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Frank Hebert's seminal and much-loved opus is finally getting a remake the source material deserves. For those unfamiliar with the classic story imagine Dune as an intergalactic Game of Thrones crossed with Star Wars, where young Paul Atreides and his family is targeted by an evil galactic emperor and Paul becomes the leader of the Fremen a group of native rebels where both sides fight over control of the ‘spice’ an element only found on the planet Arrakis. It is an addictive substance that makes space travel possible and remember ‘He who controls the spice controls the universe,’ and it also has giant sandworms.
That's the basic plot, and yes, George Lucas indeed did steal an absolute ton of ideas from Dune for Star Wars, the problem with adapting Dune was that it was a sprawling galactic sci-fi epic heavy on religious and 1960s political subtext that needed a slower more languid place to explore the intricacies of its plot and the story could not be told in a standard feature film back in 1980s.
Cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo & The Holy Mountain) tried unsuccessfully to make Dune in the mid-1970s (which would have beat Star Wars to the screen) and the team he tried to assemble for the film would have been breathtaking. Pink Floyd was lined up to provide the music, H.R Giger and Jean Giraud for set and character design, as well as Dan O’Bannon for special effects. For the cast, he wanted Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, David Carradine, and Mick Jagger amongst others. However, financial constraints meant the film never entered production after $2 million of the budget had been already been spent on pre-production, of course, H.R Giger and O’Bannon would go to work on Ridley Scott's Alien only a few years later.
You can see a tantalising look at what Jodorowsky’s Dune could have been in Frank Pavich's 2013 documentary Jodorowsky's Dune, the documentary was well reviewed and it is clear Jodorowsky's Dune would have been very different from the next version we got in the 1980s.
David Lynch's 'Dune'
Step forward David Lynch and his 1985 adaptation of Dune which was universally viewed as a commercial and critical failure, although visually unique, the biggest issue Lynch had was trying to adapt the epic novel into one film, so that as we reach the film's climax it feels as if the story is only just beginning. There are stories that Lynch's original rough cut ran over four hours however Universal studios expected a standard two-hour film. Lynch has declined every offer to talk about the film and the finished film reeks of studio interference. It is clear Lynch wanted to make an adult cerebral hard sci-fi film and the studio wanted a standard sci-fi action film and no one was happy with the end result.
Syfy Channel Mini Series
The Syfy Channel made a three part mini-series in 2000 that had a decent reception largely as it stuck almost reverently to the original book however the lack of name cast and budget hurt it visually and still did not capture the scope of Herbert’s original.
Denis Villeneuve's 'Dune'
Finally, in 2018 it was announced Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve would be directing a proposed two-film adaptation of Dune, Villenueve is on an unprecedented career hot streak at the moment with his last five films receiving 18 Oscar nominations and winning three of the awards. He has managed to carve out a niche where his films are both commercially and critically successful, but more importantly, he has tackled cerebral sci-fi in two of his most recent films Arrival & Blade Runner 2049. While commercially and to the average film fan Blade Runner 2049 was somewhat of a disappointment, Villeneuve stayed true to Ridley Scott's original vision and produced a visually stunning slow-burning sci-fi epic that lived up to the hype and pressure he was under to deliver a worth sequel to Blade Runner.
Villeneuve is taking his time and the film has not even started shooting yet though location filming is set for Budapest & Jordan this spring with an estimated release date of 2021 for the proposed first part. However, casting news has been announced and so far Villeneuve has kept fans of the book very happy with his initial choices, below are the initial five lead roles.
Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides
24-year-old Chalamet has already been Oscar nominated in his short career for Call Me By Your Name and awards beckon for his upcoming role in Beautiful Boy, however, he will be making the jump from smaller independent movies to big budget studio fare as he takes the lead as Paul Atreides the young man destined to become the Kwisatz Haderach and lead the Fremen against the empire.
Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica
Ferguson’s career has sky rocketed the last few years with roles in The Greatest Showman, The Girl on the Train, and the last two Mission Impossible films, upcoming, she is in the new Men In Black International, and Stephen King's Shining sequel Doctor Sleep. Ferguson seems to be in the prime of her career as she will take on the role of Paul’s mother Lady Jessica a Bene Gesserit, basically, a space witch with a power called the voice that George Lucas most definitely did not steal for the force in Star Wars.
Dave Batista as Glossu Rabban Harkonnen
Dave ‘The Beast’ Batista, the most prophetic of wrestling names in his old career plays the villainous nephew of Baron Harkonnen. Batista worked with Villeneuve in a small role in Blade Runner 2049 but is more well known as ‘Drax’ in Marvels Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. With initial comparisons to Dwayne Johnson, essentially ex-wrestler becomes a movie star, Batista has been smart with the roles he has picked that have allowed him to demonstrate his comedic chops as well as actually act rather than just be the muscle. Glossu is the brutal governor of Arrakis that is being subtly manipulated by his uncle Baron Harkonnen and it will good to see Batista in a more villainous role.
Stellan Skarsgard as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
Skarsgard is a journeyman and brilliant actor who is just as good appearing in the latest Marvel blockbuster or appearing in the latest Lars Von Trier film, deftly walking the line between blockbuster and arthouse with ease. Hopefully, Skarsgard's portrayal of Dune's main villain is a little more reserved than what we saw in Lynch's 1985 version.
Charlotte Rampling as Gaius Helen Mohiam
Another space witch with nefarious intentions Mohiam is like a cross between the Emperor from Star Wars and Yoda, in that her initial purpose is to test young Paul Atreides and see if he can survive the Gom Jabbar which could reveal him to be the Kwisatz Haderach. Rampling has had a long and varied career again switching between TV work such as Dexter and London Spy as well as films such as Red Sparrow alongside Jennifer Lawrence.
With a great initial cast in place and a strong proven sci-fi director behind the reins, it looks like we may finally have that adaptation of Dune that fans of Herbert's novel have been anticipating for decades.