than film, and it would apparently be difficult to include it in a visual adaptation of Dune. That said, these fragments are pivotal to the themes of tragedy and fate in the story, revealing events such as the death of Duke Leto in advance.


Jessica and Dr. Yueh

A notable deleted scene from the book takes place between Jessica and Dr. Yueh, while Jessica tries to determine who might be the Harkonnen spy in the vicinity of Leto Atreides. It’s a tough scene to adapt, especially since so much of the drama takes place via internal voiceover, and while Lady Jessica is a skilled and intelligent character, she’s still tricked by Yueh.

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Ironically, it is Yueh’s confession that his family has been harmed by the Harkonnen that leads her to trust him. Instead, it’s the same motivation that leads Yueh to betray House Atreides, allowing him to get closer to Baron Harkonnen and take revenge.


Paul’s Visions

Dune film Paul Atreides Timothee Chalamet Jihad

While Paul still experiences frequent premonitions in the book, the public will get to see many more in the 2021 adaptation. This may be partly to increase interest for the upcoming Dune: part 2, with characters like Zendaya’s Chani getting more screen time through Paul’s visions. However, the increased frequency of these visions may also be to show how Paul can see not one particular future, but multiple possible futures. It’s a concept introduced in the book but visualized in a very unique way.

This is evident from Paul’s visions of Jamis before he met him. Paul sees Jamis as a close friend and future mentor who leads him through the desert, but when they finally meet, they duel and Paul becomes his killer.


The influence of Islam

Fresco in the Imperial Palace on Arrakis in Dune 2021

Certainly one of the most criticized changes of the Dune book, while the film retains Arabic words and phrases, the influence of Islam on the culture of Dune is almost entirely absent in the last adaptation. The world of Dune nearly ten thousand years into our future, so humanity’s religions are still significantly different from what they look like today, yet the 2021 film eschews the book’s Islamic themes and terminology. While in the book Paul describes his unshakable fate as a “jihad” that will sweep across the universe, Villeneuve’s film instead describes it as a “holy war.”


The Banquet Scene

dune trailer demolition atreides on arrakis silhouettes

One of the most famous scenes from Herbert’s novel is one that has been removed in both the Villeneuve and Lynch versions. This chapter is one of the longest in the book and one of the most detailed in examining the political tensions of Arrakis.

The chapter opens with an argument over a custom in the Arakeen abolished by Duke Leto whereby the guests of the Harkonnen would wash their hands and throw their wet towels on the floor, forcing the domestics to sell the water to beggars. The scene later centers on an argument between the Atriedes and a Guild banker believed to be a Harkonnen spy, and his character was cut from the book entirely. While these details add to the book’s complex world, it’s clear why the scene was removed because of the film’s already complex story.


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