Frank Herbert’s groundbreaking sci-fi novel Dune changed the genre permanently. Since the release of the first book, Herbert penned five more novels, completing the Dune saga.
The series takes place in a universe where magic & science overlap, and powerful families feud over the power to control entire planets. The protagonist Paul is a classic “chosen one” type, with prophetic dreams of his future that indicate he is the long-prophesied ruler the people of planet Arrakis have waited for.
Arrakis is a dangerous planet consisting entirely of desert sands that cover tunnels where giant sandworms lurk. The value in this planet is in the spice, a natural resource that works as a mind-enhancing drug.
Though the upcoming film adaptation from director Denis Villeneuve looks pretty great, previous attempts to create a film adaptation of this space epic have been challenging to say the least. Many have heard of the 1984 adaptation from director David Lynch, which was met with mixed reviews. However, not many have heard of the attempt by Alejandro Jodorowsky to make an adaptation of his own.
In the mid 1970s, pre-production began on what would be the first film adaptation of Dune, with Alejandro Jodorowsky set to direct. The cast was to include Salvador Dalí, Mick Jagger, and Orson Welles. Yes, you read all of those names correctly, and we need to see this version, like, yesterday. Jodorowsky planned to have his twelve-year-old son star as protagonist Paul, which would have been . . . an interesting choice.
Due to budgetary reasons, the film was dead before it began. A number of other complications arose: Dalí insisted on a salary so high that his screen time (he was supposed to play the Emperor) had to be cut to just a few minutes. Another issue was the length of the adaptation, which approached a season of television as opposed to a single movie.
Despite the many setbacks, Jodorowky’s Dune is one of the most influential films never made. The concept art from this adaptation has inspired many other great sci-fi classics. The Xenomorphs in Ridley Scott’s Alien draw inspiration from the concept art for the Harkonnen castle.
Star Wars is one of the most famous examples of Dune’s influence, both on a story level and a visual level. Star Wars famously incorporates a chosen one, a desert planet, spaceships, a galaxy-ruling Emperor, and Force powers that mimic those had by Lady Jessica from Dune. A look at Jodorowsky’s Dune concept art reveals that the speeders in Star Wars may have drawn inspiration from this source.
The first Terminator movie also appears to have drawn inspiration from this unused concept art, as well as The Fifth Element. Despite the film itself never being made, it’s a good thing that the incredibly innovative concept art and storyboards have inspired others.
A documentary going into greater detail on all of this was made in 2013. It includes interviews with those directly involved in pre-production for the project in the 1970’s.
David Lynch was the next director to attempt to take on the daunting task of adapting Dune to the big screen. His 1984 adaptation features Kyle MacLachlan as Paul. Other notable cast members include Patrick Stewart & Sting, because apparently casting a rock star is a prerequisite for adapting Dune.
After Jodorowky’s Dune failed to see the light of day, the executive producer, determined to see an adaptation made, hired Lynch, who was the first director to manage to bring his vision of the novel to the screen.
Despite the work put in by all of the talented people involved up to that point, Lynch’s Dune was a critical & financial failure. Perhaps it was simply ahead of its time and the technology not yet there, but Lynch himself has admitted being less than proud of the final product. With all of the names involved by the time he came onto the project, it’s likely that his true vision got lost somewhere along the way.
The troubled history with Dune adaptations has given the novel a legacy of being something supposedly impossible to adapt successfully. However, the upcoming adaptation looks promising, and fans are hopeful that this will be the first well-recieved movie version of the hugely influential story.
Villaneuve’s version will be released in two parts, with part one coming out later this year. The cast is stacked, with Timothée Chalamet playing Paul. The rest of the cast includes Zendaya, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Stellan Skarsgård, Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson, and Oscar Isaac.
Before checking out the newest adaptation, look into the long history of Dune adaptations, and the complicated journey it took to get to this great-looking one we’re about to see in theaters!