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maryann johanson | watching movies at home

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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