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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

will Peter Berg direct a new ‘Dune’ movie?

The Net’s been abuzz about the possibilities for a couple of months, but now Ain’t It Cool News is sorta-kinda confirming the rumor — they’re calling it a “well-founded rumor” — that a new film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune is in the works.

We’ll now pause for a brief moment of shuddering from those of us who remember David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation. Oh, it may have been fascinatingly baroque, but that’s about all it was. The Sci Fi Channel’s multiple miniseries adaptations were somewhat more comprehensible, though I say that as a relative nonfan of Herbert’s novels — I know that plenty serious devotees don’t find the Sci Fi versions any more palatable than Lynch’s.
And now, it seems, we may just be getting writer/director Peter Berg’s version, from Paramount, the studio that, AICN notes, is currently on a franchising rampage, what with its new mountings of Star Trek and Indiana Jones, and a likely new franchise in Transformers.

I like Berg’s movies. The Rundown has some goofy charms, and his new The Kingdom is slyly brilliant. (I kinda hate Friday Night Lights, but that’s because I can’t stand its philosophy — it’s certainly more than competently directed.)

But here’s the question: Can anyone do justice to Dune on film? Is it even possible? Apart from the fact that so much of the “action” of the story are the internal ponderings of the 8,000 characters, there’s simply an awful lot of stuff crammed into just one Dune novel. Jonathan Harvey offers the most succinct explanation I’ve seen yet as to why no visual version of Dune we’ve seen yet is truly satisfying: basically, Herbert’s world is too dense and too sprawling to work in a movie or even a miniseries. You need to cut out a lot of what’s there to make it work as a film, but then too much is cut out to retain that Dune-ish feeling.

Maybe a 30-hour miniseries could capture on film what Herbert captured on paper. Maybe a two-hour movie — or even a nine-hour epic, à la Lord of the Rings — could do it. Talk about cutting out: Peter Berg and Paramount have their work cut out for them.

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  • misterb

    I have proven my Dune fanboy cred by lasting through all the son’s books, which get more and more abysmal as the series progresses. But I don’t believe that any novel is unfilmable; although Dune is certainly a book big enough to require more talent than most directors possess. If they can make great movies out of LOTR, they can do it for Dune – but – Dune requires a more intellectual approach. And unfortunately though a good movie based on Dune may theoretically exist, it may be impossible to make profitably. It would require massive scope and talent, but in the long run would only appeal to those few of us crazy enough to appreciate it.

  • I love Dune, but I think it’s too hard to adapt in a way that would appeal to enough people to justify doing it. A miniseries is the best option for making sure that everything gets covered, but as we saw in the Sci Fi channel miniseries, this results in having to go low-budget with a no-name cast. Trying to cram everything into a single 2- or 3-hour movie results in a beautiful, well-cast Lynchian mess that only is followable if you’ve read the book(s).

    I’d much rather that someone tackle a SF novel that hasn’t previously been filmed… Neuromancer, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Rendezvous with Rama, Snow Crash, etc.

  • PaulW

    This is Hollywood, currently stuck in REMAKE mode because they can’t think of any geniune new ideas, or refuse to start up new franchises or raid existing literary works. Why doesn’t Berg look at making a movie of “American Gods”? Anyone consider the Lensman series? Thank god someone is trying to do the Barsoom series (Carter of Mars), and I think the guys working that might actually approach the material with the right fanboy love, but still. And you’d think someone would come up with a movie plot involving a half-naked ninja cyborg battling ghost pirates, but nooooooo… sigh.

  • Tony

    Berg isn’t the first director I’d think of when it comes to a Dune adaptation– Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott, and Guillermo Del Toro spring more readily to mind. However, Berg’s proven himself to be a pretty capable director, and given the right script (and cast! must have a spot-on cast!) this could work.

  • MaryAnn

    Dune requires a more intellectual approach.

    Well, then it’s doomed in Hollywood, that’s for sure…

  • I’m a huge fan of the book DUNE, but don’t really care for the sequels much; with the exception of GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE, which is surprisingly good. I think both Jackson’s LOTR and ADAPTATION have pretty much proven that anything is filmable. My problem with both Lynch’s beautiful lead balloon and the tinny SciFi mini-series versions–and my trepidation over future versions–rests with their interpretation of the book’s back story. DUNE’s most interesting premise is a far future without computers (with ‘spice’ acting as the stand-in for today’s oil). The “Butlerian Jihad”, long previous to the events of DUNE, created a universe in which human achievement/evolution is the ultimate goal: “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.” In that context the Bene Geserit, the Spacer Guild and the Mentats all developed as human-based means of achieving what computers used to/could have provided. I think the Muad’Dib as Messiah religious imagery leads some people astray in their interpretations. DUNE is a profoundly humanist work. Lynch got the brass and cogs feel of DUNE right, but didn’t put enough context around his imagery; whereas the SciFi version just looks like STAR WARS. Spice is the MacGuffin that allows humans to evolve into first computers and later “gods”. But the reason for that MacGuffin was an all-out war against computers–a fear of losing our humanity to machines. Where is any of this in either adaptation?

  • Jim Mann

    I don’t think Lynch’s version is as bad as many people find it. In particular, I think most of the first half of it is pretty good (other than the over-the-top treatment of the Harkonnens). But it falls apart in the second half, which is both too rushed and too simplified. The Weirding Modules were just dumb. I’m not sure of the history of its filming, but it feels like Lynch set out what he had to do, but then had to rush and cut to get a final film.

  • The Weirding Modules were just dumb.

    I don’t know the exact history behind that lame decision, but I imagine the conversation went something like this:

    Studio Exec: Hey, laser guns are cool. Star Wars had laser guns, and it made a lot of money. We want to make a lot of money. Why don’t we have laser guns in this movie?

    Lynch/Herbert: Um, it’s established in the novel that if a laser intersects a shield, you get a nuclear explosion. So we can’t have laser guns.

    Studio Exec: Well, we can’t have that. We need guns, though. No one wants to see a bunch of people fighting with knives. Ooh, what’s this “weirding” thing?

    Lynch/Herbert: That’s a martial art, an “invisible” weapon that can’t be taken away.

    Studio Exec: Martial arts? Yuk. Tell ya what. Let’s have guns and call them… um… ooh, “weirding modules”. That sounds really futuristic. Yeah, let’s do that. And then we can have everyone running around saying “Chooooooooo-suk!” and stuff like that.

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