I used to belong to the Science Fiction Book Club in the 1960s. One of the selections was a novel by Frank Herbert titled “Dune.” I was gobsmacked with its epic storytelling.
A sprawling sci-fi novel destined to become a classic, “Dune” originally appeared as a two separate series in Analog magazine. The book version won the first Nebula Award and tied for the Hugo Award. It has been cited as the world’s bestselling science fiction novel.
Maybe you read it, too.
A synopsis makes it sound simpler than it is: “Dune is set in the distant future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which various noble houses control planetary fiefs. It tells the story of young Paul Atreides, whose family accepts the stewardship of the planet Arrakis. While the planet is an inhospitable and sparsely populated desert wasteland, it is the only source of mélange, or ‘the spice,’ a drug that extends life and enhances mental abilities. ... The story explores the multilayered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology and human emotion, as the factions of the empire confront each other in a struggle for the control of Arrakis and its spice.”
It's an epic tale of warring families, inhospitable landscapes and giant worm-like creatures.
Cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky attempted to bring it to the screen in the '70s, but found the story was too unwieldy and the budget too expensive. In 1984, surrealist director David Lynch tried his hand at an adaption starring Kyle MacLachlan and Sting, but it met with a negative reaction. The books were also adapted into a couple of Sci-Fi Channel miniseries.
Now French-Canadian auteur Denis Villeneuve has tried his hand at “Dune.” He’s had a good sci-fi track record with “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049.” He’s obviously optimistic about this outing — on the screen, the movie is titled “Dune: Part One.”
This is the first of a planned two-part adaptation of the 1965 novel. Villeneuve’s adaptation splits the complex 400-plus page novel in the middle, the first half establishing the dense lore, the second continuing to track the fate of the ruling house on the planet Arrakis.
But keep in mind, Herbert wrote five sequels.
Hey, it worked for “Star Wars.”
For this new telling of Herbert’s dystopian story, Villeneuve has assembled a fine ensemble cast: Young heartthrob Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”) takes on the role of Paul. He’s joined by Zendaya (“Spider-Man: Far From Home”), Rebecca Ferguson (“Men In Black: International”), Oscar Isaac (“Ex Machina”), Josh Brolin (“Avengers: End Game”), Stellan Skarsgård (“Thor: The Dark World”), Dave Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), Charlotte Rampling (“Zardoz”), Javier Bardem (“Skyfall”), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (“Dr. Who: The Waters of Mars”) and Jason Momoa (“Aquaman”), among others. All with good science fiction creds.
This new version of “Dune” premiered at the 78th Venice International Film Festival in September. The film opens on local screens this week, along with a simultaneous release on HBO Max.
Chalamet professes awe at the responsibility of starring in “Dune.“
He cites, “The fans of the book, and the fans of David Lynch version, the computer game, and everything, there’s so much love and strength of feeling. And so much of our pop culture and films and books have been derived from ‘Dune,’ and all the philosophy in the book.”
He adds, “I’ve been shocked to learn how many people have a next-level connection to the book. I compare it to how our generation grew up with Harry Potter, and that one makes sense to me. But it’s cool to see with Dune also, when you actually sit down and read it. … It’s not that it’s a quote-unquote ‘hard read’ or anything, but it’s not made to be consumed easily, I think that’s fair to say.”
Chalamet seems boggled that Villeneuve has managed to pull off this new version of “Dune.” He says, “For it all to come together, especially with the added challenge of the pandemic, it has all combined to make this moment feel especially spicy [laughs].”