Take Me To Your Cinema
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It's about time a thread was started for Denis Villeneuve's adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel 'Dune'. Filming has already been completed and is currently penciled in for a 18th December 2020 release. So there is over a year of post-production in the works.
They've wisely booked a lot of recognizable blockbuster franchise talent but they are all talented actors and mostly perfect casting choices for their characters (I'll need to be convinced by Momoa as Duncan though). I still suspect the film might bomb but the high-visibility casting is giving it a good chance of success. I can't imagine anybody better as Paul, Jessica and Leto. They've yet to confirm who has been cast as Feyd, Keynes and The Emperor. Considering filming wrapped 2-3 months ago it's impressive that some of these details haven't leaked out. The known cast is as follows:
- Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica (Mission: Impossible)
- Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides (Star Wars,X-Men)
- Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck (Marvel,Deadpool)
- Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Marvel,Pirates of the Caribbean)
- Dave Bautista as Glossu Rabban (Marvel,Bond,Blade Runner)
- Zendaya as Chani (Spider-Man)
- David Dastmalchian as Piter De Vries (Marvel,Blade Runner)
- Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho (DC)
- Javier Bardem as Stilgar (Bond,Pirates of the Caribbean)
- Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Shadout Mapes (Star Wars)
Even the non-franchise actors have all starred in Oscar winning films:
- Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides
- Charlotte Rampling as Gaius Helen Mohiam
- Chang Chen as Dr. Wellington Yueh
- Stephen McKinley Henderson as Thufir Hawat
I didn't much like Villeneuve's drab, illogical and unimaginative looking 'Arrival' and I didn't like his unimaginative looking, dull-grey and painfully slow Blade Runner sequel (a huge boxoffice bomb), so I'm not exactly hopeful that third time will be the charm. I can't imagine his vision topping David Lynch's, or living up to Alejandro Jodorowsky crazy ideas. Still he's cast it very well and I don't think there is any prospect of him not taking the material seriously, taking it too seriously is more likely to be the problem. I also have reservations about the announced 'Dune: The Sisterhood' TV show, exclusively for the HBO Max streaming service. It's said to "serve as a prequel to the film" and Villeneuve has form from BR2049 for making online prequel content you need to see for parts of his film to fully make sense... a practice I really dislike. At least the BR2049 content was free on youtube and not potentially holding cinema fans hostage to a subscription streaming service they otherwise don't want. Plus it's putting the cart before the horse franchise wise.
Villeneuve's film will only adapt the first half of the book, giving him the room to make a long, slow snooze-fest out of an unwieldy exposition-packed book, instead of something necessarily fast-paced and exciting. Plus if it does poorly at the boxoffice, the 2nd half may not be made (unless they are doing a LotR style back to back project???), although considering it's Warner Bros/Legendary they'd probably be so far into production on the sequel when they find out nobody likes the first one that they'd have to finish it, fire Villeneuve, and get Joss Whedon in to do reshoots . Legendary CEO Joshua Grode confirmed "there's a logical place to stop the [first] movie before the book is over." I was trying to guess where that would be: 'Part 1: The fall of the father / Part 2: The rise of the son'? where the last scene would be Paul and Jessica being taken in to the Fremen caves, or would you make the break before/after Paul retreats into the desert for years to train his Fremen forces: 'Part 1: The defeat of a boy / Part 2: The victory of a man'?
I thought it was finally time to read the book:
I loved the novel overall and far from being impossible to adapt, it's got tons of potential. The Atreides/Fremen launch a commando raid on Harkonnen spice facilities that is only mentioned twice "we could do it" and then "it was done" which could be opened up into a big sequence in the film. Rabban is basically absent from the book apart from references by other characters to his actions, so there is potential for us to actually see how he earned his name "the beast". We didn't see any of the political machinations between Thufir, The Baron, Count Fenring and Feyd back on Giedi Prime in Lynch's version. I'd like to see much more of Keynes in the film, a character whose full importance isn't understood in the novel until he's gone. There are huge gaps that could be fleshed out like Paul moving the whole Fremen culture to the south of the planet being only referenced in passing. We see space travel in Lynch's film but it's bizarrely not described at all in the book (considering it's a key driver for the plot), just "We are packing to leave for Arrakis", next chapter "So this is Arrakis then" .
Something I don't think any adaptation of Dune has got right are the Ornithopters (especially their terrible design in Lynch's film). They sound beautiful on the page and in theory but making a mechanical helicopter/jet type vessel that believably flies like a bird is got to be hard and perhaps wasn't possible without 2020 CGI. I had a google for fan designs I liked and this one looked the best to me:
These were runners up:
I've had yet another re-play of the classic 1992 'Dune II' strategy game but as always I can never get past the final Harkonnen death-hand missile levels.
Finally, I've just had a re-watch of Lynch's film which is on a level with Star Wars for me...
You could watch David Lynch's 'Dune' 50 times (and I certainly have) and still be spotting new details in the sets, the costumes and the props. I love the clearly defined look of the worlds. The Atreides' seem to live inside ornate wooden carved Egyptian tombs, the Harkonnen's planet is a dank green industrial nightmare, the Emperor's palace looks like a golden beehive/clockwork-interior and the halls of Arrakeen are decorated with ancient Mosque-type mosaics. The art-direction is on a par with 'Blade Runner' and some of the FX are the greatest practical shots ever achieved... but then again other FX shots are on a par with 'Superman IV: The Quest for Peace' . The black Stillsuit designs are iconic and fairly believable. Toto and Brian Eno's score is one of my favourites, I would kill to hear the 'Main Title' thundering out of a cinema setup... which is unlikely to ever happen, given the film's unpopularity.
I was under the impression that the film was not faithful to the book (which I've only just read) but in most respects it is, slavishly so in places. Whole scenes and all their dialogue are lifted near-verbatim from the pages of the novel (something Herbert was pleased about). If I recall correctly the film omits the greenhouse scenes, Kynes' death, the Fenring political intrigues back on Geidi Prime, some of the pursuit by the Harkonnens and doesn't go into culture of the Fremen with as much depth but that's about it. Lynch's script also adds elements that I'd argue improve the story and make it more filmic. The sadistic Harkonnen heart-plugs, the Baron's hideous diseases and Thufir's antidote-milk cat are twisted Lynch inventions. Plus of course the Weirding Modules were his idea. These Atreides sound weapons are not only one of the coolest things in sci-fi cinema but also improve the narrative. In the book, Paul and Jessica basically just teach martial arts to the Fremen, who were already the greatest warriors in the universe, making them "greaterer"? The formidable new Atreides sound weapons add extra believability to their successes in battle and to Leto's decision to walk knowingly into the Emperor's trap. One of the more contentious changes from the book seems to be Lynch adding a part where Paul makes it rain (for a minute or two) using his godlike powers because it would illogically harm the sandworms. Fine, except that's ignoring that in the novel, the Fremen are working towards the ultimate goal of making it rain on Arrakis.
Like Stanley Kubrick's 'Spartacus', 'Dune' was/is more or less disowned by it's Director because they didn't have complete creative control. Like 'Spartacus' they've perhaps missed that the film is still a masterpiece but unlike Kubrick's film, 'Dune' is unmistakably the work of David Lynch. Not just because it's filled with all his favourite actors. The slipping in and out of cryptic visions and the constant internal monologues gives the whole piece the feeling of an 'Eraserhead' waking dream/nightmare. I find it refreshing the way Lynch has little patience for explaining, simplifying, or sanitizing the bizarre archaic cultures of Herbert's universe. Despite pressure to deliver a 2-hour version, Lynch was involved in the making of the Theatrical Cut, as far as I'm aware. Apparently Universal have offered Lynch the chance to go back and do a much longer cut but he has refused. It's a shame he can't see what a great job he did.
I unequivocally love the film in the two hour version and think it works less well in the extended/TV cut, plus I've watched extended fanedits before. This time I watched spicediver's 2012 'Dune: The Alternative Edition Redux' fanedit, which runs for about 3-hours. spicediver skillfully integrates the deleted footage in a way that feels true to the style and tone established in the shorter cut. I was impressed by the way he removed the aforementioned rain sequence without detracting from the climactic swell of the music and visuals. As with other extended versions, it does suffer from unbalancing the narrative and characters. Because the bulk of the additional material focuses on Paul and/or the first half, the 2nd half of the film seems increasingly rushed and the other characters get lost somewhat. I wish it was in HD (as much as possible) but it's still a wonderful way to watch the film. I think I'll be torn from now on when I need to decide which version to watch. Thanks @"spicediver" !
Now I'm ready for the Dune 2020 hype-train to set off!
p.s. I haven't revisited 'Jodorowsky's Dune' yet:
and I've never been interested enough to watch the TV shows. Maybe I'll give them a go sometime next year.