Frank Herbert’s Dune has been one of the most influential science fiction novels of the past century. It has inspired, created, and been homaged in more forms than one can count. Dune is a story that finds its way into most all sects of nerd-dom This can include spawning the most iconic worms in the world, to feeding meme culture, to inspiring films and video games. Even today, games like Enter the Gungeon make spice a usable in-game item, and shows like Futurama utilize sand worms to travel across desert planets. Truly, spice has become life. In its own, special way, of course.
Recently, Denis Villeneuve, director of Blade Runner: 2049 and Arrival, has decided to film a new adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic novel. Dune hasn’t been adapted professionally in fourteen years, and none of the preceding adaptations have fully satisfied any fans. Villeneuve proved his ability to honor and expand upon a classic in Blade Runner: 2049, and fans hope that he can extend that to his coming Dune film.
The most important part of any Dune adaptation, though, is Paul Atreides, the intense and prophetic protagonist. Recently it was announced that Villeneuve’s Paul had been chosen. Timothee Chalamet, an oscar-nominated young actor, will be the next savior of Arrakis. Chalamet has wowed audiences in films such as Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, and Interstellar. Many fans are excited by his casting, hoping that this Dune adaptation will be the best yet.
But what is Dune?
For any novice sci-fi fan, Dune tells the story of the young Paul Atreides as he and his family of nobles is ejected from their homeworld, a water-covered Caladan. They are instead sent to oversee the dry, desert planet of Arrakis. The climate is fierce and deadly, however the planet produces spice, a substance that gives people heightened psychic, telepathic, and prophetic powers. This kind of power is why the spice has become the most valuable commodity in the universe. The power-struggle that occurs on Arrakis during Paul’s time there change him as a man, and thus changes the course of the galaxy.
Dune has been filmed professionally only two times before. Once, in 1984 with Kyle Maclachlan starring and another in 2000 as a Scy-Fy channel mini-series. Fans appreciate Dune’s success, but few have been content with the results of either endeavor.
The 1984 film suffered most from time constraints. They had to fit a lore-heavy novel into one film. Many things were cut, backstories were lost, and things made less sense. Dune was a heavily political and spiritual novel, and it’s hard to capture all of the philosophical nuance that made it a touchstone in the sci-fi consciousness. The film may have had Patrick Stewart and some damn decent sets and effects for the time, but it lost much of the complexities of the initial work. It became more of a referential homage than what the book originally was. A skeleton, of sorts, even if it worked well enough. It wasn’t a terrible film, maybe even a good film, but it lost much of Dune’s complex world along the way.
The Dune mini-series, while directly responding to the errors of the first film, had even more problems. There was more time, so the spiritual, political, and philosophical parts of the novel got far more coverage. However, the effects weren’t nearly as grand as the books called for. The acting was hit or miss. The casting for Paul wasn’t quite right: Alec Newman looked more an action star type, not this intense, psychic character. Also, instead of staying true to some parts of the book, a subplot was invented for Princess Irulan. The intent was to make her more involved, but instead only took up screen-time for more important things. Overall, it wasn’t the worst adaptation, it definitely had effort put into it, but it missed the mark on most everything.
If these are the examples, though, why would anyone be excited for a new film? Wasn’t like the others were the greatest adaptations.
The new film is gaining so much fan traction for many reason. One is Villeneuve’s interest in the Dune novel and adapting it well, something he’s proven himself capable of with Blade Runner: 2049. He also shows he wants to adapt it well by wanting to make at least two films out of the novel instead of one.
On the side of the talent, Chalamet will be the first actor to be this close to Paul’s age at the start of the novel, 15. Chalamet is still an adult, at 22, but Maclachlan was 25 and Newman was 26. He also passes off as a teenager far better than either ever would have, playing a similarly young role in 2017’s Call Me By Your Name. And, of course, the cinematography and effects of 2018 have a much better chance of capturing the beauty and horror of Arrakis than 1984 or 2000 ever did.
Dune fans have been proud to adore a story that inspires science fiction to this day, and gets referenced even more than that. However, fans haven’t gotten the best adaptations. Neither was horrible, but they didn’t capture the whole essence of Herbert’s classic novel. With Villeneuve at the helm, and Chalamet using his talent to bring Paul Atreides to life, Dune might finally be realized in all its wonder on the big screen.
And if all goes well, people will still be talking about spice and sand worms for another 50 years. Or more.