When Dune, by Denis Villeneuve, opens in the cinema in Spain on September 17, a few weeks before in the United States and Latin America (where it can be seen on HBO Max), one of the great wounds that the premiere schedule had left due to COVID will close.
Dune, the play based on Frank Herbert’s science fiction book, written in 1965, is one of the great stories of the genre. So much so that his adaptations and his attempts to achieve it have never managed to package what today could be described as a mix between Star Wars and Game of Thrones with touches of environmental awareness.
With an astonishing universe that spawned plenty of continuations, Dune’s novels are notoriously convoluted, with extensive plots, characters with strange names, and some themes as heady as they are dreamlike and complex. It is not surprising, then, that previous film adaptations have had problems. Twin Peaks creator David Lynch’s 1984 film was almost universally maligned, the cult Chilean-French filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky failed to pull off his adaptation (which resulted in a fascinating documentary), and a closer version of the SyFy channel may be the best, but too heavy.
Yet Villeneuve vows to unveil the secret formula and finally give Dune the big-screen treatment it deserves. The director of Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival He has already demonstrated his ability to direct impressive science fiction stories, and now he is surely facing his greatest test with a cast full of familiar faces. But before we get into the screen, surely an introductory guide to the Universe of Dune is appropriate. And for that we are in CVBJ.biz.
What is Dune and how its universe is configured
As we said, the origin of Dune is the homonymous science fiction novel of 1965 written by Frank Herbert, an enormously influential tome whose space opera and dense mythology they can be seen in everything from Star Wars to Game of Thrones. But Dune is also a growing franchise. Herbert himself wrote five sequels between 1969 and 1985, and his son Brian Herbert has written 14 other prequels and sequels in collaboration with Kevin J. Anderson since 1999. There was also a movie in 1984 and a television miniseries in 2000, in addition to numerous board and console games.
What you really need to know is that it is now also a huge new film from director Denis Villeneuve. And possibly the beginning of an extensive multimedia franchise that includes both television series already expected for HBO Max – owned by Warner, its distributor – and film sequels. At least if everything goes as originally planned in terms of results. For now, the pre-premiere reviews since its exhibition at the Venice festival do not disappoint.
Welcome to Arrakis
Dune is set in a fictional and distant future (in the year 10,191 to be exact) in which the noble houses lead a feudal society that spans many planets, which are considered fiefdoms. The pre-story posed by the first novel and revealed by the prequels shows us a society that at some point had a confrontation with high technology, returning to that space feudalism.
Now the rain of names begins. The protagonist, Paul Atreides, is the son of Duke Leto Atreides and Jessica, an acolyte of the Bene Gesserit. The Bene Gesserit are a matriarchal religious sect who wield apparently superhuman powers gained after years of exhausting physical and mental training. They have their own political motivations and seek to acquire more power, hence Jessica has settled in the Atreides House as a couple of the Duke.
The world of Dune is that of a distant future where humanity had a confrontation with high technology, returning to that space feudalism. Now the empire’s wealth is measured by melange, a spice found only on Arrakis.
Much of the population of this universe distrusts the Bene Gesserit and calls them “witches” for their strange abilities. We know that Bene Gesserit acolytes are involved in a long-running genetic breeding program to give birth to a Christ-like male figure of the same abilities, known as the Kwisatz Haderach (yes, the names are complicated, take a time to go over them a couple of times).
So far a brief brushstroke of the background painting. Dune begins with the transfer of the entire Atreides family from the peaceful planet Caladan to manage the harvest of a very important export product called melange, known colloquially as a spice, on the desert planet Arrakis. Come on, they are forced to change oasis for desert to fulfill orders in this important raw material, object of desire and wealth throughout the Galaxy.
From melange to Fremen: the Dune ecosystem
Duke Leto is ordered to do so by Emperor Padishah Shaddam IV. The Atreides’ stay on Arrakis is soon made dangerous by the remnants of the presence of members of House Harkonnen, former rivals of House Atreides.
The Padishah Emperors are the hereditary rulers of the Old Kingdom, who reign over the known universe. Their power is kept in check thanks to a feudal agreement with the noble houses of the Landsraad and the Space Guild. Although the Emperors and the Landsraad houses share political power, they both rely on the Space Guild for interstellar travel, creating a tenuous sense of stability.
And in the middle of all this are the Fremen, the native people of Arrakis. An apparently old-fashioned society that learns to live with ‘stillsuits’, armor that makes any drop of liquid that emanates from its body be exploited due to its scarcity. Fremen live in tribes called sietches and value water above all else. When a Fremen dies, its body turns into water to preserve the moisture it had in life.
The Fremen, who depend on the noble family that currently oversee the planet, are a group of humans who have lived on the rocky outcrops of Arrakis for generations. Constantly fighting for survival, they are skilled in combat and hardened by the harsh elements of the planet.
Although Arrakis is a place where no one would want to be, The secret, as we say, is in melange, a species with a multitude of functions, including mentally altering the faculties of those who take it.. And that, by the way, is created thanks to desert worms kilometers in diameter, without which this cycle of the species would be impossible. And, as we will see later, Dune is also a manifesto in favor of maintaining ecosystems. In fact, one of the most important characters to understand the books is the position of planetologist.
In short, Dune is the story of a family betrayed by their masters and forced to work with the natives of the planet to survive. The adventure focuses mainly on Paul, and continues with a whole series of strange and wonderful characters.
A brief history of his few but intense adaptations
Dune adaptations have left a special legacy as only those films that were a failure at the time but which, due to their rarity, became cult films. A testimony also of how difficult it is to transfer this story from the page to the screen.
The top three attempts to make a Dune movie, in chronological order, went like this:
La Dune de Jodorowsky (1970s)
All we know is that it would have been a strange movie … if it had been made. Chilean-French filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky wanted to make a 14-hour film starring Orson Welles (whom he bribed to join the cast by promising the Citizen Kane director that the chef at his favorite restaurant would be the caterer), Mick Jagger, Salvador Dalí and his own 12-year-old son.
Jodorowsky hoped that the experience of watching the movie would elicit a mental response similar to taking LSD, he said in subsequent interviews. Famous painter HR Giger, comic book artist Moebius, and visual effects supervisor Dan O’Bannon participated in the pre-production. Pink Floyd and the French group Magma were going to put a soundtrack to House Atreides and House Harkonnen, respectively. It was going to be crazy.
Unfortunately, Jodorowsky’s vision was too grand and the film spent more than two years in development, costing the director $ 2 million. In the end, the project stalled for financial reasons and was never resumed. However, you can see the fantastic documentary about the almost making-of. Plus, you can enjoy the fruits of Jodorowsky’s labor in other ways: Giger, Moebius and O’Bannon were inspired by his work on Dune and led to a movie that did see the light of day: Alien.
David Lynch’s La Dune (1984)
A film with special effects (but not only because of its age, but also because of how they are used) that today is certainly striking. Surely David Lynch’s biggest commercial gamble, the movie is still good: Kyle MacLachlan plays Paul Atreides and singer Sting appears as the villain Feyd Rautha.
Filming was chaos, and Universal interceded to clip the wings of Lynch’s idea, which ended up becoming a film not strange because of the director’s workmanship, but because of a reckless montage.
The intrahistory, however, did not place Lynch as director. After Dino De Laurentiis bought the film rights to Dune in 1976, the Hollywood producer initially hired Ridley Scott to direct Dune. When Scott left the project, the Laurentiis’ daughter convinced him to hire David Lynch.
Unfortunately, interference made the final cut look so bad that voice-overs had to be recorded to reconstruct the holes in the plot. Lynch continues to refuse to discuss Dune, claiming “zero interest” in any adaptation after his experience left a bad taste in his mouth.
SyFy’s version of 2000
The last attempt before the current one comes from the SyFy channel (then known as SciFi), which was well aware that Dune was basically a science fiction Bible, so they included Frank Herbert’s name in the miniseries title. Directed and adapted by John Harrison (contributor to George A. Romero), the series won two awards at the 2001 Emmys.
Although the critics praised the miniseries, and to date it is one of the highest-rated programs ever broadcast on the SyFy channel, it is a bit hard to watch, surely because it follows very closely a text that is very difficult to bring to the screen, challenge that Villeneuve now has before him. The miniseries however spawned a sequel2003’s Children of Dune starring James McAvoy.
What about the new Dune de Villeneuve?
The most important thing is that the one that is going to reach the cinema now is only the first part of the first book. Villeneuve has divided the story in two, recognizing that it takes really important footage to fit the whole story. The (potential) problem is that although the second part is officially planned, it has not been shot yet, and its creation is totally dependent on Dune being a success.
However, Villeneuve is a stellar choice for this film, as he is used to making big, brilliant, and thoughtful sci-fi movies, from Blade Runner 2049 to Arrival.
The writers are Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth. Spaihts wrote Passengers and the original drafts of Doctor Strange and Prometheus. Roth’s previous works include A Star Is Born, Munich and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and he won an Oscar for Forrest Gump. The music, almost by popular acclaim, is by Zimmer.
If we add to this a cast full of familiar faces, we can say that there is wood. Now it remains to be seen if it is as valuable as melange.