Adapting the Unsuitable Novel – The Bull & Bear
This Thursday, director Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune will be released in theaters across North America. Villeneuve will attempt to translate one of sci-fi’s greatest literary works into a film of equal quality – a feat that history has proved impossible. that of Frank HerbertDune is sadly dense, long and complex. Two of cinema’s most ambitious and innovative directors, Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Lynch, tried to adapt Dune and failed. Now we are a few days away from seeing if Villeneuve has learned from his peers’ missteps.
Dune is a sprawling and imposing text that challenges both filmmakers and readers in general. Herbert’s 1965 magnum opus is a 180,000-word, 700-page sci-fi epic set in the distant future in a feudal, interstellar society. Herbert himself said his novel could be read as an allegory of ecology, religion, philosophy or evolution. We begin with a young nobleman named Paul as his family’s kingdom moves to the desert planet Arrakis, or Dune. We end with a matured Paul becoming a religious prophet and waging a war against his rival noble house. In between, Herbert guides us through the countless companies and individuals all competing for Arrakis and the precious mind-altering drug beneath its sands.
It’s easy to see why an imaginative filmmaker would be forced to put Dune On the screen. It’s an inherently cinematic narrative accompanied by intriguing thematic depths that any artist would love to explore. It’s also easy to see where a keen adapter would stumble. The text has a seemingly limitless vocabulary of places and names accompanied by a history so dense that many critics of the book have called it incomprehensible. Yes Dunes the story is difficult to tell, its setting is more difficult to shoot. Desert battles, spaceship palaces, and monstrous sands worms from the novel require a huge budget and tech team.
It’s easy to see why an imaginative filmmaker would be forced to put Dune onscreen. It’s an inherently cinematic narrative accompanied by intriguing thematic depths that any artist would love to explore.
Yet less than a decade later DuneUpon leaving, the Franco-Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky set out to make the adaptation which, according to him, could change the landscape of cinema. Jodorowsky is one of the few filmmakers ambitious and uninhibited enough to Dune. His first movie, Fando and Lis, was so graphic that a riot started after the movie premiered. His cryptically disturbing second film El Topo was the cinema’s first midnight film. His screenplay for Dune would have given a film of nearly fourteen hours and his plan walks a tightrope between brilliant and ridiculous.
In the early 1970s, Jodorowsky traveled the world collecting what he called the “spiritual warriors” with whom he would make the film. Jodorowsky wanted Spanish artist Salvador Dalí to take action. Dalí demanded to be the highest paid actor in film history – $ 100,000 for every hour of filming. Jodorowsky was so determined to have Dalí in Dune that he nodded and introduced him as the emperor of the galaxy. To embody Baron Harkonnen, accomplice and elephantine, Jodorowsky called on one of the greatest of cinema, Orson Welles. Welles, beyond abs at the time, was okay with the condition that a private chef prepare all of his meals. For Dunes illustrations and special effects, Jodorowsky recruited Dan O’Bannon, HR Giger and Chris Foss, all behind-the-scenes experts who would create the revolutionary effects on Extraterrestrial. He had deals with Pink Floyd for the soundtrack and his cast included Mick Jagger, Gloria Swanson and her son.
Today at Jodorowsky Dune is the greatest film ever made.
Jodorowsky’s mission was to make Dune. He had assembled an incredible cohort of the world’s most acclaimed artists and their larger-than-life personalities. He was determined to have Dune transformed the audience’s understanding of what the film could be and thus refused to compromise their artistic vision to conform to industry standards. Jodorowsky didn’t cut off his two-hour script, and Hollywood studios didn’t offer him the necessary funding. Today at Jodorowsky Dune is the greatest film ever made.
A documentary on the failed adaptation titled Jodorowsky dune released in 2013. We listen to an excited Jodorowsky telling stories about the film’s pre-production and his encounters with Dalí, Welles, Jagger and Pink Floyd. The documentary and most Jodorowsky fans agree that his Dune, if properly funded, would have been a historic achievement. It is also likely that a film lasting more than half a day was a spectacular failure. We will never know. Dune and the singular director who was attached to it became too ambitious, too strange and too powerful to make the big screen.
Enter David Lynch. Lynch, like Jodorowsky, was a promising avant-garde filmmaker in the 1970s known for his surreal and disturbing films as Elephant man and Eraser head. In 1983, Lynch received studio funding to adapt Dune and set out to achieve what Jodorowsky never could. Things took a turn for the worse quickly. Filming exclusively in the merciless deserts of Mexico turned out to be a bad decision and the film was over budget. Like Jodorowsky, Lynch struggled with studio executives during run time. Warner Brothers wanted the final movie to be two standard hours long, but Lynch’s cut was three and a half hours.
The published version of Dune is practically impossible to watch. Truncate the entirety of Herbert Dune in just over two hours generated a film so scattered and incomprehensible that the studio distributed famous glossaries of the Dune universe to help moviegoers understand the plot. The quality is somewhere between a bad Star Trek episode and an Ed Wood movie, not the work of a movie master. Lynch was embarrassed enough to remove his own name from the film’s credits on subsequent releases.
Today, Jodorowsky and Lynch remain two of cinema’s most acclaimed arthouse directors. They each had monumental plans for what their Dune would accomplish. But they could only watch their creative visions being dismantled to fit the results of a studio. Now, almost four decades after Lynch Dune, there is a new challenger, trying to fulfill the dream that none of his peers could. And there is reason to be optimistic that this time, Dune will be well done.
Denis Villeneuve is a French-Canadian director whose sci-fi films are both spooky spirits and mainstream popcorn hits. His 2016 film Arrival was both a box office hit that was also called the smartest big-budget sci-fi movie in years. A year later, it made the star-studded and critically acclaimed sequel to Runne Blader which has aroused the love of science fiction and movie fans around the world. It systematically combines the philosophical and stimulating possibilities of science fiction with an exhilarating spectacle. He is perhaps the only one today able to adapt Dune.
Villeneuve gives us hope. Like Jodorowsky and Lynch, he recognizes that Dune can never be a simple two hour movie. But Villeneuve did what the others couldn’t and made a deal to lead two Dune movies with Warner Bros. Dune is only the first half of Herbert’s novel, and it will hit theaters at a time when sci-fi epics and sequels are one of the best-selling genres. Its cast is an embarrassment of wealth with stars like Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya and Oscar Isaac, and a score by composer Hans Zimmer.
Denis Villeneuve has the chance to change all that, to erase the failures suffered by his peers and to make Dune in the movie he’s always deserved to be.
The last forty-five years of literary and cinematographic history have brought us to this singular moment of 2021. Two of the most visionary directors in cinema have failed to meet the challenge of bringing the science fiction text on the big screen. most exceptional ever written. Denis Villeneuve has the chance to change all that, to erase the failures suffered by his peers and to make Dune in the movie he’s always deserved to be.