Hollywood is the ‘Dune’ Killer: Part I
*Note 1: In Part 1 of this segment I will examine WHY Dune needs a quality film, in Part 2 I will explore HOW to make Dune into a successful feature film, and finally in Part 3 I will delve into WHO should play the major roles.
**Note 2: Also for those of you unfamiliar with Frank Herbert’s Dune, here is a brief synopsis:
Dune is a 1965 epic science fiction novel by Frank Herbert. It won the Hugo Award in 1966, and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. Dune is the world’s best-selling science fiction novel and is the start of the Dune saga.
Set in the far future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which noble houses, in control of individual planets, owe allegiance to the imperial House Corrino, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides, the heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides as his family accepts control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the “spice” melange. Melange is the most important and valuable substance in the universe, increasing Arrakis’s value as a fief. Melange extends life, possesses curative properties, and allows for space travel. The story explores the multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, as the forces of the empire confront each other in a struggle for the control of Arrakis and its “spice”.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a science fiction fanatic. Even before films like Star Wars and Back to the Future ensnared me in their nets of awesomeness, I recall watching the miniseries “V” at the age of four and being completely enthralled.
As I grew older, naturally I branched out into the literary world of science fiction–Ender’s Game, Stranger In a Strange Land, Battlefield Earth, Rendezvous With Rama–but the one novel I never found any particular interest in was Frank Herbert’s Dune. The reason was two fold. First was that I wasn’t mature enough for a novel of that literary magnitude. I was more of an alien invasion kind of guy. The social, political, economic, and religious intricacies of the novel felt too convoluted and dense for my taste. The second was something that happened during New Year’s Eve when I was fourteen.
I watched David Lynch’s Dune on the SyFy Channel.
Come away to a world where none of your expectations will be fulfilled.
Cliche as it might sound, the experience was like watching a train wreck–it was terrible but I just couldn’t look away. Furthermore, it was the extended edition made exclusively for television. This turned the standard 136 minute run time into something approaching four hours. Interestingly enough, you can’t even find that version anywhere anymore. It’s more elusive than the 1978 “Star Wars Christmas Special.”
Although the 1984 film has developed a cult following in the near three decades it’s been out, it fails on multiple levels. From a special effects stand point it’s pretty horrendous for a big budget film. The explosions at Arrakeen look like five year olds setting off cherry bombs and the Guild Navigators (with the exception of the one who meets Emperor Shaddam at the beginning of the film) look like bad cartoon drawings. Secondly the acting is amazingly bad. Sean Young is stiff as a board as Paul Atredies’ (Kyle MacLachlan’s) love interest Chani, and Kenneth McMillan is SOOOOO over the top as Baron Harkonnen, he makes Schwarzenegger in Batman and Robin look like Daniel Day-Lewis by comparison. Maybe worst of all, the film is incredibly boring, so much so that you almost wish a sandworm would just put you out of your misery. To say that the film didn’t capture the spirit of Frank Herbert’s novel is an understatement the size of a Maker.
I’m channeling William Shatner right now.
Years later when the SyFy channel produced the miniseries version of “Dune”, and later “Children of Dune”, I was moderately impressed. It was definitely a step up from the 1984 film. The storyline and acting were much more accessible and entertaining. However, I still didn’t feel that the miniseries had that visceral quality that the Dune novel possesses.
Wait you want me to be on “Desperate Housewives”?
For some erroneous reason I allowed my dislike for Lynch’s film warp my vision of what the novels would be like. Reluctantly a few years ago I decided to try and give Frank Herbert’s seminal novel another shot without much hope. Much to my surprise and delight, I found the novel fantastic. It worked on so many levels, not only as political, economic, and religious social commentary, but it had the advantage of being one of the earliest science fiction novels to address environmental issues. It’s a novel as relevant today as it was almost half a century ago.
Plus it was a just a damn good adventure tale.
MAKE ME INTO A QUALITY FILM!!!
Upon completing the novel I had two thoughts. One was that I had to read the rest of the series and two, that the book needed a much more deserving cinematic treatment than Lynch’s incarnation.
Critics have often stated that Frank Herbert’s Dune is to science fiction what Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is to fantasy. I’d say that’s a pretty fair assessment. It stands to reason then that such a fundamentally important work needs a legitimate adaptation. New Line and director Peter Jackson were able to take an “unfilmable” and dense fantasy epic and turn it into a multiple Oscar winning box office smash. An ambitious studio and an established director with vision should be able to get this project off the ground.
Not surprisingly, many Dune enthusiasts feel the same way I do–including apparently a few movie studios. As recently as the mid-2000s Paramount Pictures kickstarted a Dune remake. Peter Berg was attached to direct but pulled out to make Battleship. That’s right. He literally pulled out of making Dune to make a film based on a board game. Then in 2010 Pierre Morel of Taken fame came on board but that fizzled out. Concerns arose about the budget (Paramount Pictures didn’t want to go above $100 million) and eventually the project was put on permanent hiatus. Now unfortunately, Paramount Pictures has let the rights to the novel lapse, meaning the rights owners can shop it around to whomever they choose.
To paraphrase the novel, the sleeper has NOT awoken. He’s in a coma.
Don’t stand so, don’t stand so, don’t stand so close to Dune.
How can we possibly exist in a world where Norbit, White Chicks, Bloodrayne, and Cop Out are films, but Frank Herbert’s masterpiece can’t get a decent adaptation? It’s criminal. An atrocity that Baron Vladimir Harkonnen would cringe at.
So the question of should this film be made is academic. It’s patently self evident.
The second pressing question, how to make a Dune film successfully, is equally important and something I wall examine in part two of this three part segment.