De-orientalizing Dune: Storyworld-Building Between Frank Herbert’s Novel and Denis Villeneuve’s Film



In Dune (1965), Frank Herbert builds an SF universe that, although futuristic, remains geopolitically reminiscent of our historical world, with ethnically and culturally identifiable characters. For all his storyworld-building efforts, Herbert’s representation of the desert planet Arrakis and his Arab/Musliminspired characterization of the Fremen have often been accused of romantic Orientalism at best and white-saviorism at worst. Recently, Denis Villeneuve released his film adaptation of (part of) the novel, Dune: Part One (2021), which has rekindled the debate on SF orientalism and stimulated new discussions on the interpretation of those problematical representational and thematic issues for a cinema-savvy and race-conscious 21st century audience. This paper proposes to determine the extent to which Herbert’s SF orientalism survived in Villeneuve’s adaptation. Accordingly, I will compare the aesthetic literary and cinematic representations of space and characters and discern their thematic implications. Ultimately, Villeneuve’s film will be assessed as an attempt at contemporizing and de-orientalizing its literary source through controversial politics of casting and politically-correct screenplay modifications, hence adapting the novel to the silver screen, the film to the contemporary spectator, and the cinematic product to the Hollywood film industry.

Keywords: science-fiction, orientalism, cinematic adaptation, storyworld-building

DOI: 10.24193/ekphrasis.28.2