Monday, September 03, 2007

That won't be necessary

Dark Horizons reports that a new film adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune novels is in the works. I've never read these books, but I gather that they are regarded as classic works of science fiction. Dune was last adapted for the big screen in 1984. Directed by David Lynch. with a cast including Kyle McLachlan, Gordon Sumner (Sting), and Patrick Stewart, it was a massive flop, and having seen it, it's easy to see why. A couple of years ago I had the misfortune of watching an extended director's cut of this film on DVD, which a friend loaned to me. Lynch disowned this extended cut, so it was released under the pseudonym of Alan Smithee.

It was three hours long, but my brother Scott and I chose to watch it for half an hour at a time over a few days, because that was all we could stand. The film opens with a narration that is meant to introduce all the protagonists, but it is too confusing and wordy to follow. We were able to establish that the basic plot revolves around various ruling families from different planets in a distant galaxy who are vying for control of a precious spice. Things go downhill from there, so that anyone who watches the film without knowing anything about its source material will find it nearly impossible to follow. Scott and I watched in bewilderment as for no apparent reason, a giant space worm appeared on screen and excreted balls of molten rock from itself that randomly formed into stars and planets.

I forget the rest of the storyline, if I remember rightly, some sort of messianic figure eventually arises who helps his people to overcome tyranny. By the end Scott and I honestly didn't care. We normally don't watch bad movies, with the possible exception of Battlefield Earth, but it was one of the most excruciating film watching experiences we've ever had. It stands for all time as a textbook example of how not to do a film adaptation of a book.

7 comments:

Glen O'Brien said...

I was so disappointed with the movie because I did read the Dune trilogy whe I was about 19 and thought it was brilliant. Definitley a case of "the book was better."

One Salient Oversight said...

David Lynch's "Dune" is more enjoyable when you consider it as part of the whole David Lynch filmography. If you completely ignore Frank Herbert's books you can enjoy it (in much the same way as ignoring Stephen King allows you to enjoy Kubrick's The Shining).

The extended edition was horrible. Lynch did make some extended version back when it was released but it has never been viewed.

A Dune miniseries was made in 2000 that was more true to the book.

Ross McPhee said...

As you probably know, Lynch's film was intended to be the first in a series, but because it wasn't successful, it didn't go ahead.

I saw the miniseries version, but couldn't get into it. I borrowed the DVD from the same friend who loaned me the film version, and he said it was better than the film.

On the other hand, a bad book can't be made into a good film, as was clearly demonstrated with the cringeworthy adaptation of L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth.

One Salient Oversight said...

I purchased Highlander 2 a few months ago. I'm now thinking of buying Battlefield Earth and Wild Wild West to complete my bad movie collection (I already have Plan 9 from outer space.

James Garth said...

The problem with Dune is that it is just too hard core. There are basically three levels in the pantheon of Sci-Fi geekdom;

Level 1'ers like Star Wars.
Level 2'ers prefer Star Trek.
Level 3'ers get into Dune.

Given the relative scarcity of Level 3'ers in comparison to the rest of the population, it's understandable that when a 'Dune' movie was to be produced, the amount of available resources that would be committed to this would be a fraction of what a Star Wars or Star Trek would command.

Granted, David Lynch is talented enough, but with such a limited gene pool of Level-3-sympathetic scriptwriters, art directors, etc. to choose from, any attempt at a Dune film is doomed from the start.

The script writer for this film probably resembled Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, now wasting his life away in his Mom's dingy basement, still believing it was the best script ever penned by mankind, and that it's the world's fault for 'misunderstanding' his work.

Sorry, but when it comes to sci-fi, the very best films are the ones produced by major studios with all the technical resources they can muster, with an expert like Spielberg, Scott or Soderberg at the helm.

Glen O'Brien said...

Any thoughts on Sunshine? In my view it is the best sci-fi film for soem time.

Ross McPhee said...

If Dune ever gets made again, they need to find a way of making the source material accessible to a mass audience, and not just sci-fi geeks. I missed Sunshine when it was in cinemas, but I'll look out for it on DVD.