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Dune: The Sleeper Has Reawakened

by Daniel Manu January 23, 2009 5:51 pm
<i>Dune</i>: The Sleeper Has Reawakened

Decades before Watchmen was even conceived, much less finally shot for the big screen after 20 years of development hell, Frank Herbert's epic 1965 novel Dune was the embodiment of the term "unfilmable." So much so that even after two (two and a half, if you count Alan Smithee's cut, which we do) productions, no filmed version of this iconic science-fiction text has managed to fully capture the scope, depth, imagination and intrigue of this iconic science-fiction text in a way that truly satisfied fans.

But now Peter Berg, the director-producer responsible for Hancock, The Kingdom and Friday Night Lights (both the movie and TV series), has signed on to create another feature-length adaptation. Is the right filmmaker for the job? Do we really need another Dune movie? We say yes and yes. Here's why:

1. He Gets It
We recently had the pleasure of talking to Berg for an extensive interview in which he shared these thoughts on Dune: "I was as much a fan of the book as anyone.... To me, the book had a tone that was, for lack of a better word, more muscular. It was a little dirtier, it was scarier, it was rougher, it was more intense, and I think that [David] Lynch's film and the Sci Fi miniseries took a tack that was different. It wasn't any of those things as I remember the book being. There were so many different aspects of Herbert and his personality.... I will focus on -- again, for lack of a better word -- a rougher, more muscular version of Herbert's work."

2. The Time Is Now
Dune -- in part -- deals with a young man thrust into a position of absolute power by the sands of history and conflict. Dismissed as weak, he surprises his enemies with his hopeful audaciousness and leads an oppressed populace to overthrow its rulers, bringing a world change it can believe in, while becoming a messianic figure in the process. Can America's moviegoers find this tale relevant today? Yes, we can.

3. It's Shakespeare, Not Space Opera
The David Lynch, Alan Smithee and Sci Fi Channel versions of Dune all followed the Star Wars model, emphasizing spaceships and large-scale action over such niceties as, you know, good acting. From his first series Wonderland to his currently acclaimed FNL, Berg has been able to coax incredible performances out of actors that audiences never realized had such greatness within them. After the wooden, sometimes embarrassing, line-readings and failed attempts at characterization that marred the previous adaptations, an actor-oriented approach will bring much-needed humanity to Dune.

4. A Movie Needs to Move
While the Lynch/Smithee versions have much for Dune fans to chew over, they're simply lousy looking films. Leaving aside the woefully dated special effects, the pace often feels lugubrious -- a page-turner of a book transformed into boring, extended scenes that are often filled with dull staging and too little movement. Berg's self-described "loose, natural" visual style, heavy on the hand-held camera and dizzying shots, guarantees storytelling with an immediacy and visceral impact. And it doesn't hurt that he counts Ridley Blade Runner Scott, James Aliens Cameron and Michael Heat Mann among his influences. Those guys know how to rock the camera, literally and figuratively.

5. Go for Four
Classic as Herbert's novel is, it's only the first of six Dune books published before the author's death in 1986. After creating a new universe with its own rich history, religion, geography and language in the original, Herbert then added layers and layers of intricate plotting, nuanced character work and increasingly fantastical creations to each subsequent sequel. For aficionados, the Dune wave peaked with the fourth installment, God Emperor of Dune, in which all of his grand themes culminated in a story that was as thought-provoking as it was flat-out kick-ass. And to eventually see it on the big screen, we need the first book made right and made a commercial success.

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