En­ter the Du­ni­verse

A brief his­tory of the epic sci-fi Dune — from failed adap­ta­tions to De­nis Vil­leneuve’s up­com­ing adap­tion



There’s a lot of juice in Frank Her­bert’s com­plex, psy­che­delic space opera Dune. First pub­lished in 1965, the weighty novel is set in an un­spec­i­fied dis­tant fu­ture where space travel is con­trolled by an ul­tra-rare drug (the spice mélange) found only on a deadly desert world named Ar­rakis, and war­ring no­ble houses vie for supremacy in an an­cient galac­tic em­pire. It’s less dystopian, more cos­mic fan­tasy, with gi­ant sand worms sub­sti­tut­ing drag­ons. De­spite a muted re­sponse when first pub­lished, it’s now widely re­garded as one of the great­est sci-fi nov­els ever writ­ten. Her­bert would go on to ex­pand the world with five book se­quels that form the Dune uni­verse, or ‘Du­ni­verse’.


Chilean-french sur­re­al­ist Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky, di­rec­tor of freak-out Western El Topo, had big plans for Dune when he snapped up the rights in 1975. Too big. The cast in­cluded the likes of Glo­ria Swan­son, Mick Jag­ger, Or­son Welles and Sal­vador Dalí, with Jodor­owsky’s own 12-year-old son lined up as Mes­sianic hero Paul Atrei­des. Pink Floyd were set to do the mu­sic. And Her­bert’s uni­verse was be­ing boldly re­designed by artists in­clud­ing H.R. Giger (who went on to do Alien) and Moe­bius. Within a year, $2 mil­lion had been spent be­fore cam­eras had even rolled, and fi­nanciers forced the project to be aban­doned. How­ever, one great film was pro­duced: Jodor­owsky’s Dune, an ac­claimed 2013 doc­u­men­tary about the whole far­rago.


David Lynch turned down Re­turn Of The Jedi, then ended up wish­ing he’d turned down Dune. His baroque, whacked-out 1984 adap­ta­tion for Uni­ver­sal had a $40 mil­lion bud­get and

a Toto sound­track, with Kyle Mach­lach­lan star­ring as Paul and an or­ange-haired Sting as the vil­lain­ous Feyd Rau­tha. It tanked at the box of­fice, and was re­viled by crit­ics. Roger Ebert called it the worst film of the year. Lynch, mean­while, blamed stu­dio in­ter­fer­ence, later ad­mit­ting, “I prob­a­bly shouldn’t have done that pic­ture” — all but dis­own­ing it. He’s not done a stu­dio movie since.


TV pro­ducer Richard P. Ruben­stein rea­son­ably saw the mini-se­ries for­mat as be­ing ideal for Her­bert’s novel, hav­ing pre­vi­ously used it for Stephen King’s The Stand and The Lan­goliers. Star­ring Alec New­man as Paul and Wil­liam Hurt as his fa­ther Duke Leto, the 2000 Sci Fi Chan­nel three-parter was a solid, largely faith­ful in­ter­pre­ta­tion, suc­cess­ful enough to spawn Frank Her­bert’s Chil­dren Of Dune — an adap­ta­tion of the first two Dune se­quels, which fea­tured James Mcavoy as Paul’s son Leto II and Su­san Saran­don as im­pe­rial princess Wen­si­cia. It earned de­cent rat­ings for the chan­nel and a luke­warm crit­i­cal re­sponse (one critic called it “the most okay adap­ta­tion of the book to date”).


After Ar­rival and Blade Run­ner 2049, French-cana­dian di­rec­tor De­nis Vil­leneuve is go­ing for a sci-fi hat-trick. Though it seems his Dune, for Leg­endary En­ter­tain­ment, could ac­tu­ally be two films — “maybe more”, he sug­gested in March. Given Vil­leneuve’s fil­mog­ra­phy, we can ex­pect an­other sump­tu­ous vis­ual feast, and it sounds like he’s cast­ing smart, too: thus far Call Me By Your Name’s Ti­mothée Cha­la­met has been con­firmed as Paul, while Re­becca Fer­gu­son is set to play Paul’s mother, Lady Jes­sica. Film­ing be­gins soon. Keep your ears close to the sand.


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