Why do we need yet another remake of Frank Herbert’s Dune?
I realize remakes are all the rage in today’s creatively bankrupt movie industry, but let’s stop and consider a few things. First, this is a novel that already has been filmed twice. Both versions, I think, have their merits — the strengths of one may not necessarily be the same for the other.
David Lynch’s 1984 version clearly delivers better in terms of production design and in bringing such a visually rich and bizarre universe to life. But the miniseries (I’m talking about the first one more than the second) did better in staying truer to the book itself, and in giving us little moments of rich detail that brought out the cultural and religious themes that made Herbert’s original tome such a rewarding read.
Plus, this is not a book that is easy to translate to film. In other cases of novels being filmed multiple times over the years, such as Dracula or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the source material consisted of either a simpler central concept (vampires) or a story that was more pulpy in nature and therefore easier to sell to audiences, even if it meant finding a different cultural metaphor to resonate with each new generation, as the Body Snatchers films have tried for.
But Dune? It’s pretty deep and challenging stuff, to put it mildly. It has already been done twice, fairly well. What is this proposed new version going to bring to the table that is really new, or has not been done already? The advantage the miniseries had was that it did not have to be constrained by the conventional running times of a theatrical film. Five hours is a pretty big canvas on which to tell a story, and even then you’re not going to be able to include everything from the book. What’s the best a theatrical film can hope for? Maybe a Return of the King-sized three hours and 10 minutes?
The second miniseries was generally not quite as well received as the first. Frankly, I think they did it an injustice by shoehorning two books into one miniseries. They really gave the second novel, Dune Messiah, short shrift, by condensing it into a 90-minute segment. The book is not nearly as long as its predecessor, but a lot of source material could have been expanded on in order to really have made this the “Godfather II” of science fiction.
Some people griped that the second miniseries did not have the little niceties the first did, with the looks into the Fremen culture and religion, but to be honest, that is a shortcoming of the source material, not the miniseries. They only filmed what was there on the page to work with. The second and third books were more about political plotting and conflict. I think they did a fair job, and the whole thing holds up nicely as a “trilogy” of sorts.
But repeating what has already been done is not the way to go. If you really want to do something ambitious and impressive, find a way to translate the fourth book, God Emperor of Dune, to film — whether as another miniseries or theatrically.
People have said the novel cannot be filmed, but I think with a little creativity and willingness to take risks, anything can be brought to the screen. This is a story with substance, a chance to present a character that could be one of the most complex ever depicted in a science fiction film.
If they did it theatrically and really invested in a well thought out script, adapting the story so that it is both thought-provoking, emotionally moving and also keeps the viewer’s interest, this could be a “prestige” production like Lord of the Rings. It could be James McAvoy’s shot at an Oscar — which would be even more impressive given that a good amount of his performance would have to be aided by CGI, as his character is by this point a human-sandworm hybrid.
And it’s certainly a better investment of time and effort than just treading the same old ground again.