This past weekend I got the opportunity to see the new Dune movie with some friends and I was quite impressed.
While I wouldn’t say the story grabbed me in the same was as Lord of The Rings or some other trilogies I am excited about where the future movies are going and interested in learning about the lore. One of the things that really struck me about the film was how 40k has taken bits of the Dune story and adapted it into the lore. While this article isn’t an analysis of these impacts I think it will demonstrate what the success of Dune means for the 40k media landscape.
As I just mentioned there are many parallels between Dune and Warhammer 40k. Navigators, complex geopolitical battles and political scheming, psychers and divination etc. However the biggest similarity between the two in my mind was the scale of the setting. In Dune everything is huge, the ships, the crawlers, the buildings, but they don’t aren’t fawned over by the film, they are just there. I think the film showed that you can have these epic sets in a film that don’t overshadow the story but capture the feeling of a universe. Another thing that struck me about the Dune movie was how well it immersed the audience in the setting without hours of clumsy dialogue. While I haven’t read the books, I have heard that the Dune series includes a lot of intense dialogue and background information that doesn’t adapt easily to film. While I may have missed a lot of the subtleties by only seeing the film I still felt that I understand what was going on and the characters motivations (maybe because of its similarities to 40k).
So what does this have to do with 40k? The similarities between the scale and scope of the setting have been presented as challenges, not only to a good adaptation of 40k into cinema, but also Dune. If Dune can successfully execute its story, while staying true to the setting of the books, then there is no reason to think that the Warhammer 40k universe can’t also be transcribed with equal success right? I think there is one major difference that could make it difficult to apply the Dune model to the and that would be the reliance of combat to move the plot forward in many 40k books. While watching Dune I noticed that, while there were significant portions of the movie with action scenes, they were the minority with more time given to exposition or character development. I think at its best points the stories in 40k and the Horus Heresy can provide these sorts of deep characters and discussions, but must also deal with the temptation to devolve into bolter-porn. There were very few moments in Dune that focused on one character being a boss and solo-ing multiple enemies (though it did have some). In the past I feel some of the stories told in the 40K a lot too much time for combat scenes without developing interesting characters which does not bode well for its ability to build a broad audience.
Ultimately, the reasons we got the Dune movie has a lot to do with the successful adaptions of the Lord of the Rings and the somewhat successful run of Game of Thrones. Each of these franchises have built on each other as more material long deemed to be un-adaptable by film proves the label wrong. I think the Warhammer 40k universe is close to making that leap, and the success of Dune shows that. However, to make that leap whoever makes this initial film or show will need to follow Dune’s model for drawing the audience in to a weird and utterly alien setting.
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