The Various Versions of Dune


The theatrical poster for the newest adaptation of Dune (©2021 Warner Bros Pictures)

Brian Dyer, Reporter

Many stories get passed through many people, coming in different forms, such as books, movies, and television shows. Dune has seen it’s most recent adaptation to film, and I think it’s about time to dig through the past retellings to see what they did right and where they went wrong.

The original novel Dune by Frank Herbert, first released in 1965, is a good place to begin. It tells a story set thousands of years in the future, centered around the planet Arrakis, the only producer of melange, or “spice”. The drug extends the user’s lifespan, vitality, as well as multidimensional awareness and foresight, which is required for space navigation. It focuses on Paul Atreides, whose family accepts stewardship of the planet. The narrative discusses the interactions of politics, religion, ecology, and technology that surround the struggle of factions trying to control Arrakis and its spice.

The novel is one of the best-selling science fiction books of all time, usually beating other classics such as 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 in terms of sales. Inevitably, the story would have to go through several iterations of retellings.

The first film adaptation, directed by David Lynch, released in 1984 to critical and commercial failure. Many believed that Lynch’s success from his previous projects Eraserhead and The Elephant Man would make for a great translation to film. Unfortunately, Lynch was restrained and pressured artistically by both producers and financers to make the film the way they wanted it to be. Herbert has stated that he enjoyed the film, albeit with some slight critiques.

The next major adaptation was Frank Herbert’s Dune, a three-part miniseries directed by John Harrison. While Lynch’s film introduced concepts from the novel haphazardly, Harrison’s changes to story, according to Harrison himself, “serve to elaborate, rather than to edit”. The miniseries was viewed in 3 million homes in its original three-night premiere. The series won Emmys for “Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie” and “Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special”, while also being nominated for “Outstanding Sound Editing for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special”. Harrison later wrote the sequel three-part series Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune, which only won the Emmy for “Outstanding Special Visual Effects” out of its four nominations.

Finally, there is the newest adaptation of Dune, directed by Denis Villeneuve and released on October 22, 2021. Like films It and It: Chapter Two, the film is planned to be released as two movies, with the second part estimated to release sometime in 2023. It was reviewed positively by critics and was a box-office success with a gross of $330 million against a $165 million budget. Critics state that the film is “stunning and slow”, essentially saying that the film visually is incredible, but the progression of the film’s plot is slow to the point of dullness.

Despite all of these problems, I think it’s safe to say that the story of Dune has taken a step in a fresh new direction, and it should be given a chance by any fan of science fiction or the original novel, despite its setbacks.