Dune’s long history of adaptations

Sci Fi classic get fresh, longer look


(Warning: Contains Spoilers for the recently released movie “Dune.”)

Adaptations can be a real hit or miss, and a lot of the time the authors of the original work are disappointed with the outcome of the movie and don’t want their work adapted. But “Dune” is a special case: Frank Herbert welcomed adaptations with wide-open arms. For a long time, “Dune,” written in 1965, was considered “unfilmable,” but this never stopped anyone from trying. 

 One of the first major attempts at adapting “Dune” into a movie was by Alejandro Jodorowsky, a Chilean-French director, writer, and artist. His vision for “Dune” was to create a 14-hour-long, part 2D animated, part live-action piece of art. 

“It’s different. It was my ‘Dune,’” Jodorowsky said in the 2013 documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune.” When you make a picture, you must not respect the novel.” 

In some ways, it might have been interesting to have a cross between 2D animation and live-action for “Dune.” But preliminary sketches were a mess, filled with Yellow Submarine-esque animation, and Jodorowsky took too many liberties with the source material. According to Wikipedia, after 2½ years in development the project ultimately stalled for financial reasons. 

The second and most well-known of the adaptations is David Lynch’s, which came out in 1984. In an interview for the audiobook company Walden Tapes, Lynch said he’d “never heard of it.” But after reading the book he fell in love with the story, took the job as director, and wrote the screenplay. Herbert was very involved in the making of Lynch’s adaptation, helping to fix visuals or telling of the story and setting up scenes. 

Lynch’s “Dune” was intended to be over three hours long, but much of the footage was cut, resulting in a final length of just over two hours with the final cut being too fast and hard to follow. 

In the end, after Paul Atreides, the main character, frees the Fremen, he makes it rain on Arrakis and basically becomes god of the planet Arrakis. In the book, Atreides didn’t make it rain, and it showed how blindly following idols like him can lead to fighting and war.

What this movie lacked in story, it made up for in visual design. While many people said that it’s not what they pictured the book to be and were disappointed with the visuals, Herbert actually really liked it. 

“Some of the sets are not what they visualized,” Herbert said. “Some are. And some are better. What would you expect from Masters [the production designer] and David Lynch? They’re both artists. Why wouldn’t they improve on the visual sense of the film? And they have a free license to do this. This is what film is all about.” 

When Lynch’s “Dune” came out, it was received very poorly; but as time went on, more people began to appreciate it for its visuals and for encompassing the “wacky” nature of the Eighties.

The third adaptation of “Dune” was a mini-series directed by John Harrison, and aired on the TV channel SYFY in 2000. What Lynch’s adaptation lacked in story, Harrison’s adaptation fixed. The adaptation fully told the story of “Dune” but didn’t have the cinematic visuals to back it up. Still, fans and critics really liked it and it even won two Emmys in 2001. 

The fourth and most recent of the adaptations, released Oct. 22, 2021, is by far the best adaptation to date. This version was created by Denis Villeneuve, director of “Blade Runner: 2049” and “Arrival,” so he definitely had the right experience for this movie. 

“It’s been a long-standing dream of mine to adapt “Dune,” but it’s a long process to get the rights, and I don’t think I will succeed,” Villeneuve said in a 2016 interview with “Variety.” But almost six years after his getting the rights to “Dune,” it was released.        

The film includes vast shots of the desert that better represent the vastness of Arrakis, a desert planet that is home to the very important Spice Melange (used for intergalactic travel by the Fremen as a life-extending psychedelic drug). The casting for the film was also incredible. Timothée Chalamet was an amazing pick for the role of Atreides, and he is visually much like the character described by Herbert in the book. 

Herbert would be proud of this movie because an important element he wanted from “Dune” adaptations was to have good scenery. He loved Lynch’s adaptation because he loved the visuals of the film and would probably have a new favorite if he could see Villanevue’s adaptation. (Herbert died in 1986.)

Herbert is a legend in the science fiction community and always will be. Seeing his work come to life on the big screen is incredible and breathtaking. With another movie and a prequel series on the way, both directed by Villeneuve, audiences have more to look forward to and generations to come will be introduced to the genius work of Frank Herbert and his “Dune.” 

This article was written originally for The Stampede, the student newspaper of Monte Vista High School in Danville.