BY DAVID NELSON DAVID.NELSON@YAHOO.COM
In August of 1965, Chilton Books oversaw the publication of one of the greatest and most recognized science fiction novels of all time, Dune. The novel was written by Frank Herbert, a prominent science fiction author, who had a number of other titles to his name. Dune is perhaps his most famous work. A work that would go on to influence many other science fiction stories, both in ink and in celluloid, after that publication.
The novel itself is nothing short of a masterpiece of fiction writing. Herbert drew upon many fascinating sources which determined how his story turned out. With that, it’s an epic science fiction story filled to the brim with exciting material. The setting for the most part is a planet called Arrakis, also known as Dune. Many powerful factions are in competition over the planet in order to control the distribution of the spice mélange, a material which can be used for many things. The spice can enhance one’s mental abilities, make space travel possible, and can be implemented in food and liquids. A valuable commodity that everyone in the galaxy desperately needs.
Countless themes relating to the present are included. Herbert manages to touch on politics, war, religion, and colonialism in total. The story takes place in the distant future, thousands of years ahead. Humanity has extended its reach to the most distant stars. The culture is completely different to the one we know but it is also familiar at the same time.
The book itself is a sci-fi classic and a favorite to many avid readers. The writer of this article isn’t an exception to that.
Following its publication, Frank Herbert would go on to write five other novels in the Dune series. A seventh book was planned but Herbert passed away before he could complete his epic sci-fi saga.
Naturally, following the successful publication of a story such as Dune, sooner or later, there will be producers who wish to see the story on the silver screen. Arthur P. Jacobs was the first one in a long line of producers who would obtain the rights to a film adaptation of the story.
Jacobs is probably best known as being the producer behind the Planet of the Apes films and the original Doctor Doolittle. He optioned the rights to Dune in 1971, just six years after the story was placed on shelves. It was rumored that the acclaimed British director, David Lean was set to direct the film while his frequent collaborator, Robert Bolt, would work on the screenplay. In the early 1970s, Jacobs was occupied with the production of the Apes sequels and put plans to make the Dune adaptation on the backburner. Unfortunately, Jacobs died in 1973, which resulted in the movie being scrapped forever. His version would never see the light of day.
The rights were then purchased by a French consortium in late 1974. Alejandro Jodorowsky came on board as director. Over the next couple of years, Jodorowsky and his team got to work on attempting to make one of the most ambitious films ever made. Jodorowsky took
a large number of creative liberties with the story, transforming it into something else entirely. Storyboards and visual elements were created to try to capture what Jodorowsky had in mind. He planned for his adaptation of Dune to clock in at around ten to fourteen hours in total runtime. This would make it longer than Sergey Bodnarchuk’s War and Peace which runs a little over seven hours. The script was the size of an old phone book.
A number of high caliber actors were attached to the projects. Orson Welles is probably the most notable in the group. Pink Floyd was rumored to have done the soundtrack for the movie. This idea would be applied to the 1980 film, Flash Gordon with the band Queen performing.
Jodorowsky’s Dune ultimately failed as the necessary funding could not be found. For those who are curious and wish to learn more about Jodorowsky’s attempt, there is a documentary that was released in 2013 which covers the subject extensively.
The rights next went to film producer Dino de Laurentiis in the late 1970’s. Work began on the next iteration of the project in 1978 in an attempt to capitalize on the success of Star Wars.
Ridley Scott was hired in 1979 to oversee the direction of the project. Ridley Scott would be the first to suggest that the film be broken into two parts to account for the abundance of material within. Pre-production was leisurely, apparently moving at a snail’s pace. Scott worked on the project for a time but then dropped out due to the stress and because of the death of his brother.
David Lynch would be the director that would finally bring Dune to the big screen. Lynch was given the choice to either work on a film called, Return of the Jedi or Dune. He would choose the latter, seeing more potential in the story.
The production was difficult for Lynch as he would write six drafts for the movie by himself. The production was massive. The budget accumulated to forty million dollars in total. There were nearly two hundred sets that were built for shooting. The crew numbers for the movie resembled a small army.
The film wrapped in late 1983. The film’s rough cut was around four hours in length. The director intended for the final cut to run a little under three hours but this would not be so. Lynch struggled with time constraints as the studio wanted a typical runtime of at or near two hours. The director didn’t receive final cut privileges and now disowns the movie, claiming it not to be his.
Financially, the 1984 version of Dune was a disappointment. Critically, this would also be the case. Looking at the film now, it is a mess. The visuals are adequate for the time but the story is rushed. Plot points come at a rapid pace and details vital to understanding the context of the story are briefly touched on. To someone new to the Dune universe, they would have no comprehension of what was playing out in front of them. The two-hour runtime is not acceptable
for a story as massive as Dune. Many reviewers during that time said that the story was unfilmable and the 1984 Dune adaptation proved them right.
The film’s runtime isn’t the only problem that hindered the 1984 version from being a decent adaptation. Several of David Lynch’s creative choices are either unnecessary or just mind boggling. Lynch was clearly not the right choice as director for a story such as Dune. He would even admit that he doesn’t really care for science fiction. David Lynch should not have directed the film.
Following the disappointment of the 1984 movie, the planned sequels were dropped. Dino de Laurentiis’ franchise was not to be. It would be sixteen years before another Dune adaptation would be put in production.
In the early 2000’s, the Sci Fi channel broadcasted two mini-series based on Frank Herbert’s novels. The first was titled Frank Herbert’s Dune, which debuted in December of the year 2000. The two series covers the first three novels in Herbert’s series. Many critics praised the content; the first miniseries was even nominated for a few Emmy awards. One of the highlights to the series is its faithfulness to the source material. This is something that other filmmakers seemed to avoid in their pursuits to see the Dune story brought to life.
The three-episode span was enough for the entire story to unfold in an acceptable amount of time. An advantage that a television series would have over a feature film. In the world of visual media, series’ format has always had the upper hand in terms of character depth and development over a two hour feature due to that amount of time.
Some of the drawbacks to the 2000 miniseries are the budget. Obviously, a miniseries that was produced to be made for television won’t have the resources that a movie would. The visuals are lacking and the CGI is also dated.
Another con that’s on the list is the lack of star power or any phenomenal performances. The cast list for the series is filled with a number of decent B-list actors but there isn’t anyone who really steals the show. To the casual movie goer, none of the names will be recognizable. That is something else which could detract people from the series.
The miniseries is still watchable though, it’s entertaining even thanks to the material which is being adapted.
To quickly recap, a number of attempts had been made to adapt Dune. Only a couple of productions managed to get past pre-production and put out a finished product to an audience. All of them failed in some way to really do the story justice. Either the money wasn’t there to really back it up or the wrong people were put in charge of the creative decisions.
Maybe the cynics were right? Was Dune unfilmable and too much of a headache to do right? These questions would be answered in 2021.
In November of this year, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune finally made its debut in the United States. This time, the filmmakers got it right.
The latest version of Dune lived up to expectations. It is the best sci-fi epic that has come out in recent years. The vast story is conveyed very well, guided by an expert. The cinematography is outstanding, every scene appears to a high standard. Along with that, the visual effects are unbelievable, the sandworm sequence was exhilarating.
All of the ideas that were on the page are brought out and executed in a faithful way. In the novel, there are large amounts of inner monologuing within character’s heads, the film does a solid job in communicating that visually. There were times where lines of dialogue from the novel were lifted and put into the screenplay.
The cast itself is spot on as everyone in the movie gives a great performance with no weak links in the chain.
The only letdown was that the film told an incomplete story. Only half of the book was adapted but this was the right call. Villeneuve clearly knew the difficulties facing him and chose to give the story the correct amount of time needed. The second part of the story has been greenlit and the whole ordeal will be completed fairly soon.
The story of Dune is a classic in the sci-fi genre. A story that many have tried to adapt in one form or another. The most recent iteration is arguably the best version as of now. It was quite evident that a lot of passion went into the project. Dune is not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those interested, it could be a gratifying experience.