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Denis Villeneuve to Direct Dune!


I would have written about this earlier, but it has taken this long for my feet to hit the ground again.

Denis Villeneuve to directing DUNE!!!

To say that I am a fan of the universe that sprang from the imagination of Frank Herbert would be an understatement. Since my first reading of Dune, I have devoured everything Dune, somethings of course were more palatable then others. If asked to give a book recommendation, the first question is “Have you read Dune?”

At that point, I typically get several comments about giant worms and Sting, and with that, one of the best works in literature is simply dismissed. I am not saying that David Lynch’s Dune was bad, per se; I just don’t think it does justice to the source material. Additionally, Lynch’s vision for the film serves as a hard introduction to Herbert’s world, leaving uninitiated viewers scratching their heads.

Just as the Dune universe has expanded over the years, the effort to adapt this book to the big screen have spiraled into its own epic saga. In 1971, a production company headed by Arthur P. Jacobs (Plant of the Apes series, Doctor Doolittle, Tom Sawyer) optioned the rights to make the film. This attempt to make the film was plagued with delays and inability to find a director. Although shooting was scheduled to begin in 1974, Jacob’s death in 1973 brought the project to a halt.

In 1974, a French consortium purchased the film rights and tapped Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, The Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre) as the director. To say that Jodorowsky’s vision for Dune was ambitious and grandiose just illustrates the inadequacies of the English language. Jodorowsky proposed a 14-hour movie divorcing itself from Herbert’s Dune, and focusing on the mythical and spiritual aspects of the material. Salvador DalÍ, Orson Welles, David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Moebius, Pink Floyd, and H.R. Giger are some of the named associated with Jodorowsky’s film. However, the budget for such an ambitious movie was just not there, and frankly studio executives were ill-equipped to evaluate such a project. As a fan of Dune and Jodorowsky, I am saddened that this film was never made. I am under no misconception that the film would have looked nothing like the Dune I read, but having it reinterpreted by Jodorowsky would have been mind blowing. Although I have been deprived of that experience, you can still appreciate Jodorowsky’s passion for this project in Jodorowsky’s Dune released in 2013.

Dino De Laurentiis then stepped in and purchased the rights to the film in 1976. De Laurentiis commissioned Herbert himself to pen a screenplay. Not pleased the with the result De Laurentiis then turned to Rudy Wurlitzer for the screen play, and hired Ridley Scott to direct with H.R. Giger working of designs. However, Ridley Scott only styed on the project for 7 months then stepped away following the death of his brother. Following the departure of Scott the project stalled.

In 1981, De Laurentiis re-negotiated the rights to the film. David Lynch was then hired to direct the film and to write the screenplay. After several drafts were rejected, then finally in 1984 Dune was released. When the film released it was met with criticism and failed at the box-office. Later Lynch would distance himself from the film, and in some cuts Lynch’s name in the credits is replaced by Alan Smithee (if you are unfamiliar with this name you should look it up).

Six years later, John Harrison adapted the novel into Frank Herbert’s Dune, a miniseries for the Sci-Fi Channel. Following the success of the original miniseries, a sequel, Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune, aired in 2003 on the Sci-Fi Channel. The sequel is based on the Frank Herbert’s novels Dune Messiah (1969) and Children of Dune (1976) and stars a young James McAvoy and Susan Sarandon. The miniseries were generally well received. While I enjoyed both miniseries more than the film, both somehow made me feel as if I was watching a play. Maybe it was because I felt the ideas presented in Herbert’s novel were somehow constrained by watching it on my tiny television.

In 2008, Paramount Pictures announced that it would produce a new film with Peter Berg set to direct, and this time is was going to be different. The studio proposed a faithful adaption of the novel focusing on its themes of finite ecological resources. However, it was not different at all. In 2009, Berg dropped out of the project. In 2010, the studio signed Pierre Morel to direct, but in the November of that year Morel too left the project leading Paramount to drop its plans for a remake in March 2011.

Any hopes of seeing a new film version of Herbert’s novel seemed gone. However, in November 2016, Legendary Entertainment acquired the film and TV rights for Dune. Although talk was circulating that Denis Villeneuve was in negotiations, I was not holding my breath given Dune's history. I am over the moon with the choice for director. If I was asked to provide a list of directors I wanted to see make this film, Villeneuve would have been at the top.

For those unfamiliar with Villeneuve, recently he has directed Enemy (2013), Sicario (2015), and Arrival (2016), and Blade Runner 2049, which is scheduled for release in 2017. Arrival, his latest work to hit theatres, received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. For a novel that others have found so hard to adapt to the big screen, Villeneuve is the perfect choice. Somehow, he managed to adapt a short story about alien linguistics into a Best Picture nomination. After such a showing, I cannot wait to see what he is going to do with one of the best works of science fiction literature ever.

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