What is it about literary, philosophical science fiction that draws readers in, but drives filmmakers to distraction—challenging the very notion of whether some things are just impossible to adapt into a movie?
If you’re asking that question about Dune, then you’re probably creating the right mindset for whatever happens—good, bad, or ugly—when director Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the famed sci-fi classic written by Frank Herbert comes to screens. The film is slated to open in theaters December 18, 2020, pandemic willing. But fans are lining up already to ooh and ahh over the Dune 2020 trailer, which debuted last week.
In a lot of ways, the buzz is deserved. The trailer features sleek editing and sharp visual effects that should look cool on the big screen. Some well-loved actors (Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, and others) are making an appearance. It’s also refreshing to see Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) looking his proper age of 15, instead of 30 as he seems to be in David Lynch’s version, which starred a definitively adult-looking Kyle Maclachlan. Seeing both Paul and his love, Chani (Zendaya), looking like Romeo and Juliet set in the sand is undeniably fitting.
Of course, like any movie these days, Villeneuve’s Dune is drawing its share of controversy and questions, all worth keeping in mind. The setting of the novel borrows heavily from Middle East history and culture, and that fact isn’t reflected enough in the casting choices. The story itself sometimes feels a bit like Lawrence of Arabia in space. Fair criticism has been raised about the novel’s white savior story.
Then there’s the remake question. Written in 1965, Dune has also been adapted to film/TV more than once (1984, 2000, 2003, 2020). Sci-fi fans would be well justified in asking for Hollywood to back slowly away from another reboot and do something new and refreshing. How about a first adaptation of Old Man’s War(Scalzi), Borne (VanderMeer), or The Fifth Season (Jemisin)? These novels have great visuals and are written by current authors who have strong readership.
Some fans feel the film doesn’t look fun enough—though to be fair, it’s not like Dune reads like a madcap adventure. The book is filled with characters engaged in endless loops of thinking. How do you adapt that and make it visually entertaining and unique?
In that vein, if there were ever to be a reason to remake this film, it would be to do it the way director Alejandro Jodorowsky planned in the 1970s. Though never made, Jodorowsky’s vision—featuring Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine and Salvador Dali as actors; H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud as designers; and music by Pink Floyd and Magma—seems like the perfect reason to send a traveler back in time to change the course of history. (If you haven’t seen the documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune, now’s the time. It’s epic.)
No matter what happens when the film hits screens, it’s guaranteed to generate conversation. We’ll be looking forward to hearing what everyone thinks of it. How about you?