Dune (2021): Biggest differences between the book and the movie

A number of key scenes don't make it into Denis Villeneuve's adaptation.

Josh Brolin and Oscar Isaac in Dune (2021)

Frank Herbert’s legendary sci-fi novel Dune has long been thought unadaptable by many fans, telling an epic saga in a richly detailed world that touches on numerous complex themes.


Certainly, the first few attempts at bringing Dune to live-action did nothing to change people’s minds, as an early effort by acclaimed filmmaker David Lynch ended in disaster, while a television miniseries was also unable to do the story justice.

This latest offering from visionary director Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049, Arrival) is undoubtedly the most successful to date, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely faithful to the source material.

Even with a runtime that passes two and a half hours, there’s still a lot that needs to be glossed over in order to condense just two-thirds of Dune into a single feature, with the following omissions being the biggest differences between the book and the movie.

While the opening act of 2021’s Dune is largely accurate to the story on the page, there is a pivotal moment where the screenplay leaps over a substantial chunk of the book.

Herbert’s original novel takes more time to establish the Atreides family settling into their new home on Arrakis and making a futile attempt to establish themselves as the dominant power on the planet.

There is an extended scene set at a dinner party held by the Duke Leto, during which he intends to get to know the elites who reside on Arrakis and inform them of his plans as the planet’s new ruler.

This scene is perhaps most noteworthy for being the moment in which ecologist Dr Liet-Kynes is won over by the Atreides, as he is impressed by a sense of respect and compassion that was not shared by their predecessors, the Harkonnens.

Prior to the arrival of the Duke and his family, Liet-Kynes had been approached by the Harkonnens to sabotage the efforts of the Atreides clan, but this fateful dinner is the tipping point where he decides to go back on that arrangement.

Indeed, later in the book – and as seen in the film – Liet-Kynes plays an instrumental role in saving Paul and Jessica’s life, before ultimately being killed himself.

Sharon Duncan-Brewster plays Dr Liet-Kynes in Dune (2021)
Sharon Duncan-Brewster plays Dr Liet-Kynes in Dune (2021)
Warner Bros

In the 1965 novel, Dr Liet-Kynes is described as being a man, but the character’s gender was changed in Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation to be a woman, portrayed by Sex Education star Sharon Duncan-Brewster.

Herbert delivers another noteworthy subplot before the fall of House Atreides, in which Lady Jessica falls under suspicion of being a traitor by Thufir Hawat, mentat and trusted ally to Duke Leto.

He draws this conclusion after intercepting a message seemingly from the villainous Baron intended for Jessica, but he is actually being misled by a Harkonnen plot to sow tension and distrust within the noble house.

Thufir reports his theory to the Duke, who immediately recognises it as a deception, but chooses to play along with his trusted aide in order to create the illusion that he has fallen into the Baron’s trap.

This strategy means that, when the assault on the Atreides actually happens, Thufir continues to believe that Jessica is responsible, reluctantly joining the Harkonnens after their triumph in order to seek revenge.

Chang Chen plays Dr Wellington Yueh in Dune (2021)
Chang Chen plays Dr Wellington Yueh in Dune (2021)
Warner Bros

Of course, the real traitor within House Atreides is Dr Yueh, but the gravity of this betrayal may not be clear to those unfamiliar with the book as Chang Chen’s character gets very little screen-time in the film adaptation.

More development is given to him in the novel, with a key point being that as a Suk doctor – indicated by the black diamond tattoo on his forehead – Yueh has been psychologically conditioned to be incapable of inflicting harm.

It is for this reason that he is never even considered a suspect to Hawat or anyone else for that matter, but the truth is that Harkonnen mentat Piter De Vries was able to deprogram the doctor by abducting and torturing his wife, Wanna.

Although he feared that the Harkonnens had already killed her, he was driven to carry out their bidding on the hope that she was still alive and would be returned safely to him after the work was done.

Yueh is not a supporter of the Harkonnens and is racked with guilt for helping them, which is why he secretly gives the Duke a false tooth of poison gas with which to stage an assassination attempt on the Baron – that ultimately proves unsuccessful.

Timothee Chalamet plays Paul Atreides in Dune
Timothee Chalamet plays Paul Atreides in Dune
Warner Bros

The climactic scene of Villeneuve’s Dune is also a slight deviation from the source material, where the fight to the death between Paul and Fremen man Jamis comes a bit later on.

Rather than in the desert clearing where Paul and Jessica first encounter Stilgar’s people, Jamis makes his challenge when they return to the Sietch Tabr settlement – presumably, where the group begins walking in the final scene of the film.

As a result, the duel is witnessed by a larger crowd and when Paul kills Jamis at the end, his body is quickly apprehended so that its liquid may be returned to the group. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Shortly after, Paul meets Jamis’ wife Harah, who custom dictates must serve him as either servant or wife following the ritual defeat of her husband.

Paul is understandably uncomfortable with the arrangement, ultimately deciding to make Harah his servant, but it remains to be seen whether this relationship will be depicted in the proposed Dune: Part Two.

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Dune is playing in UK cinemas from Thursday 21st October. Check out more of our Film and Sci-Fi coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.