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Written by Christian Abbott on 6th April 2021

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Frank Herbert (Dune, 1965).

A new adaptation of Dune is set to hit our screens in just a few months. This long-anticipated re-telling of the classic Frank Herbert sci-fi epic has already endured much since its announcement. Re-writes, behind camera changes, delays and a pandemic would be a lot for any film to deal with. But, Dune’s story of struggle goes far further back than just this 2021 release, and even further back than the original 1984 adaptation. Some say Dune is cursed in Hollywood, borderline un-filmable and impossible to capture fully on-screen. Many have tried, more have failed. This is the story of Dune in cinema.

In 1965 author Frank Herbert released Dune to immediate acclaim. This epic novel noted the journey of Paul Atreides, the son of Duke Leto, the head of House Atreides. His family are leaving their homeworld to begin a new life overseeing the planet of Arrakis – Dune. This planet contains the most important resource in the universe, the spice melange, used to alter humans and evolve them in strange ways. Shortly after their arrival on Arrakis, they are attacked and Paul must band the native people of Arrakis together to take back his world.

The story is sweeping, awe-inspiring, mind-altering and mysterious. Naturally, this story caught the attention of Alejandro Jodorowsky just a few years after its release. This Chilean-French filmmaker, already making waves with his films El Topo and The Holy Mountain, chose Dune for his latest project. (For more details on this, please watch the excellent documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune).

Despite never having read the novel, Jodorowsky planned to create the most ambitious film ever put to screens. After years of development, time, building a legendary team which included Orson Welles, Salvadore Dali and Mick Jagger just for a start, the film never reached cinemas. Studios worried about spiralling production costs, audience accessibility and crew control, it just wasn’t feasible in a time before 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars.

Yet, without Jodorowsky’s incredible vision, most of those films would never have been made. He recruited H.R. Giger and Moebius for the concepts; they ended up helping with the creations of Alien and The Fifth Element respectively. The concepts from the unmade films toured Hollywood, inspiring Blade Runner, Flash Gordon and The Terminator.

It is argued to be the most important film ever made. Except eventually it did get made, in a way. Years later, in 1984, following on from the smash success of Star Wars which was largely inspired by Dune itself, it was resurrected. Now directed by David Lynch, it was an entirely different beast from what Jodorowsky ever intended. While closer in vision to Frank Herbert’s original novel, it was sadly a rushed, poorly edited studio film, so much so that David Lynch does not even consider it part of his filmography.

The lukewarm reception Lynch’s Dune received did little to help. It was called confusing, convoluted, misguided and flat-out terrible. After 19 years, the film was a dud. Since this, there have been many attempts to bring Dune back to screens. In 2000 and 2003, the largely forgotten Sci Fi Channel’s, Dune and Children of Dune series, adapted the first three books in Frank Herbert’s original series. Fans of the books enjoyed this version, finally getting to see something faithful, in part, to the original material. Yet, over time these releases have had little impact on audiences, most of which have no idea it exists.

Now, 56 years after the book was first released, we are getting a new vision on screen. Directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac and more, this promises to be the most faithful version of the story on film. Originally set to release in December of 2020, the film has already had to face many problems throwing the potential sequels into doubt.

However, this is the time. All eyes are on this new adaptation. After nearly 60 years, will Dune finally get the cinematic treatment it deserves? One can only hope. But, has Frank Herbert says in Dune, “hope clouds observation.”

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