Like the books they are based on, the film adaptations of Frank Herbert’s Dune are an ever-expanding story in themselves.
At the very beginning, they were a few mild shots at adapting Dune, which involved names like David Lean (because of the desert setting, maybe?) and Ridley Scott. But let’s describe the most relevant attempts and films.
First, there was the surrealist Mexican creator Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s attempt, then, David Lynch’s, then, a couple of TV series, then, a fanmade edit of Lynch’s attempt which attracted attention, and now, Dennis Villeneuve is the last one to give it a try.
Let’s have a look at all the Dunes before Dune.
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune
The most singular attempt of them all, by far.
The film never got made, the money deserted the artist, but a wonderful documentary exists that will tell you the whole story of Jodorowsky crazy attempt. This is its trailer:
Just a few clues: The emperor should have been played by the legendary surrealistic painter Salvador Dalí; the top team that Jodorowky got together to develop his concept in Paris (master comic book writer and designer Moebius, writer Dan O’Bannon, concept artist Syd Mead) is the same crew that Ridley Scott recruited to create Alien (1979) right after Jodorowky’s attempt derailed.
What follows is a fragment of an interview that Jodorowsky gave to the AV Club’s Noel Murray about his career. If you want to read the whole thing, please click here.
AVC: For a long time, you were involved with developing Dune into a feature film, before the project fell through. Did you ever see David Lynch’s Dune?
AJ: Yes, I’ve seen it. I was very scared when I saw it, because Dune was for me very important in my life. I was very sad I could not do it. When I saw that David Lynch would do it, I was very scared, because I admire him as a moviemaker, and I thought he would do well. But when I see the picture, I realize he never understood this picture. It’s not a David Lynch picture. It’s the producer who made that picture, no? Who made this horror. For David Lynch, it was a job. A commercial job. It never was that for me.
Here below, the complete Jodorowsky’s Dune documentary.
David Lynch’s Dune (1984)
One of the problems of adapting the book Dune is that it requires to introduce the audience to a vast new universe full of characters, animosities, intrigue and difficult concepts, like the spice itself, a substance that only exits in planet Arrakis, the most sought-after stuff in the Universe. The spice, whose existence is linked to the giant worms that live in the big deserts that constitute Arrakis, it’s half food, half hallucinogen, and, somehow, it allows for long-distance space travel. So Dune, in a way, is a trap, as you can get lost trying to make filmically attractive, and quickly so, lots of new concepts for the audience.
When he landed in Dune, David Lynch was right off after his first commercial and prestige success (The Elephant Man, 1980), but with scarce experience in big films (his only feature before The Elephant Man was Eraserhead (1977) a very small, innovative, nightmarish creation. Despite his lack of experience in big productions, he took the helm in Dune, a huge monster of a movie.
Lynch’s Dune was a flop. Critically and commercially.
Although some aspects of the film are truly Lynchian indeed (the damaged skin of Baron Harkonnen to name one) looks like he got lost in the way. The result wasn’t thrilling enough for Star Wars‘ times. Many people deserted the movie (no pun intended) at the very beginning, when the Princess delivers a very long speech, talking straight to the camera, to tell the audience the whole set-up of the story. Star Wars found a very clever solution to do just that, summing up only the very essential exposition in an emotional way using rolling titles, but here the solution became a problem: The audience felt lost in the first minutes of a long movie.
They tried to salvage the remains by making an extended version for TV in 1988.
The theatrical version runs 137 minutes long. The extended TV version, 177 minutes long according to some sources; 186, according to some others. It was made without the involvement of Lynch. Producer Raffaella de Laurentiis states that
“Universal asked David and myself to work on a ‘long’ version of Dune to be prepared for television,” revealed Raffella De Laurentiis, “At the time David was busy and not prepared to go back to work on Dune without further financial compensation. He and Universal could not reach a financial arrangement so Universal went ahead without him and David’s name is not on the long version.”
So the TV version was signed by Alan Smithee, who, as you probably know, is the name that is used when no director wants to take responsibility for the final result.
If you really want to know how David Lynch’s Dune was made, check the book below here.
If you have an interest in David Lynch’s Dune’s SFX, the following doc is just for you.
Dune, the two TV Series (2000 & 2003)
In 2000, a Dune TV mini-series was made, written and directed by John Harrison. The 3 episodes adapted only the first of Frank Herbert’s book, same as in Lynch’s version. It wasn’t a small production (20 million dollars in 2000, not bad at all). They gathered some big names in front of the camera (like William Hurt to play Duke Leto Atreides) and behind (like Oscar-winning director of photography Vittorio Storaro to take care of the visuals).
The result was decent to watch but a bit flat emotionally, except for the odd moment. The SFX look, from today’s point of view, feeble, to say the least. The design of the worms, though, is impeccable. Vittorio Storaro’s colourful photography has some fascinating bits but it attracts too much attention to itself as if Storaro was running the show. But the series did well enough to have a sequel.
In the second series, the photography and the costumes have been wisely toned down a bit and, in the 3 years between both series, you can see the improvement in CGI. But, still, if you compare it with TV science-fiction of the time, like the 2003-2009 version of Battlestar Galactica, Children of Dune doesn’t come out a winner. But a bunch of scenes are first-class, almost poetic, like Leto 2 flying his ornithopter dangerously closer to the big worms.
As you can see from the more recent poster shown above, they have placed actor James McAvoy, whose career was just starting then, in the centre of it, despite the fact that he plays only a supporting character (but very well indeed). Susan Sarandon, Alice Krige and Steven Berkoff turn up to give a patina of extra quality to the cast. Greg Yaitanes, the director, does an excellent job. So does the composer Brian Tyler. Some trivia about the music: According to Wikipedia
His cues for Children of Dune were used in multiple other theatrical film trailers, including Master and Commander (2003), Sahara (2005), Cinderella Man (2005), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), and Star Trek (2009). The track “Summon the Worms” was used as a leader for the Dutch show Peking Express, and in the first leaked promotional reel for The Golden Compass (2007).”
Fanmade Alternative Cut (David Lynch’s Dune Redux)
Strangely enough, the best version so far. It lasts 3 hours and it works.
Let’s allow its author to do the introductions:
This is REDUX – the final 2012 version of my Dune The Alternative Edition fanedit project, which replaces two earlier and inferior versions (v.1 in 2008 and v.2 in 2009). This is *NOT* the butchered version of my Dune Redux fanedit that was uploaded to Youtube in July 2017 by one Sam Wong. For all the background info on my project go here:
What Spicediver did, it works. This fan-edit is a 178-minute version, pieced together with material from the different versions made available plus a few deleted unused scene.
You have the whole fanedit here:
Denis Villeneuve‘s Dune
Fans have invested lots of hope in this version. Time will say if they will be satisfied!
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