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Dune doomed: Long-awaited remake likely to be shelved

November 10, 2010

Sting in Dune, 1984: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

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 —  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?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Candice Simmons permalink
    November 10, 2010 1:34 pm

    I’m definitely interested in going to see it.

  2. Jim Davis permalink
    November 10, 2010 1:46 pm

    How about J. J. Abrams? He breathed new life into the Star Trek saga. Although you may answer, rightly, that he sacrificed all the thoughtful elements of the story.

    Ridley Scott might be better. He’s proved himself good at spectacles, like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. But he can also do subtle work, like TV’s The Good Wife.

  3. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    November 10, 2010 2:32 pm

    Ridley Scott was involved in Dune before the Lynch version was filmed, and some think the script he developed is worth dusting off. I enjoy JJ Abrams’ work, but I don’t know if his vision is dark and tragic enough for Dune. But you’re right, he did a bang-up job with Star Trek.

  4. Tommy Smart permalink
    November 10, 2010 2:46 pm


    I don’t know about this Dune remake. Even if a director with the skill to pull it off and the guts to take it on was found, does anyone outside of a small circle of uber-geeks who spend most of their days indoors care about the Dune saga enough to pay 17 bucks for a ticket to ride? I mean I would and I am guessing you would but that’s only 34 dollars.

    At least Ron Howard is too busy mucking up The Dark Tower books to mess with Herbert’s vision.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 10, 2010 4:17 pm

      17 bucks? Where do you go to the movies? When a movie ticket costs $17, I’m done. But otherwise I think your math is off. Forty million copies of the book has been sold. I think a few of those readers will want to see the movie, especially if its faithful to at least the spirit of the book.

      Ron Howard has The Dark Tower?!? Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo…….

  5. November 10, 2010 10:01 pm

    Where is David Lean when you need him? He would capture the scope, the grandeur of that magnificent novel. Next to STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Robert Heinlein, DUNE is my favorite sci-fi Frank Herbert offering, a thick book impossible to put down full of savage sand worms and savage politics that reflect our own dysfunctional world today. I saw the movie and hated it so much I nearly walked out. But I think with the special effects of these days a movie could be made, but it will really need top of the line actors, directors, cinematographers – everything. I wish it could be done. I’d love to go see a DUNE that I could rave about.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 11, 2010 12:08 am

      David Lean! Why didn’t I think of that? Is there a modern counterpart? Not that I can think of. But still, apart from Peter Jackson, I can think of a few directors who might have the skills, sensibility and imagination to pull of a credible Dune: Ridley Scott (of course), Alfonzo Cuaron. Guillermo del Toro. Kathryn Bigelow. James Cameron. David Fincher. Christopher Nolan. Danny Boyle.

  6. Jon permalink
    November 12, 2010 12:23 pm

    Well those directors would be perfect as you mentioned! James Cameron is a devoted fan of Dune novels and despises Lynch’s turd of an adaptation. But Cameron already made a Dune-esque movie called Avatar since Dune was one of the inspirations to Avatar with the same stuff.

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