30 years on from David Lynch’s not-very-good adaptation, Dune is more relevant and deserving of a modern update than ever.
So many remakes – or reboots, in the parlance of those who don’t want to admit they’re doing a remake – are justifiably criticised as pointless from the moment of their announcement. Films like the new Total Recall and RoboCop are doing nothing but iterating on what was already good to begin with, and inevitably suffer by comparison. The ideal film to remake is one with big ideas and lots of potential, but which didn’t really work for one reason or another the first time around.
The ideal remake is one with big ideas and lots of potential, but which didn’t really work the first time around. Enter: Dune
Enter: David Lynch’s Dune. Putting together possibly the most important science fiction novel ever written and an incredibly talented director must have seemed like a brilliant idea at first. As it turned out, Lynch was utterly wrong for the material: the man who made Eraserhead is not the man you want making an epic space adventure. (Sidenote: Lynch was also offered the director’s chair on Return of the Jedi but, fortunately, turned it down.) Lynch’s Dune was undeniably ambitious, but nonetheless bloated, utterly nonsensical if you hadn’t read the novel, and all in all a bit of a mess. Just the sort of film which would benefit from being revisited in an attempt to try and correct its faults.
There was a Sci-Fi Channel miniseries adaptation of Dune in 2000, but it’s not especially well remembered. When considering just how massive the scale of Dune’s story is, the prospect of a modern big-screen version free from the constraints of a TV budget becomes very tantalising indeed (just imagine what could be done with the sandworms if Weta Workshop were able to get their hands on them). Various companies have tried to make a new Dune film, but none have yet succeeded – the most recent attempt was by Paramount, and it was shelved indefinitely in 2011.
Even leaving aside the fact that remaking, rebooting and adapting nostalgic geek culture properties is pretty much all Hollywood seems to do these days, 2014 is the perfect time for a new Dune film. A novel that was timely in 1965 seems downright prophetic nearly 50 years later: the plot is driven by the Spice, a rare, incredibly valuable resource which can only be found on the desert planet Arrakis, often known as Dune, and on which the entire galactic economy is dependent. Consequently, the imperial powers of the galactic community are quite happy to stomp all over Dune’s indigenous population, the Fremen, in order to get to the Spice and keep themselves wealthy and powerful at their expense. Sound familiar?
Dune is now more relevant than it has ever been, the only problem being that it’s influenced pretty much everything in the genre since its publication in 1965
It’s no exaggeration to say that Dune is now more relevant than it has ever been, with the oil crisis only getting worse and Western powers receiving a great deal of criticism for their thinly-justified interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The thought of what a politically-minded science fiction director like Neill Blomkamp could do with this source material ought to be an extremely exciting one. The only problem with making a new Dune film today is that, like John Carter of Mars, it has influenced pretty much everything in the genre since its publication in 1965, from Star Wars to Avatar, and so risks feeling overly familiar to a modern audience. With the right script and director, however, that shouldn’t pose much of a problem, since the sheer quality of the story and the intelligence of its themes should more than overcome the fact that a lot of people will think Arrakis is ripped-off Tatooine, rather than vice-versa.
Perhaps now is the time to bring Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unfilmed 1970s Dune adaptation out of mothballs and finally commit it to film. It’s enjoying the spotlight at the moment, with a (supposedly excellent) documentary about the attempt to make it currently doing the rounds, and it’s often regarded as one of the great unmade films. It would need to be considerably trimmed down – the screenplay would reportedly have resulted in a 14-hour-long film – but it would be amazing to see Jodorowsky’s vision on the big screen at last, even if it does sound like it would rival Holy Motors for sheer unbridled insanity.
The political (and blockbuster) landscape has rarely provided better circumstances for a new Dune than now
Jodorowsky’s Dune was to have involved, among others, Pink Floyd, H. R. Giger, Salvador Dali and Orson Welles: in all likelihood, it wouldn’t have been a terribly faithful adaptation of the novel, but it would have been fascinating all the same. Still, it’s extremely unlikely that, even if a new Dune film finally does get off the ground, it’ll use the template left by Jodorowsky. In terms of why it ought to be made today, maybe that’s for the best. Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been an undeniable visual extravaganza, but it would have made Lynch’s film look coherent and restrained by comparison.
Regardless, the political (and movie blockbuster) landscape has rarely provided better circumstances for a new Dune than now, and it’s about time someone tried to film an adaptation that does the novel justice. Besides, there are five sequels in the main series, and seemingly endless new books being churned out by original author Frank Herbert’s son – it could just be the next big sci-fi franchise.
All images: Universal.