Dune doomed: Long-awaited remake likely to be shelved
Damn Peter Jackson. Of all the things the world does not need, a remake of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel ranks high. Oft derided as “Arabs in space,” Dune is close to unfilmmable. But I once said the same thing about The Lord of the Rings.
Another thing Dune is often called: the most popular science-fiction novel in history. Since finding a small publisher (Herbert’s manuscript was rejected 23 times) in 1965, Dune has sold more than 40 million copies. It won the 1966 Hugo Award, as well as the first-ever Nebula Award for Best Novel.
I’m pondering Dune today because of the news that a new movie version, in development for four years, will probably come to naught. If Paramount doesn’t begin filming by Spring, the rights holders have already indicated they will not offer an extension, presumably so the property can be shopped around Hollywood (again).
Although Paramount says it will continue working on the project, it’s unikely to meet the deadline. French director Pierre Morel (whose previous film, Taken, does not inspire confidence he has he talent for a big, complex project like Dune), has dropped out. This after Peter Berg, originally set to direct, walked away in 2009.
If you want to explore the ins-and-outs of the madly metastasizing movie business, see this report on Dune at Deadline.com — who can blame Paramount for prooceeding cautiously on a project that will cost well in excess of $100 million?
But I’m more interested in the question of whether a new film version of Dune is in anyway desirable. At all.
Dune has already been adapted twice. First came the 1984 David Lynch theatrical debacle, with Kyle MacLachlan as hero Paul Atreides and rock star Sting, memorably clad in a blue diaper, as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, a principle villain. Lynch’s version is a kind of sci-fi Heaven’s Gate — a grandiose, out-of-control project that is garishly, risibly bad, except in those moments when it is brilliant.
In 2000 the Syfy Channel (then still “the Sci Fi Channel”) mounted a very respectable miniseries version, one that caught the sweep, drama and big ideas of Herbert’s novel. But it was hampered by blandly pretty (though competent) actors, generic special effects and art direction that begged for a bigger canvas.
Nonetheless, it was well received by fans and critics alike, as was Children of Dune, a 2003 sequel.
Really with this history, does Hollywood really need another go at Dune? It remains virtually unfilmmable — the extra length is one thing that enabled the mini-series version to work better than Lynch’s movie. And even the TV version, which I enjoyed at the time, leaves almost no emotional residue. Herbert’s novel, by comparison, remains vivid in the mind 30 years after I read it.
But I felt much the same in 1999, when I first read that some idiot was undertaking The Lord of the Rings as a live-action trilogy of films — in New Zealand of all places. Tolkien’s classic had already defeated Ralph Bakshi, whose 1978 version was a cartoon, and thus, presumably, cheaper and easier to make.
And of course Peter Jackson turned The Lord of the Rings into three splendid films, won Oscars and earned billions of dollars. Maybe Dune is ripe for a grand reinterpretation, one that will open up a universe never before seen. Maybe it’s just waiting for its Peter Jackson to appear.
The thought of it still just makes me tired, though. And — hey! If this has to be done, can we get James Cameron? What do you say — should Dune be subjected to another film treatment, and who should direct?