If you’ve never read Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, one thing you may not know is that the book’s greatness largely stems from the fact that Herbert favors vibes over plot. The story of Dune is compelling, but the telling of the story of Dune is even more compelling. Future-tense epigraphs from Princess Irulan intentionally inform us of major plot twists, while Paul’s prescience allows for fascinating time jumps in the second half of the book. So, will all this nuance translate into Dune: Part Two? Maybe, maybe not.
As spiceheads everywhere were rocked by the news that Dune: Part Two will not hit theaters this year, and instead, will be pushed back to March 15, 2024, a massive new preview of the film was published in Empire Magazine. Within all of this new info — including Denis Villeneuve teasing that he still wants to make a third film — is also the fact that the director views Dune 2 as a “war movie” in contrast to the previous film. But is that even true? And if it is, does that accurately capture what the second half of Dune is all about?
Book spoilers ahead for Dune.
“Part One was like the promise of something, but Part Two delivers on that,” Villeneuve told Empire. For fans hoping for a complete-ish adaptation of the first novel, this is a reassuring sentiment. We may have lost that fly banquet scene from the book in Part One, but at least Feyd (Austin Butler) is going to be correctly bonkers in Part Two, while Irulan (Florence Pugh) is clearly documenting the living history all around her with that cool little dictaphone. But what’s the deal with Villeneuve calling this a “war movie?” Is this suddenly Saving Private Atreides? Are there actually a lot of battles in the second half of Dune?
Like with all things Dune, the answer to a simple question is complicated. Yes, there are more outright battles in what we’d call roughly the “second half” of Dune, but it’s not like all the skirmishes were deeply described in the prose. One of the thrilling trailers for Dune Part Two has Chani dramatically saying “Reload!” as she and Paul blast away at some Harkonnens. Do we see all of these nitty-gritty battles in the book? Not exactly.
Dune, the novel, is divided into three parts, Book I: Dune, Book II: Muad’dib, and Book III: The Prophet. The 2021 movie Dune: Part One covers all of Book I, and little less than half of Book II, which in the Kindle edition is about 500 pages of the 870-ish pages total. Because you’re looking at about 40 pages of appendices and notes, the story concludes at just shy of 800 pages. N(ote: Different page numbers in different editions of Dune do not denote different text or alterations to the story.) The amount of text per page changes the page count in different versions of Dune, making different versions have a different thicknesses, literally. We’re using the Kindle version for convenience here only. But the words are the same in all versions from 1965 onward.
The point is, if you’re just looking at the bulk of the actual Frank Herbert prose, you can see that Dune: Part One is actually slightly more than halfway through the book. Meaning, naturally, that Dune: Part Two will almost certainly expand upon material that is summarized in the novel. And, based on Villeneuve’s comments, that means WAR MOVIE. Which, if you’re reading just a Wikipedia plot description of Dune, feels right. This is the part of Dune in which Paul leads the Fremen to victory over both the Harkonnens and the Imperium in general.
And yet, in the book, the second half of Dune contains just as much nuance and contemplativeness as the first half. The book doesn’t suddenly shift into GI Joe mode. It’s the same philosophical, and occasionally tender book it was all along. Paul and Chani grapple with the birth of their child and then lose that child. Jessica navigates the emotionally tumultuous truths of living in the Seitch with the pre-born Alia, a toddler who possesses the wisdom and knowledge of centuries of her ancestors. Paul and Gurney are reunited, and a long-held prejudice against Jessica is dispelled. We see the inner workings of the Royal Court and the machinations of Baron Harkonnen all while Paul vacillates on embracing his “terrible purpose.”
Yes, Fremen warriors do ride sandworms to retake Arrakis in the end. But, the book doesn’t read as a “war book” in the end. And, to that point, it feels possible that Villeneuve’s quote might be slightly hyperbolic. This is the director who gave us a nuanced and beautiful Dune. Yes, Part Two will feel different, for sure. And that’s partly because the story, in a sense, gets much darker. But what Villeneuve means by “war movie” probably isn’t what it sounds like. And if Part Two sticks to the tone of Frank Herbert, the “war movie” aspects won’t be like any war movie we’ve seen before.