Hollywood keeps retelling 'Dune.' Why this latest adaptation may be the one that takes off

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Zendaya (left) arsenic  Chani and Timothée Chalamet arsenic  Paul Atreides successful  Denis Villeneuve's adaptation of "Dune."

By Radhika Marya, CNN

Updated 1430 GMT (2230 HKT) October 21, 2021

(CNN)Get acceptable for the spice to flow.

After a fig of pandemic-induced delays, the latest movie adaptation of Frank Herbert's 1965 sci-fi classical caller "Dune" is landing successful theaters and connected HBO Max this weekend. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, with its stars including Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya and Oscar Isaac, the movie is among this year's astir highly anticipated releases. ("Dune" workplace Warner Bros., HBO Max and CNN are each portion of WarnerMedia.)

But the movie is not the archetypal onscreen adaptation of the caller -- a much-maligned movie came retired successful 1984, portion a TV miniseries followed astir 2 decades later. Even so, the root worldly has agelong been considered astir intolerable to adapt.

Set connected Arrakis, an inhospitable godforsaken satellite valued for its hallucinogenic "spice," the caller follows the travel of young Paul Atreides (Chalamet) whose household has been tasked with overseeing the satellite -- taking the spot of their rivals, the Harkonnens. The communicative features everything from spaceships and extraterrestrial beingness forms called sandworms to themes revolving astir betrayal, authorities and religion.

The satellite established successful "Dune" and its sequels is afloat of layers, galore of which person been hard to construe to the large screen. Here's a look backmost astatine erstwhile adaptations and wherefore audiences contiguous whitethorn beryllium apt to admit Villeneuve's adaptation.

The archetypal adaptation of 'Dune' didn't bash truthful well

It took much than a decennary for the archetypal movie adaptation of "Dune" to get made aft rights to the movie changed hands multiple times during the 1970s. Director Alejandro Jodorowsky ("El Topo") -- taxable of the documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune" -- was astatine the helm astatine 1 point, with grandiose casting plans that included Orson Welles and Salvador Dali. But the task ultimately collapsed acknowledgment successful portion to a mounting fund and an unwieldy runtime.

A "Dune" movie became world erstwhile manager David Lynch -- coming disconnected the occurrence of "The Elephant Man" -- took connected the project. Released successful 1984, Lynch's "Dune" was a commercialized and captious disaster, making conscionable $30.9 million astatine the home container bureau connected a fund of $40 million.

"This movie is simply a existent mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of 1 of the astir confusing screenplays of each time," Roger Ebert wrote successful his one-star review of the Lynch adaptation, calling it a "project that was earnestly retired of power from the start."

"Producers crossed their fingers and hoped that everybody who has work the books volition privation to spot the movie," his reappraisal concluded. "Not if the connection gets out, they won't."

Kyle McLachlan starred arsenic  Paul Atreides successful  David Lynch's big-screen adaptation of "Dune," which was released successful  1984.

Though 1984's "Dune" has gained thing of a cult pursuing implicit the years, Lynch himself doesn't talk highly of the film, calling it a "huge, gigantic sadness successful my life" during a virtual Q&A successful 2020.

Sci-fi and movie aficionados person a fewer theories astir wherefore these aboriginal attempts to archer the "Dune" communicative onscreen didn't click.

Both Jodorowsky and Lynch "were trying excessively hard to beryllium eccentric successful their ain mode -- to equilibrium their ain benignant and the [source material's] analyzable features -- and arsenic a effect their efforts came crossed arsenic somewhat contrived and possibly overdone," said Marina Hassapopoulou, a prof of Cinema Studies astatine New York University, successful an email to CNN.

Lynch's version, successful particular, tried to bash excessively overmuch successful a constricted model of time, YouTube video essayist Patrick Willems told CNN, noting that the "movie is what radical who don't similar subject fabrication deliberation each subject fabrication is, which is fundamentally conscionable acold and dense and emotionless and fundamentally thing but accusation and lore."

Unlike "Star Wars," which utilized its opening crawl to drawback the assemblage up connected the communicative and provided reasons to beryllium invested successful the characters' journeys, Lynch's adaptation of "Dune" instantly "dumps each of these presumption and names and accusation connected you," Willems said.

"It is conscionable astir 2 hours agelong and they tried to acceptable truthful overmuch into it that it truly feels similar a CliffsNotes mentation of a textbook," helium said. "You tin spot the elements of a compelling communicative -- it's conscionable that it's truthful condensed, and it feels overmuch much similar an accusation dump than an existent affectional communicative astir characters."

A 2000 miniseries fared better

The failures of Lynch's adaptation did not halt different "Dune" from being made. In 2000, the Sci Fi Channel (now stylized arsenic SyFy) released "Frank Herbert's Dune," a three-part TV miniseries written and directed by John Harrison that adhered much closely to the root material. The miniseries was a triumph compared to Lynch's large surface adaptation, bringing Sci Fi its highest ratings astatine the time. More than 3 cardinal people watched the archetypal part, according to the New York Times.

Actor Alec Newman portrayed Paul Atreides successful  the 2000 TV miniseries "Frank Herbert's Dune."

Though the miniseries had its detractors, it won two Emmy awards for cinematography and peculiar ocular effects. This led the transmission to merchandise a sequel miniseries, "Frank Herbert's Children of Dune," starring a past comparatively chartless James McAvoy, which combined events from the author's follow-up books "Dune Messiah" and "Children of Dune."

Of course, portion these takes connected the "Dune" communicative recovered their audience, they did not person the aforesaid wide scope a big-budget theatrical merchandise typically has.

"It was the pre-'Battlestar Galactica' epoch of the Sci Fi Channel -- thing they were doing was truly connecting with wider mainstream audiences," Willems said.

Despite the analyzable root material, directors stay drawn to 'Dune'

"Dune" has often been considered "unfilmable." As Hassapopoulou puts it, "the root worldly is excessively sublime to beryllium adapted (and constricted to) an audiovisual mean similar cinema, and that makes it challenging to accommodate from publication to film."

As this year's Villeneuve merchandise indicates, filmmakers stay drawn to the root worldly -- partially due to the fact that of the complexities and challenges involved. Villeneuve told the Los Angeles Times "it took a agelong clip to find the close equilibrium" betwixt maintaining the main storyline and capturing immoderate of the text's complexities, portion besides keeping immoderate consciousness of "mystery."

"It was precise important for maine that we not explicate everything," helium told the Times.

Josh Brolin (left) arsenic  Gurney Halleck and Timothée Chalamet arsenic  Paul Atreides successful  the 2021 adaptation of "Dune."

Despite immoderate of its denser themes, the "Dune" communicative has galore universally recognizable elements. The feud betwixt House Atreides and House Harkonnen is simply a trope readers of classical lit -- specified arsenic "Romeo and Juliet" and "Wuthering Heights" -- are already acquainted with.

"It's the benignant of happening radical person been making movies astir since the dawn of cinema," Willems said. "Aspects of the communicative are truly universal, but past you've got sandworms, you've got spaceships -- you've got each these fun, unusual sci-fi things to play astir with."

Are audiences acceptable for 2021's 'Dune'?

At the clip of writing, Villeneuve's "Dune" has taken successful good implicit $100 million astatine the planetary container office. The movie received an 8-minute lasting ovation astatine its satellite premiere during the Venice International Film Festival and reviews are mostly positive arsenic it opens successful US theaters.

While the film's eventual show astatine the container bureau is not yet known, Hassapopoulou believes "Villeneuve's 'Dune' volition beryllium the astir commercially palmy retired of each adaptations truthful far," pointing to the director's erstwhile works arsenic reasons wherefore his imaginativeness volition succeed.

"As helium has done with the Blade Runner bequest via 'Blade Runner 2049' (2017), Villeneuve is susceptible of bringing successful caller fans and sparking renewed involvement successful the root materials," she said. "His movie 'Arrival' demonstrates that helium is susceptible of handling analyzable storytelling successful a mode that inactive makes it accessible to mainstream audiences."

Plus, mainstream audiences contiguous whitethorn simply beryllium much acceptable than ever for a "Dune" adaptation than they were before. Hassapopoulou said Hollywood's output since the 1990s has been "increasingly demanding much intellectually progressive and critically engaged viewers," which means the caller "Dune" whitethorn entreaty to newer generations who "are not enactment disconnected by aesthetic experimentation and convoluted narratives."

 Josh Brolin arsenic  Gurney Halleck, Oscar Isaac arsenic  Duke Leto Atreides and Stephen McKinley Henderson arsenic  Thufir Hawat successful  Denis Villeneuve's "Dune."

Willems feels similarly, pointing to however "nerd media" has go much mainstream successful the past 15 years. The mean idiosyncratic contiguous tin sanction a fig of antecedently obscure Marvel characters, portion bid similar "Game of Thrones" -- "​​this truly dense phantasy happening with dragons and crystal zombies" -- became truthful popular, it was thing adjacent his ain parents cared about, helium noted.

But adjacent with assorted factors aligning successful the caller movie's favor, determination are inactive immoderate risks involved. For 1 thing, Villeneuve's "Dune" doesn't screen the full novel -- and it's not yet confirmed that a 2nd movie volition decidedly beryllium made. "Will capable radical spell spot it to guarantee that Warner Bros. tin warrant making... portion two?" Willems asked, portion observing that splitting the astir caller movie adaptation of Stephen King's "It" into 2 parts "worked" for the studio, which yet committed to completing the communicative successful a 2nd movie.

While "Dune" is thing radical person heard of, it isn't needfully a "familiar proven franchise" either, helium said. But that hasn't stopped his ain excitement to spot the film.

    "I'm truly funny however the wide nationalist volition respond and respond to it," helium said. "We don't get an atrocious batch of movies similar 'Dune,' truthful personally I anticipation that radical amusement up for it."

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