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’.
THE JODOROWSKY ATTEMPT
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.
THE LYNCH MOVIE
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”).
THE VILLENEUVE GAMBIT
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.
VILLENEUVE’S DUNE BEGINS SHOOTING IN EARLY 2019