Frank Herbert’s Dune saga is a complex tale of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and emotions that’s proven challenging to translate to either film or television. David Lynch’s 1984 movie adaptation was uneven and weird; it also flopped in theaters. SyFy produced a 3-part, big-budget miniseries in 2000, which was faithful to the source but not exactly compelling television.
Now Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) is taking a crack at the material, and his approach is interesting. Villeneuve is noted for balancing characters with spectacle while telling interesting sci-fi stories. In other words, Villeneuve seems like a fantastic match for Dune.
During a recent event in Villeneuve’s hometown of Montreal, he explained his approach to Herbert’s revered novel, as reported by The Playlist:
“Dune will probably take two years to make. The goal is to make two films, maybe more.”
Making Dune as two-parter or a trilogy wouldn’t be surprising — every studio is looking for the next big franchise — but the big question is whether Villeneuve will be focusing solely on the first novel or encompass multiple books, as was the case with the SyFy miniseries. The tone of his comments, according to The Playlist, suggests just the first book.
Dune is serious sci-fi, and recent history has shown that movie-going audiences are more interested in sci-fi that leans action-adventure more than cerebral. Television audiences, however, are more conducive to thoughtful and thought-provoking sci-fi (such as Black Mirror, The Handmaid’s Tale, Altered Carbon, Mute, The Man in the High Tower).
Two other big questions, which Villeneuve did not address, are budget and runtime. Two of his recent projects, Arrival and Sicario, were both low-budget, two-hour indie films that were successful at the box office. By contrast, his Blade Runner 2049 was a big-budget, three-hour blockbuster that failed to break even. Clearly, a fast-paced, low-budget, sub-two-hour movie is Villeneuve’s sweet spot; however, if you’ve read Dune, then you know it is a slow, sprawling, and complex narrative more akin to Blade Runner 2049 than Arrival or Sicario.
Villeneuve is a smart and innovative director who has the chops to pull off an entertaining and exciting Dune. Hopefully, he’ll be given the tools he needs to execute his vision, but restrained enough to ensure that it is a financial success, and therefore leads to more Dune films (there are more than a dozen books in the overall saga).
Do you think Dune can be faithfully and successfully translated to film? Let us know in the comments down below!
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