Movies Not To Be: Peter Berg’s ‘Dune’ Remake

I realize that I post about ‘Dune’ a fair amount in this blog. It’s my favorite movie, and this is my blog, so I feel I’m entitled. Anyway, my friend and fellow ‘Dune’ enthusiast Mark recently sent me a link to a page of concept art for one of the aborted attempts to remake the movie. While I’m personally glad that the project fell through, the artwork offers an interesting glimpse at what almost was.

Although Frank Herbert’s original science fiction novel is beloved by millions, David Lynch’s 1984 film adaptation is widely reviled. Upon release, it was a box office bomb. Fans of the novel despised it for leaving out a couple paragraphs of the author’s prose. General moviegoers who weren’t familiar with the book found the story perplexing. (The studio actually distributed a glossary of useful terms to be handed out in movie theaters.) Roger Ebert called it the worst movie of the year. (Really, Roger, in a year with both ‘Bolero’ and ‘Supergirl’?) The film has grown a cult audience in the years since, and has seen some small measure of critical re-evaluation, but is still generally looked at as a dud.

I spelled out in my review on this site why I love ‘Dune’ so much. I’m very protective of the movie, and have greeted most attempts to remake it with skepticism. It certainly doesn’t help that John Harrison’s 2000 miniseries for the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy) was an unwatchable cheap-jack atrocity. Nonetheless, the rights to the novel keep cycling through many hands in Hollywood.

For a long time, actor and occasional director Peter Berg (‘Hancock‘) was attached to the project. This seemed like a really bad fit to me. Berg’s obsession with nauseating overuse of shaky-cam is infuriating, and most of the movies he’s directed have been pretty lousy. Due to countless production delays, he eventually dropped out so that he could go make ‘Battleship’ instead. Yeah, that’s right, the one based on the old board game, for which he has changed the concept to pit Navy ships against space aliens. (Really. I’m not joking. That’s honestly what he’s doing, and it’s coming out in 2012.)

However, you can find concept art from the ‘Dune’ project on the web site of an artist named “Jock,” who has worked on several other movies, including both ‘Hancock’ and ‘Battleship’ for Berg. Of course, it’s difficult to get a real sense of how these images would have translated to live action. Some of them are pretty nice. (I rather like the “Spice Mining” piece.) Others are very crude. Most interesting are the sandworm designs, which are very amorphous and toothy. Most pictures of the worms feature a lot of horns and spikes pointing forward. That strikes me as being quite impractical for a creature that has to tunnel underneath the sand. In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter. Once Berg put his spastic shaky-cam to it, you wouldn’t be able to tell what you’re looking at anyway.

Currently, director Pierre Morel (‘Taken‘) has taken (no pun intended) over the reigns of the ‘Dune’ remake. I have no idea what he plans for it. I doubt that matters much either. After his ‘From Paris with Love‘ bombed so disastrously earlier this year, there’s frankly no chance at all that he’ll be allowed to continue on with a big-budget production like this. I expect the remake to go back into turnaround soon. As far as I’m concerned, that’s for the best.

[Thanks to Mark for the tip. Visit the Dune – Behind the Scenes web site for more fun ‘Dune’ stuff that he’s dug up over the years.]

2 comments

  1. JoeRo

    I feel like losing Berg, and likely Morel, is definitely a bullet dodged, but having said that I’m not in any way a fan of Lynch’s Dune.

    I am a fan of the original bok, BUT!!, I’m not one of those fans who’s major complaint is that the film isn’t identical to the novel. Far from it. I acknowledge and am actually quite happy with the fact the film and literature are two different mediums. A Dune film cannot possibly be “identical” to the book, not in any literal sense. No I just didn’t dig Dune as a film. It’s visually dense, and there is great production value in every frame, but it just came off way too silly to me to really get into.

    Of course I can’t really have any conversation about Lynch’s Dune without bringing up the Sci-Fi version, which was equally silly. I think the Sci-Fi movie nailed the spirit of the book better than the theatrical version did, but the production was so cheap, so unintentionally corny, that It’s tough to take that “movie” seriously as well. It tried hard to hit the right dramatic notes, but in the end it still looks like a fan film made on a shoestring budget … which it basically was.

    What I would really like to see, if I could visit an alternate universe for a day, is Ridley Scott’s version of Dune that was never made. I don’t mean that I want to see modern day Scott’s version of the film, because frankly my faith in his vision has been undermined by the last 10 years or so of his career. I basically haven’t loved anything he’s done since Bladerunner, which was of course the film that he ended up making instead of Dune.

    Now imagine that Scott’s brother had lived, or some other twist of fate occurred that put Scott behind the camera for a full blown Dune production. I would love to see that, even limited as it would be by the technology of the time. Bladerunner still looks great, not even accounting for age. (As does Star Wars, 2001, The Terminator etc.) The problem is that our contemporary Scott just doesn’t seem to get movie making the way that he once did. And truth be told maybe part of the reason Bladerunner was so amazing was the fact that Scott had to fight to make that film the way he wanted to make it, and in the end compromised. Art from adversity as they say.

    Now I don’t think that there isn’t a modern director/producer/screenwriter that couldn’t put together a version of Dune that I can get behind. I just don’t see any obvious choices. A lot of the names’ bandied about when you have this sort of hypothetical conversation are directors who are, in their own way, brands unto themselves.(e.g. Burton, Jackson, Del Toro). I would hate to see one of these type of directors make their version of Dune, particularly Burton [shudder], because the story and characters would be eclipsed by the style, life, previous work (take your pick) of the director. And just as an aside I do actually like those directors, I just don’t think Dune is a project I’d care to see in their hands.

    In any event it seems unlikely that any new version of Dune will be hitting theaters anytime soon. Which is in all honesty fine by me. If all we have for the rest of human existence is the Novel, Lynch’s Dune, and the Sci-fi mini-series that’s fine. I’m a happy camper. Also looking back at the Dune that could-have-been with Ridley Scott, it forces an interesting realization. If given the choice would I choose to live in a world where Scott’s Dune existed and was widely considered to be movie making and storytelling milestone, as well as a masterpiece in its own right, or would I choose to live in the world that I currently call home? I have to go with the latter on this one, if only because without Bladerunner I never would’ve been made aware of Philip K. Dick’s writing, which is something that I enjoy far more than I should.

    If anything seeing this concept art only reinforces that choice, as frankly I was unimpressed with it when io9 ran this story awhile back. In any event the Dune novels still exist, and are as enjoyable today as they were when I first encountered them.

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