“Dune”: cult on paper, cursed in the cinema

(AFP) – Will Canadian director Denis Villeneuve get bogged down in the sands of Arrakis? “Dune”, a new version of which promises to make an event at the Venice Film Festival, is a novel as cult for its millions of readers as it is cursed for the directors who dare to adapt it.

– Cult novel –
Millennia after our era, tribes and potentates compete for control of the spice, a blend that prolongs life and offers prophetic powers. It is harvested on a planet of burning sand, infested with formidable giant worms, called Arrakis, or Dune.

With the first of the six volumes of the “Dune” cycle, Frank Herbert laid the foundations in 1965 for a “space opera” which would become a major work of science fiction, with considerable influence, in Star Wars in particular.

Paul Atreides, a young prince who would become the prophet of the Fremen, the people of Arrakis, sold 20 million copies of what remains “the best-selling and most read science fiction novel” in the world, but also “the most commented and the most studied, in particular within the framework of university work”, underlines to AFP Renaud Guillemin, eminent member of the community of “Duniens” of France (and also researcher at the CNRS), who participated to the revision of the translation of this classic (reissued volume by volume by the end of the year) by Robert Laffont.

Dune is “the very prototype of the + universe book +”, with “its own consistency, its own references, its own foundations”, like the Lord of the Rings in fantasy, he adds.

Not to mention “finds that have fascinated generations of readers” such as sand worms, distils, a combination that collects and recycles sweat, or Bene Gesserit, an order of female combatants capable of influencing through thought.

Fans praise a visionary work, anticipating issues ranging from global warming to the omnipotence of the Gafam, including the impact of technologies.

– Cursed movie –
Holding at the same time the Greek tragedy, the biblical myth and the medieval epic, “Dune” seems cut for the cinema. However, it drags the reputation of “cursed film par excellence”, explains to AFP Lloyd Chéry, who republishes his reference work “Everything about Dune”, and founded the podcast “It’s more than SF”.

Figure of the underground and author of cult films in the 1970s, the Franco-Chilean Alejandro Jodorowsky, broke his teeth there. The project to which the filmmaker devoted himself from 1973 to 1977 is colossal. Jodorowsky intends to embark on the adventure Salvador Dali, Alain Delon, Orson Welles, the designer Moebius or the Pink Floyd to music.

Due to a lack of adequate resources, the failure of this extraordinary project has remained in the history of cinema, and was the subject of a documentary, “Jodorowsky’s Dune” (2013).

After being almost adapted by Ridley Scott, the creator of Alien, the idea of ​​bringing Dune to the screen then fell to David Lynch. After seven versions of the script, the film will require six months of particularly painful shooting in Mexico. The sets are monumental, the costumes number in the thousands, but the creativity of the filmmaker will be crushed by the Hollywood machinery.

The film, starring Kyle MacLachlan, one of the biggest productions of the time with $ 40 million on the table, will be a commercial flop upon release. From this great failed film, the now cult author of “Mulholland Drive” will remember a “nightmare”.

– The challenge of Villeneuve –
Villeneuve, himself a big fan of Frank Herbert’s novels, will he succeed in seducing the Dunian fan base and the general public?

A highly prized director in Hollywood, he has proven his ability to tackle the myths of sci-fi with “Blade Runner 2049” (2017), a sequel to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece. For his “Dune”, he brought together a cast of stars with Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson and Timothée Chalamet on the Atréides side, or Javier Bardem and Zendaya at the Fremen.

A test of size for the studios, wrung out by the pandemic, the triumph of the streaming and the breathlessness of the model of the superheroes, and which dream that “Dune” becomes a new saga which will make come and return the crowds in theaters.