Maybe a Dune Remake Would Be Okay, Since Arrival’s Denis Villeneuve Wants to Direct It
Many have tried to adapt Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic, Dune, for the screen. Many have failed.
Well, I guess “failure” is debatable. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s planned movie adaptation of the series back in the ’70s became such a legend that there’s a very popular documentary about it, even though the movie itself was never made. In addition to that, there’s David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation, as well as the 2000 TV mini-series adaptation helmed by John Harrison. All of the above fall into the category of “stuff I thought was really cool in high school but I haven’t watched it since then, so, I’m not actually sure if it’s any good.”
The book Dune also falls into that category for me, except that I have revisited it since high school, and … well, it wasn’t quite how I remembered. I listened to the most recent audiobook version, which is beautifully acted with multiple performers and serves as an excellent radio drama version of Dune, if that’s something you’re into. But, um, the actual story? Well, it’s got some questionable parts. The portrayal of the Fremen struck me as a lot weirder to read about as an adult. As a kid, I didn’t think to myself, “Is this a good portrayal of characters who are clearly signified to be representative of the Middle East?” But as an adult, that question was foremost in my mind, and it’s definitely something that any future adaptation would need to handle carefully.
It’s also pretty undeniable even within the fanbase that, after the first Dune book, there’s a pretty steep decline in quality, and the characters make some pretty questionable decisions. That’s not even controversial for me to say. It’s, like, a known problem. So, ideally, a future adaptation wouldn’t present the work uncritically, and would instead interrogate those aspects through a modern lens.
That’s why I’m skeptical, but still hopeful, about the fact that Legendary Pictures has secured the rights to Dune and, according to Variety, Denis Villeneuve is in talks to direct it. I just saw Arrival, which is also directed by Villeneuve, and I absolutely loved it; I think Sarah Rowe’s piece about how Arrival‘s sci-fi story serves as “blueprint for facing trauma” is an apt summary of what works well about the movie. I definitely think Villeneuve has the talent to do the job.
The real question, though, is figuring out how to adapt the film successfully, without bothering anyone at the Herbert estate. It’s probably been hard enough to secure the rights, and it’ll be even trickier to make sure the movie ends up being something that everyone feels good about. It’s possible this will be another failed Dune project—but if it does happen, I’ll be interested to see Villeneuve’s take.
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