December 18, 2020 — Dune is a novel by Frank Herbert, and is frequently cited as the best-selling science fiction book of all time. The book was originally adapted into a movie in 1984, which was met with mixed reviews. Some people loved it; some thought it strayed too far from the source material, and others were so burned out by the cultural boom in science fiction — brought on by the Star Wars saga — that they did not even bother watching it.
One aspect of the original film that is not discussed enough is its epic score, and how it came from one of the most unlikely sources. With a reboot on the way that promises an even more sensational soundtrack, it seems like a good time to compare what was, and what will be.
Although it is not a secret, some fans may be surprised to learn that the band Toto of “Africa” fame wrote the score to the 1984 version of the movie. Since the music is mostly instrumental, the lead singer was left out of the recording, but the band brought in the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna Volksoper Choir to create the final product. On an interesting side note, there is one track on the official soundtrack, “Prophecy Theme,” that is composed by Brian Eno. Which has kicked up an unsubstantiated rumor that Eno had actually written an entire score before Toto was brought in.
The music itself is on par with other sci-fi epics, featuring heavy strings and long notes to create an aura of heightened suspense. Many of the songs lean on dynamic musical changes to keep listeners uneasy, and to mirror the chaos that can be found in certain scenes. For the most part, the movie’s score sounds like any other epic until you get to the track Dune “Desert Theme,” which ultimately makes you realize you are listening to a movie score by a 1980s pop-rock band. All jokes aside, this score is brilliant and worthy of praise, which raises the question — why did they not just give the source material a modern re-imagining?
The new soundtrack is not out just yet, but there is a good chance it could be even more epic than the original. The first official trailer for the film received some buzz when it was accompanied by Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse.” This does not mean much to the casual fan, but when you know that German composer Hans Zimmer is behind the score, opinions begin to sway and for good reason.
Zimmer is a musical prodigy, and one of the go-to people when you want the perfect movie score in Hollywood. He is the mind behind epic blockbuster scores like Gladiator, Pearl Harbor, The Last Samurai, The Dark Knight Rises, and many other notable films. Anything that Zimmer touches turns to gold, and he is not afraid to mix genres, or play around with a composition to transform it into whatever he needs for a scene. It is not uncommon for a Zimmer-score to utilize rock and classical music individually, or mold them together into something entirely new. Which is one of the reasons people’s ears perked up when they heard a Pink Floyd song in the trailer. Of course, just because a song is in a trailer does not automatically mean it will make it into the film.
Collider caught up with Zimmer in June to ask him about the soundtrack, and he had this to say:
Right now, I’m in the middle of making these sounds. I have these ideas, and it’s like this every day. I’m doing all these experiments, and I have no idea if any of them will ever really end up in the movie. But we are so dedicated, trying to do something different, to do solid and honorable work, and do justice to the book… And some of them will probably be complete and utter disasters. But I’m having a go. Absolutely full on. I’m being obnoxious and telling people I need more time. The usual… I’m driving everybody crazy on Dune because I’m so full of ideas. And it’s Denis, you know? He lets me be part of this world. It’s totally and utterly inspiring, and it’s great people I get to work with – scrap the word “work,” it’s great people I get to play with.
These words are pretty telling for a person as accomplished as Zimmer. It seems he is stepping out of his comfort zone in order to create something entirely new for fans. Based on what he told Collider, we may not just end up with one of the most exciting movie scores to date — it may in fact, be unlike anything we have ever heard before.
It makes sense that Zimmer wants to bring his best work yet to this project, especially when you look at the other people involved with the film. It is directed by the highly regarded Denis Villeneuve, and stars an all-star cast that includes Zendaya, Timothee Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Jason Mamoa, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Javier Bardem, and Stellan Skarsgard. The original was no stranger to star power either, with legendary singer Sting, Patrick Stewart, and Virginia Madsen all having roles.
In the battle of the Dune soundtracks, the winner remains to be seen, but there is no way you could go wrong with either one. Knowing that Toto made the soundtrack to the original does not make it a worse soundtrack; if anything, it gives you more respect for a band that many believe to be a one-hit-wonder. On the other hand, we have no idea what craziness Zimmer plans on surprising us with in the Dune reboot, but given his track record, I imagine it will be mind-blowing.
Even the release date of this film has caused some excitement. Dune was pushed back from December 2020 to October 2021, on top of being announced the movie would release on HBO Max at the same time it hits theaters. Having to wait for something you are a fan of can be tough, but it is hard not to be excited regardless when the project is in such capable hands. No matter how — or when you watch it, take the time to appreciate the genius that is Hans Zimmer, and how his score could refine a movie that is already destined to be a hit.