Every hardcore science fiction fan has heard of Frank Herbert’s Dune. It’s a 1965 novel about a distant future where the whole universe is ruled by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV of the House Corrino. There, in the feudal society consisting of noble houses, a war between two families over the desert planet of Arrakis, Atreides and Harkonnens, will shake the stability of the whole system.
In the future, it is the spice mélange produced only by the sandworms of Arrakis that allows the faster-than-light travel between planets, which makes it a powerful currency. To simplify, by the words of the infamous Baron Vladimir Harkonnen: “He who controls the spice controls the universe.”
The main character of the novels is Paul Atreides, a young son of the Leto Atreides and his concubine, Lady Jessica, member of the all-female Bene Gesserit order. He, along with his pregnant mother, escapes the attack on the Arrakis by the Harkonnes, and finds shelter with the Fremen community living in the deserts.
Throughout the novel, we are presented with Paul’s visions and foretelling from other characters about the change that will come and affect the power play in place. And indeed, Paul becomes Muad’Dib, leader of the Fremen, Messiah and Kwisatz Haderach, a male Bene Gesserit able to see throughout time and space. He becomes the symbol of freedom to Fremen and their jihad, with almost god-like powers heightened by the spice. After the Emperor abdicates the throne, Paul takes his place and becomes the ruler of the universe.
David Lynch’s vision
In 1984, David Lynch was a promising director who had already shocked the audience with Eraserhead (1977) and left them in awe of the Elephant Man (1980). However, his movie career will be for many defined by Dune. But this wasn’t the first time someone tried to adapt this complex literary work into a movie.
Since the 1970s, a famous comic book author Alejandro Jodorowsky and director Ridley Scott also tried to revive their versions of the story, although with no success. In the end, Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis (Conan the Barbarian, Flash Gordon, King Kong) hired then 35-year-old Lynch to direct and to write a screenplay.
Later on, Lynch will denounce the movie saying that he didn’t have much control over the final cut, as well as being candid about the mistakes he made in the novel’s adaptation. The movie was slashed by the critics and fans of the book.
Janet Maslin, a New York Times critic, wrote that “Dune is an ornate affair, awash in the kind of marble, mosaics, wood paneling, leather tufting and gilt trim more suitable to moguls’ offices than to far-flung planets in the year 10191.” She then continues to explain that the movie is overwhelmed by too much information about the politics, language, mysticism, and adventure, since Lynch “tries to present it in unadulterated form.”
And honestly, by trying to show us all of the dealings of the book, Lynch lost the perspective along the way. Instead of having one theme, we deal with too many, and in insufficient amount to give any of the underlying narratives any merit. The motif of Messiah and significance of spice may appear to have the same direction, but are actually different stories. On one side we have the quasi-religious aspect, and on the other a strong political background, both supported with enough material to get their own movies. So this is why Denis Villeneuve’s at least two-part Dune project sounds promising.
Resurrector of classics
Denis Villeneuve established himself even before Arrival (2016) with movies like Sicario (2015) and Prisoners (2013). But what he did for the Blade Runner (1982) franchise with the sequel Blade Runner 2049 (2017) is probably the reason why so many fans believe he is the right man for the new Dune project.
This Canadian filmmaker has a keen ability to capture the essence of a certain theme, and exploit it in his projects. The inevitability of life’s choices in Arrival, the despair of lawlessness in Sicario, and alienation of the Scott’s Blade Runner into its sequel after 35 years of gap in making. And Dune not only needs, but deserves someone who can capture the essence of the story, unlike Lynch’s lack of focus.
Villeneuve has already expressed his intention to split the story into two movies that will still be quite lengthy. Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Alienist) wrote the first draft of the script based on the 896 pages of the novel. During many interviews, Villeneuve said that the movie will take at least two years to make, and that “goal is to make two films, maybe more.”
Villeneuve expressed the challenges of working on something as iconic as Dune in an interview for Fandom, saying “The ambition is to do the Star Wars movie I never saw. In a way, it’s Star Wars for adults. We’ll see.”
The latest news report was about negotiations between the young actor Timothee Chalamet and the studio, for the role of Paul Atreides. Chalamet was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for 2017 Call Me by Your Name movie. In the time of writing this article, there is still no further news on the casting decision, though we hope that to hear more names soon.
What to expect
It’s too real to give any predictions yet, since, as you see, the information of the progress is scarce. However, the fact that Villeneuve and Legendary studio plan at least two movies is a good start. We hope that everything will pick up the pace, since for now everything we hear feels like teasing.