I learned about “Dune” way before I watched the film in theaters Monday.
I first heard about Frank Herbert’s novel in my first college class about dystopian and science fiction literature. We didn’t read it, but it was often referenced because of its impact on the science fiction genre. I tried finding a copy online but it was hard to get my hands on one. .
I knew there was a movie by director David Lynch, too. But I never watched it. When the new version of the film from Denis Villeneuve dropped, I read some reviews. I chatted with family members who watched it. They dished out a few details about the new movie and what to expect.
So, going into the movie, I already had some base knowledge about the project. I knew about magical sand, the science fiction elements, the dystopian worlds and the idea of a savior coming into the fold.
I don’t know how I would have understood the film without that base knowledge. So much was happening on screen — and each plot point was more complicated than the last — that I found myself overthinking what was happening. If I didn’t have that base level of knowledge, I would have been lost the entire time. I wouldn’t have understood all of the aspects of the movie.
There’s something to say about the importance of learning about a movie before you see it. In the world we live in, movies are either spoiled in trailer or parts are teased that will be explored later. It’s impossible to know everything about a movie before it airs, and there are plenty of movies we don’t want to know about before we see them.
But is it helpful to know about a movie before you see it?
How books, novels and comics can spoil a movie before you see it
David Lynch’s “Dune” was quick to tell viewers about the movie before it dropped. Tickets often came with a pamphlet that were handed out to moviegoers explaining the backstory and major characters, almost like a dramatis personae for a play. The pamphlet gave small details to help moviegoers understand what you were seeing on screen.
But Kendall Phillips, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University, didn’t see the benefit of the pamphlet. Sure, it offered details about the movie and the book and the family storylines within it, but it didn’t matter.
“To be honest, it didn’t really help,” he said in an email. “‘Dune’ is such a colossal and complicated story world that any filmmaker will struggle to bring it to the screen.”
“Dune” is a complicated story. Read the plot details for the first, second and third books and your head will start to hurt.
Directors walk a difficult line when books are made into a TV series or movie. There’s a lot of source material. You could read the entire “Game of Thrones” series and be spoiled about what happens on screen. It’s the same case for the upcoming “Wheel of Time” series, or even the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, which use comic books as source material. You can learn about characters, plots and storylines ahead of time, which changes the viewing experience for each moviegoer. If you’ve read the “Eternals” comic books, then you’ll definitely understand more about the cosmic universe and how it all works. You’ll learn about Eros or Arishem or Ikaris, which will change the way you see the movie. Going in cold changes the viewing experience. You’re left trying to understand the world without the chance to embrace it.
“There is a real storytelling dilemma here. If you embrace the complexity of the source material, you can completely confuse newcomers to the story. On the other hand, if you simplify the story, you can offend fans of the novels,” Phillips said. This is a key tension around any adaptation of previous material, especially when adapting novels to the screen.
Some projects find the right balance. Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy found a balance of how to teach newcomers about the world but staying true to the source material, Phillips said.
Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” found a way to present a straightforward story “while offering enough gestures to subplots and backstory to satisfy most hardcore fans,” he said.
Do we really want to know everything about a movie?
Let’s look at “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Rumors have circulated for months that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, who played Spider-Man in previous films, will show up in the movie. We’ve heard that different “Spider-Man” movies from the past will integrate with this new one, which is tied to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s multiverse. We know a lot about this movie.
And yet, we don’t want to know more about it. Leaked images from the movie found their way on social media Monday, and there was plenty of backlash to seeing those photos. People wanted to know about Maguire and Garfield’s potential return, but they don’t want to see any leaked images of the movie. We want to know until we don’t. We want to be teased but not told.
Would “Spider-Man: No Way Home” be a better film without any of the rumors? We’ve only seen one trailer and one poster. Is this a good thing? Is it worth seeing a film we don’t know anything about?
“Dune” — which, at the end of the day, is a worthwhile science fiction film that you should see — is a perfect example of a movie that you have to know a little bit about before you see it. You need the context and the background knowledge, otherwise, it will make for a worse experience. That’s not the case for every movie, nor should it be. It’s important to go into a movie with the base level of knowledge that you want and experience it however you hope to do so.