Put simply, Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of the most influential, acclaimed, and successful sci-fi novels of all time. But its journey to the silver screen has been… bumpy. Controversial cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky attempted an adaptation back in the ‘70s with a Pink Floyd soundtrack and a cast that included Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, and Mick Jagger. (Jodorowsky’s Dune is the stuff of cinema legend, with its own documentary.)
After Jodorowsky’s production fell apart, David Lynch released an adaptation in 1984; it was a critical and commercial failure that Lynch ultimately disowned. (For what it’s worth, I think Lynch’s Dune has been unfairly maligned. It’s certainly flawed but it also boasts some impressive and suitably otherworldly visuals.)
Following Lynch’s adaptation, several directors (e.g., Peter Berg, Pierre Morel) were attached to a new take on Dune. But it wasn’t until Legendary acquired the rights and brought on filmmaker Denis Villeneuve that I personally got excited about a new Dune movie.
For starters, 2016’s Arrival and 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 ably established Villeneuve’s sci-fi bona fides. Arrival told a haunting, thought-provoking story about first contact and language while Blade Runner 2049 was a faithful sequel to one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time. And both films featured mind-blowing visuals and astounding production.
Which brings us to the first trailer for Villeneuve’s Dune, and it looks about as epic as one could hope for a Dune movie. (Just check out that sandworm in the trailer’s final seconds.) The cast, which includes Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, and Dave Bautista (to name a few) looks solid. And the production appears appropriately grandiose. The only real concern/critique I have stems from reading through this Twitter thread concerning the film’s design aesthetic.
Dune is set nearly 20,000 years in the future, and I really hope that Villeneuve’s movie embraces the inherent weirdness and other-ness of that time and place. But I don’t get a sense of that from the trailer. To be fair, the trailer doesn’t really delve into Dune esoterica concerning the Fremen and the Bene Gesserit or the nature of the invaluable spice, nor do we see any of the Spacing Guild in their mélange-infused glory. (If you have no idea what those terms mean, then I’ll refer you to this short Dune primer. And of course, there’s always Wikipedia.)
All in all, consider me cautiously optimistic, with an emphasis on “optimistic.”
Dune arrives in theaters on December 18, but there’s a good chance that’ll change.