When it comes to science fiction literature, there are few books with the weight, scope, sales, and the amount of influence as Frank Herbert's 1965 classic DUNE. This magnum opus stands as my favorite novel, and I believe the finest work of human imagination with a litter of awards and praise to back that theory up. With DUNE being so highly praised as one of the finest science fiction novels very written, and it wasn't long before Hollywood came knocking. From 1971 through today, there have several major attempts to bring DUNE to the silver screen. However, only two of these projects were completed. Despite all of this effort since 1971, the concept of the 1965 novel has never been successful translated into film. The 1984 David Lynch film bombing at the box-office, and the 2000 mini-series divided fans. In this blogpost, FWS will be discussing how the attempts at adapting DUNE for the big screen broke the promise of the novel. Also on the DUNE front, FWS will be covering the toyline of the 1984 movie adaption in a future Military Sci-Fi Toys blogpost.
Is DUNE Military Science Fiction?
DUNE is complex and layered, like a nice lasagna, with all manner of element interacting around a central story of a power struggle between families. In someways, DUNE could be more of an Italian opera than space epic! FWS often talks about DUNE, but is DUNE really military science fiction? While, it is not "hard-core MSF" like Old Man's War, Honor Harrington, or even HALO, but it does involve a military conflict in the very distance future that is unlike anything seen in science fiction. Certainly, the films and games derived from the original text focus on the military element of the conflict between the factions in the book. Has I said above, DUNE is complex and layered, and the armed struggle between House Atredies, House Harkonnen, the Empire, and the Fremen is a primary story element in the novel. These armed conflicts are parred with planetary ecology, universe-wide drug addiction, economics, control, destiny, sexual power, and religion. All of plot-points dilated the military sci-fi elements, but they are still there. Here on FWS, DUNE is in the military sci-fi family, but it the "crazy uncle Bob" in the mix....everyone has an crazy uncle Bob.
The Challenge of Adopting the Text to Screen
The 1971-1973 Arthur P. Jacobs Attempt
The 1975 Alejandro Jodorowsky Attempt
DUNE didn't belong to Herbert just as Don Quixtoe did belong to Cervantes." and "I didn't want to respect the novel". I realize that everyone interprets your written word, music, or film via their own imagination and experiences, recreating your art as something individual per the audience. But not respecting the novel and that DUNE doesn't belong to Herbert is worrisome. The artist owns the work, you own the interpretation, and this makes me very glad that his vision of DUNE never saw the light of day. Take for example, the Emperor of the Known Universe, who would have been played by the Salvador Dali, who demand to be paid $100k an hour!. Jodorowsky envisioned an madman who sits upon a throne of two open-mouthed fishes that happily received his wastes, all while a robotic copy of him keep the madman company! Then Jodorowsky re-imagined the spice-drug as a blue spongy thing filled with vegetable/animal life that possess the highest level of consciences. No shit. Paul would have been murdered at the end of the film, but he would have transmitted his god-collective consciences to his mother, the Fremen, and become "the man-collective" and there would have been this really trippy ending with intergalactic rainbows (no shit), vapors, rain, clouds, and then the Dune planet would become green, and illuminates the known universe with its light. Fucking spare me.
The 1978-1980 Ridley Scott Attempt
Lynch's Journey to Arrkakis
The 1984 DUNE Film: Getting It 1/3rd Right
The 1984 DUNE Film: Getting It 2/3rd Wrong
The film degrades further when it was stretched for the longer TV adaption. Throughout the longer film, there is an Harkonnen warship is repeatedly (and laughably) shown cruising through the mist, and flying towards a city. Then we have scenes of the Baron staring off into space, with different radio chatter inserted. We have the Atriedies soldier's death repeated twice during the Harkonnen sneak attack on Arrakeen. Then that brings us to one of the main sins in the 1984 version: the poorly filmed battle scenes. Any epic, there needs to be a great battle, where good vs. evil, and story concludes. DUNE has the final battle at Arrakeen, and any DUNE fan was excited to see the final showdown. While the knife dual at the end of the movie was very good, and well done, the Fremen assault on the capital city was not. It seems that Lynch that filmed one big battle scene in the desert, then recycled that shoot basically throughout the versions of the film. When it came to the attacks on Arrakeen, the Harkonnen sneak attack is disjointed and confused, ruining the actors' performances, and the emotions tied to the attack. This is similar to the final battle on Arrakeen by the Fremen against the Imperial legions, which is also disjointed, confused, and too short. Of course, the end of the movie is topped off with Paul making it rain on the face of Arrakis. An end that even Frank Herbert disputes.
Why Did the 1984 DUNE Film Fail?
Was There Going to be More David Lynch DUNE Movies?
Is There an Four/Five/Six-Hour Version of the DUNE Movie?
The 2000 Sci-Fi Channel Mini-Series: Telling the Story...on a Budget
What this mini-series did right was telling the story of DUNE with some changes for time and character development. This version did tell the story of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, give dignity back to the Fremen, and actually developed the love story between Paul and Chani. Even Paul and Chani's first son is featured along with his murder. Another element done well was the more human Guild, slimy and a breed apart, and this suited them.
When you watch the scene in the 2000 mini-series, while there is greater development of the smugglers and Gurney's role with them, the scene is flat, the timing is off, and the actors cannot replicate the level of performance. That is how it is throughout this miniseries, it lacks weight and depth present in the 1984 movie. Then there is the acting...some of it is fine, but the majority cannot hold a candle to the 1984 film, and is so bad in parts, that it breaks the viewer from the experience. Lastly, there is the special effect. I'm not going to bag on the 2000 CGI SFX, that cannot be helped, and for the time, they weren't that bad.
The thing I am going to pick on the mini-series about is the use of duratrans, short for double transparency. These are an old technique used in stage plays and in television, including Babylon 5. My issue is that it make a majority of the exterior shots look confined and cheap. The effect was simply not pulled off, causing the ope desert environment to appear more confined than they should have. Usage of duratrans caused for the miniseries to have the appearance of an elaborate stage play and not a grand sci-fi epic. Do we even have to mention the costume design of Frank Herbert's DUNE? Wow. Those hats. They would appear outlandish at a British Royal society function! While the 1984 movie did have "interesting" costume choices, they are nothing compared to the miniseries. The only better design was the Stillsuits, which were much closer to the original text than the 1984 rubber versions. Much like the movie, the 2000 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries was a good effect and did tell the story of DUNE, but it just couldn't quite get it right. Maybe no one can.
The New DUNE Movie: The Sleeper is Still Asleep
Could DUNE be an Unfilmable Novel?
The Dune Wiki Article
The Best DUNE site on the Web
The Topless Robot Article about what Lynch needlessly added
Harlen Ellison on DUNE
At the Movies reviewing DUNE in 1984
Retrospective Reviews on DUNE