Dune: What is a good adaptation?

This weekend, I do not come back to Århus. I preferred to leave my daddy alone so that he could spend a romantic moment with his sweetheart. So, tonight I planned to go to the party of my cinephile club, to bury me under the pizzas and drowning under the beer with my friends. In these evenings, 2 or 3 of us are drawn to choose a movie on a theme chosen in advance. Tonight the theme is: “Adaptation of a literary work”
For my part I decided to choose Dune from David lynch, because I love this universe and I can not wait to see the version of Denis Villeneuve, scheduled for November 2020.

But Dune, what is it? And, why is it good?

Dune originally, it’s a saga of Frank Herbert whose publication of the various parts is spread out from 1965 to 1985. (I speak here only of the original material written and published by Frank Herbert himself, but to those We can add the volumes of the extended universe that his son Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson wrote in the 2000s.)
Reference in the universe of science fiction, Dune is a very dense work where philosophy, theology and cosmic visions are mixed with the initiatory narrative. In six volumes, the reader is transported through ages and places incredibly distant and half facing a reflection on the power, spirit and nature of the individual.

David Lynch’s Dune, which is the adaptation of the first part of Frank Herbert’s cycle, was released in 1984.
The story is in the year 10191 (and yes it is accurate!). The universe is ruled by a sort of feudal system where a multitude of power spheres struggle in the midst of a complex political intrigue that sends Star Wars prequels to the sandbox with a small humiliating spanking in passing.
Between the emperor, the big influential houses of the Landsraad, the spacing guild, the order of the Bene Gesserit or the merchants of the CHOAM (Combine, Honnhete Ober Advancer Mercantiles), the universe of Dune is a brothel sacret and it probably does not change anything for you …

Well, we’ll do it easier. As Princess Irulan would say in the monologue that opens the film, the most precious substance in the universe is the spice. Spice being what allowed the expansion of humanity through galaxies. It is this spice that allows guild travelers to push the limits of exploration by folding the space. And sincerely when we watched Event Horizon (I love this movie) and we saw what fold the space can give … respect!
The spice can only be found on one planet in the entire universe, Arakis also called Dune. Desert world which is necessarily at the center of all the political shenanigans of the empire.

Dune’s story focuses on Paul, the heir to the Atreid house, whose father, Duke Leto, is entrusted with the management of Dune and the extraction of the spice by the emperor. He replaces Baron Harkonnen, whose house is the sworn enemy of Atreid. What the duke does not know is that it is a plot of the Emperor and the Harkonnen to eradicate him.
In the midst of all this the young Paul will have to reveal himself, especially by piercing the secrets of the Fremen, the people of the desert, hidden and spiritual strength of Arakis.
Dune is both the story of revenge, initiation and revelation.

Well it is of course, as often, an adaptation much criticized by many purists of the book, but you must know that Dune, it is a project that has experienced a very difficult gestation and that comes from far.
There have been several adaptation projects prior to David Lynch’s arrival on the project. Ridley Scott was notably hired in 1979 before leaving seven months later discouraged by a slow preproduction, as well as the death of his older brother. But before the attempt of Scott there was also from 1975 that of Alejandro Jodorowsky, cult multifaceted artist who had engaged Moebius, Dan O’Bannon and H.R. Giger to work on the artistic direction. The film will be canceled due to financial shortcomings and Ridley Scott will recover the team that Jdorowsky had gathered to shoot Alien.

“Ridley, you rascal! “

It should be noted that Jodorowsky wanted to make a 10-hour film, with a cast including:

  • Salvador Dali,
  • Orson Welles,
  • Alain Delon
  • Mick Jagger

and that he had approached among other things:

  • Pink Floyd
  • Magma
  • Stockhausen

To make the original tape. I swear it’s true!
As much to tell you that the Dune of Jodorowsky, because it has never been shot has become totally cult.
Jodorowsky will take revenge later by performing the script for the comic strip Metabarons, which is clearly a tribute to Dune. (to read absolutely😉)

Well maybe the movie will have been very bad actually. We do not know, even the best can wallow. Jodorowsky is a genius capable of creating killings such as El Topo and The sacred mountain but personally, for a film like Fando & Lis I think that the word trouble is not enough any more, it would be necessary to find a more addapted, I do not know me a mixture between hanging and rusty ax

After his failures, Dino Di Laurentis, one of the most famous producer Megalo in the history of cinema ended up entrusting the project to David Lynche who had just released the success of Elephant Man. Lynch had also been illustrated with EraserHead in 1977, so Di Laurentis knew exactly where he was going by asking him to do Dune. He knew that Lynch was not a mere maker and that he had a particular universe and not really …. Great public, to put it mildly.

He had thought, quite rightly, that Dune needed a very personal and determined look to do him justice.
On the other hand, he must have been disappointed because dissensions quickly appeared between Lynch and him. Dune is a very painful film for Lynch. He first took the project very seriously before being stolen Finalcut by Dino Di Laurentis.

“Deceitful, the Dino! “

In summary he was robbed of the right to have the last word on the editing of the film and was therefore removed from the project. If the film released in 1984 bears his signature, Lynch has however, clearly disavowed. And when we know that George Lucas had proposed to achieve Return of the Jedi, we can say that level producers demiurge and megalo, Lynch was a close call, but just halfway.

Over the years and depending on the broadcast market, several versions of Dunes appeared, often confidential and more or less retouched. For the most part, the differences are rather innocuous and mainly concerns occasional cuts to mitigate the violence of the film, however two versions will interest us here, the one with the most notable differences. On the one hand the cinema version, which everyone knows and the other by the television version, dating from 1988, edited by Dino Di Laurentis. David Lynch has demanded that his name be removed from the credits and replaced by Alan Smithee, the pseudonym used by directors who are ashamed of the result they have achieved.

“One is a short version, the other a long version, will you guess, dear reader which is what? “

One would tend to think that a producer, wanting to align with market imperatives and wanting to offer viewers an easily consumable product, would be at the origin of a short version, whereas the director would be the source of a direcor’s cut longer, leaving him more space to express himself. But there … no, it’s the opposite. For this Dune is a very special case and, to my knowledge quite unique, the long version is that signed Alan Smithee.
One could also think by reflex that this long version is necessarily bad because the producers are big bad guys who only wants to destroy the creativity of the nice directors, but the reality is a little more complex.

The version of Di Laurentis, full of really good new scenes, like this scene where Gurney Hallec makes us a space mandolin solo (in dune it’s called a basilet). Scene not essential, but just excellent that allows to deepen the attachment of the viewer to the character.
Thanks to its additions, the first three quarters of the film gain in clarity and depth, and only the last quarter in comparison, unnecessarily precipitated. This televised version, although less known, has finally become almost as cult as the movie version released in 1984.
Finally the long version, also has weaknesses compared to the short version, as badly finalized plans, which had not been worked by Lynch.

In short, Dune is far from being a perfect film, whatever the version, it is full of ellipsis and shortcuts sometimes rude, but at the same time, it is difficult to adapt such a huge thing in such a short format . No, for excellent adaptations, it is better to go to see TV movies created in the 2000s … no I’m kidding!
Finally, more seriously, without getting to Lynch’s ankle, these Telefims are watchable, especially for comparative curiosity, but also to take a look at the rest of the story, The Children of Dunes. Although at this level, the detour by books, is essential.

To get back to David Lynch’s Dune, once the writing problem has been set aside, there is still the mood. An atmosphere carried by a skewer of actors just great, some of whom will become followers of the Twin Peaks series a few years later.
Special strain Brad Dourif in the role of the mental Peter de Vries, Patrick Stewart who has always been bald, and Max Von Sidow, who is as usual master without too much force.

And quite amazingly, even by being ousted from the project, lynch had such a strong vision, that its bizarre aesthetic is infused throughout the film. It makes it a brilliantly bastard object, a kind of blockbuster both deviant and public.
Level gloomy gloomy, lynch is especially given to heart jois at the level of Harkonnen, the villain of the film.

The addition of the Weirding Modules, a sonic obedient weapon that does not exist in books, has surely been added to accentuate the martial rigor of Paul and the Fremen, a little more spectacularly. The idea of the weirding modules also gives a literal meaning to this sentence that Paul, our main character, pronounces and which comes directly from the novel:

“My name is a killing word”

No but serious, relax, the guy could have said “poopoopidoo” and he would still broke the stage.

My first time with Dune was when I was 15 and I thought it was so great that I did a lot of research to understand why this movie was not at the same level as a Star Wars in the pop culture. In my research, I came across a sentence that had marked me and explained why the film did not find his audience when he left. The author said in essence that the film was too simplistic for book lovers and too obscure for neophytes, so condemned to remain eternally stuck between two logics.
For my part, the version of the film we had had no subtitles, so I had to rely on my dad, himself a big fan of books to explain to me what was happening there. He could give me all the keys to understand the story. So honestly, I do not know how someone arriving without any information can approach the film (well I’ll see tonight).

In fact Dune is mainly a question: What is a good adaptation in the end? Who should she satisfy first? Must the film be primarily faithful or cinematographically relevant?(OK, that’s three questions, but I’m bad at math!)Dune with his narrative flaws shows that this relevance has nothing to do with perfection. Even if the film is objectively a failure on certain levels and that it has a very dated aesthetic (which I adore!), It is of these works, which incites the spectator to make an effort to tame them but which then reveals all their wealth. By giving the air of not knowing to which public to address, Dune is finally to carve a unique identity.

Alexendre Dumas said:

“It is possible to rape history, on the condition of making him beautiful children.” (What a pervert, this Alex)

From there to say the same thing for the adaptation, there is only one step that I would cross with pleasure. Dune may not be the most beautiful child, but it is the illustration that a film can be both an unsatisfactory transposition of the book, a wobbly film but also an incredible work that defies logic predictable film industry. It’s a snub to the literary extremist who shows that there is no immutable rule regarding fidelity to the original material and that jumping from one medium to another is never, ever a science accurate.
Forged by unlikely circumstances, Dune is one of the awesome anomalies in the history of cinema. These exceptionally flawed exception, which had all the reasons to crash miserably, but which are, almost miraculously become cult.

In short, if you ever fall someday to someone sleeping in front of Dune, do not hesitate to gently remind him that:

“The sleeper must awaken ”

7 thoughts on “Dune: What is a good adaptation?

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  2. Dune, une oeuvre qui ne mettra jamais personne d’accord. Entre les fans du roman qui critiquent les très nombreux raccourcis scénaristiques, les amateurs de David Lynch qui ne retrouvent pas complètement sa patte (normal vu que le film lui a été retiré des mains et a subit tellement de soucis de production et un tournage catastrophique), les amateurs de SF qui ne retrouvent pas le souffle épique auquel ils sont habitués depuis Star Wars…
    Personnellement, je reconnais ses très nombreux défauts, car il y en a. Quelques effets datés, des décors parfois moins convaincants, des raccourcis scénaristiques dont certains amènent même des petits soucis de rythme, une première partie qui prend son temps (même si encore plus dans la version longue) et une seconde beaucoup trop rapide. Mais je ne peux m’empêcher d’aimer ce film. Il y a quelque chose, une ambiance, la patte d’un auteur même si l’oeuvre lui a échappé. L’ayant découvert très jeune, j’ai été marqué par pas mal d’images, le travail sur le son, cette eau de la vie qui tombe en gros plan, la musique du groupe Toto que je trouve excellente (j’ai le cd original à présent rare dans ma collection haha), les acteurs que j’apprécie énormément pour beaucoup. C’est probablement le film que j’ai possédé dans le plus d’éditions différentes d’ailleurs, la VHS, le premier dvd français, un dvd anglais pour la version longue, une édition allemande qui avait pour la première fois toutes les versions possible, le blu-ray français… Quand on aime on ne compte pas.

    Pour l’éternelle question de l’adaptation, je sais que beaucoup critiquent, et pas seulement dans le cas de Dune, quand un film prend des libertés avec l’oeuvre originale, ou utilise trop de raccourcis. Personnellement, je trouve cela positif. Un livre doit cultiver notre imagination avec des mots, un film doit nous faire ressentir quelque chose par les images. Ce qui fonctionne à l’écrit ne fonctionne pas toujours à l’écran, et des changements doivent forcément avoir lieu. Le téléfilm Dune du début des années 2000 était par exemple très fidèle, mais outre des effets pas top (et un tournage en studio très voyant, comparé au vrai désert chez Lynch), je le trouve pour le coup trop long pour une oeuvre filmique. Ça a beaucoup plu aux fans du livre je crois, mais moi je suis resté de marbre devant.

    Bref encore une fois, un excellent article, tu as de très bons goûts et une belle plume.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Mais de rien, je continuerais de lire tes autres articles demain (car il se fait tard, pas sérieux tout ça).
        Voilà c’est exactement ça. Après, adapter un livre est malgré tout plus facile qu’adapter un jeu par exemple (adapter des mots contre adapter une histoire qui se raconte via une manette).


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