An Ambitious Screen Adaption of Frank Herbert’s Epic Novel Dune is in the Works
By Dennis Greene
Dominick Mayer, of COS, a Chicago based pop culture blog, recently announced that Denis Villeneuve, fresh off his recent successes in Bladé Runner 2049 and Arrival has announced that he has agreed with Legendary Pictures Production to direct a new adaption of Frank Herbert’s epic novel. Eric Roth, who wrote the screenplay for Forest Gump and four other best picture Oscar nominees, has already written a first draft of a Dune screenplay. This is great news for Dune fans. There is no completion date set, but it is not expected earlier than 2019 at best.
It has been fifty years since the publication of this sweeping and complex novel, and a number of imaginative filmmakers have tried to bring it to the screen, but the task has proven difficult. The highly regarded filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky invested extraordinary time and effort in 1973 in his aborted adaption, and David Lynch’s 1984 rendition is considered by many to have fallen short of the mark. Several TV series based on the novel have been only moderately successful.
Frank Herbert has said that he was greatly influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars” and by the life of T.E. Laurence (i.e. Lawrence of Arabia) when writing Dune, and George Lucas, in turn, admits that Dune greatly influenced his Star Wars. When reading the description of the Arrakas’ landscape, Lucas’ Tatoine jumps instantly to mind. Villeneuve has noted that a number of Star Wars’ original plot elements and world building details–like the massive desert planet, the seemingly futile rebellion against an omnipotent empire, a young man destined to overthrow the Emperor, and the similar roles of the Jedi and the Bene Gesserit–all show at least surface similarities with Star Wars. Though it is hard to imagine challenging Star Wars’ success, Villeneuve has taken a swipe at the mega franchise by stating that he intends his upcoming adaption of Dune to be “Star Wars for adults.”
I am rooting for Mr. Villeneuve to be hugely successful. The novel itself has won science fiction’s highest awards–the Hugo and the Nebula–and, as recently as 2012, it was named the top science-fiction novel of all time in a Wired readers’ poll. It has sold millions of copies and spawned eighteen sequels and prequals, but Dune has not penetrated the popular culture in the way that The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars have. Jon Michaud, in a New Yorker article, noted that there are no Dune conventions, and catchphrases from the book have not entered the language.
At the other extreme, Dune is not given its due as literature, a wonderful tale well told. The epic scope of the military and political conflicts in Dune make the mere skirmishes in War and Peace seem trivial. The relationship between Duke Leto and Jessica, and between Paul and Chani make the coupling of Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky seem shallow, selfish and unimportant. Vladimer Harkonen in Dune would be capable of holding his own in the sordid corridors of power in Westros, and the assortment of unique, well defined characters existing on Arrakas would rival those populating Dickensian London. Yet, every high school English class at least mentions Tolstoy and Dickens, and Game of Thrones dominates our pop culture while Dune languishes in obscurity. Perhaps Mr. Villeneuve’s efforts will change this.
If you haven’t read Dune, you have plenty of time to do so before the movie or movies are released. If you have read Dune, now may be a good time to read it again. It will still hold your attention. And if you would like to share the Dune experience with others, you might consider reading and discussing the novel with others this fall in a study group at BOLLI.
Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.