The recent announcement that Denis Villeneuve may be on board with a new film adaptation of Dune fills me with 2 parts excitement to 3 parts dread.
I grew up with these books. On first reading as a teenager I loved the stories but didn’t quite understand all of the political and religious elements. Later, as I re-read them I grew to love the machinations as much as the sci-fi and adventure.
There have been 2 screen adaptations of Dune. The 1984 film (running time 135 mins) and the 2000 TV mini-series (running time 3 x 90 mins). One thing that Dune excels at is complicated plotlines, and neither adaptation so far really had the ability to fully explore these themes, other than in annoying summaries or by a character explaining to the viewer.
The 1984 film starring Kyle MacLachlan get 57% on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.6/10 on IMDB whilst the miniseries gets 7.1/10 on IMB. Neither was a total failure, but neither really fulfilled the hopes of Dune fans.
Recent TV series such as Game of Thrones, Westworld and The Expanse have shown that there is plenty of appetite for politics to play a large part in Sci-Fi / Fantasy worlds, but the story-lines in these programmes are given time with maybe 10 hours of screen time per series. Can a movie bring that level of intrigue into a sub 3-hour running time? Could it satisfy the modern viewer’s appetite for watching the various threads of the story develop and intertwine before reaching their conclusion?
If Legendary develop the first book as a single movie, is there time to tell the story adequately?
We might be talking a nearly $200 million budget for this movie. Is there enough love for this story to bring them adequate returns? I’m sure it has many millions of fans around the world willing to give it a go, but can they make a suitably compelling and action-packed movie to bring in the masses? And if it makes a profit, but not on the scale of Marvel’s recent run, might the sequels get kicked into the long grass?
And this really brings me to my main concern about making a cinema film. Would it not be better to adapt Dune as a 10-12 episode series and realise the full-potential of the story? If not, would a trilogy of films covering the first book be feasible?
I realise I’m asking a lot of questions here and I’m sure the studio bosses and director have asked similar questions. But the things that make Dune great are never going to fit successfully into a sub 3-hour movie. The story will always be compromised simply by having to ignore or explicitly explain multiple threads of the plot.
A key part of the press release says:
Legendary and the Frank Herbert estate have reached an agreement which includes both the film and television motion picture rights to the classic sci-fi novel Dune. The agreement allows Legendary and Universal Pictures to develop film and television projects based on the franchise for a global audience.
That says “film and television projects.”
Although it’s unlikely my hope is that they will look at the success of Game of Thrones and Westworld and decide to emulate that model.