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Thoughts on the Upcoming Dune Reboot

June 21, 2021 | Posted by Steve Gustafson

The rumored world premiere of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune at the 78th edition of the Venice Film Festival has been confirmed on Twitter by La Biennale di Venezia, the organization responsible for the event. By premiering at Venice, Dune will be screened for a select group of viewers almost one month before its commercial release.

Dune has had a rich history and with millions of fans of the book anticipating its release, all eyes will be at the reaction at the festival. 

Let’s go back to 2016, when Legendary snagged the rights to Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction series, Dune, and interestingly enough, they acquired not only the film rights but also the television. This lead the way for the overall franchise to be a film reboot of the first book, Dune.

Set in the distant future, Dune follows Paul Atreides, whose family assumes control of the desert planet Arrakis. As the only producer of a highly valuable resource, jurisdiction over Arrakis is contested among competing noble families. After Paul and his family are betrayed, the story explores themes of politics, religion, and man’s relationship to nature, as Paul leads a rebellion to restore his family’s reign.

The book has sold almost 20 million copies since its original release and in 2003 was named the best-selling sci fi novel of all time.

Anyone familiar with the series knows this is a complex and layered project. Back in 1984, David Lynch wrote and directed Dune but the movie was negatively reviewed by critics and was a box-office failure, grossing $30.9 million from a $40 million budget. Roger Ebert gave Dune one star out of four, and wrote, “This movie is a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time.” Lynch distanced himself from the project, stating that pressure from both producers and financiers restrained his artistic control and denied him the final cut.

Because of the poor performance at the box office, all plans for a Dune franchise were canceled. Lynch reportedly was working on the screenplay for Dune Messiah and was hired to direct second and a third Dune films. In interviews, Lynch admitted that he should never have directed Dune:

“I started selling out on Dune. Looking back, it’s no one’s fault but my own. I probably shouldn’t have done that picture, but I saw tons and tons of possibilities for things I loved, and this was the structure to do them in. There was so much room to create a world. But I got strong indications from Raffaella and Dino De Laurentiis of what kind of film they expected, and I knew I didn’t have final cut.”

Dune looked to be done but millions of fans out there held out hope and while rumors swirled about a reboot, nothing happened. Syfy premiered a three-part miniseries adaptation called Frank Herbert’s Dune in 2000 and a sequel came out in 2003, which combined both Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.

Now we come to Legendary and they’re goal to bring Dune back to the big screen. Properly. 

Based on early trailer reaction, expectations, and hopes, are high.The key to Dune is accepting that you’re not going to be able to tell the story in one film. Or two. 

Even the TV mini-series, as good as it was, struggled to tell the whole story. Dune took six years of research and the first book comes in at over 185,000 words. It was originally published in two eight-part installments and Herbert would go on to write six more novels before his son and author Kevin J. Anderson took over and expanded the series with another thirteen novels and several short stories.

The upside for Legendary is this has the potential to be a mega-franchise. But the path to getting Dune done right is riddled with pitfalls and obstacles. Does Legendary have the patience and money to get it done? We’ll find out soon enough.

What are your thoughts on Dune on the big screen?

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Dune, Steve Gustafson