Variety reports actor-turned-filmmaker Peter Berg has been signed by Paramount Pictures to direct a second feature-film adaptation of Frank Herbert's landmark novel Dune. Berg, who has shown a flair for well-executed action pictures (he directed The Kingdom, The Rundown and this summer's upcoming Will Smith vehicle Hancock) hasn't settled on a screenwriter yet, so the new Dune probably won't hit theaters until at least 2010.
The first attempt to film Herbert's novel resulted in David Lynch's disastrous 1984 curiosity, which has attained a devoted cult following over the years, like practically every science-fiction film does with time. But to most people - especially Herbert fans - Lynch's Dune remains largely unwatchable.
Lynch himself has disowned the film, even declining to participate in the special edition DVD released by Universal two years ago (when I interviewed him in 2001 for Mulholland Drive, I brought up Dune and got back a strained, don't-go-there smile). Lynch, who was coming off a Best Director Oscar nomination for The Elephant Man, famously turned down George Lucas' offer to direct Return of the Jedi in order to make Dune. But although producer Dino De Laurentiis spared no expense in financing the film, trouble arose when the filmmakers tried to compress Herbert's sprawling novel into a lucid two-hour film.
I remember going to see Dune on opening weekend and being handed a glossary by the ticket-taker, explaining the various factions and planets in the movie I was about to see. It's never a good sign when you have to give audiences a homework assignment before the lights go down. Sure enough, 10 minutes into the movie, I was completely lost and confused, never to regain my bearings.
The impenetrability of Lynch's Dune is often attributed to De Laurentiis' insistence that the director turn in a 137-minute cut (the exact length, coincidentally, of Aliens, The Abyss and Spielberg's final cut of Close Encounters of the Third Kind; is that Hollywood's de facto running time for sci-fi films?) While a Lynch-approved "director's cut" has never surfaced, the longer version shown on TV is certainly easier to follow, proving that the enforced cuts hurt the coherence of Lynch's film.
I tried watching Dune again last year when it was released on HD DVD, and although I still
don't understand it find the film clunky and uninvolving on a narrative level, the dreamlike power of its imagery and sound design cannot be denied. I now think of the film as a Lynchian meditation on a densely plotted story - more of a Herbert pipe dream than a Herbert adaptation. Its impenetrability has started to grow on me.
It's a safe bet Berg's version, if it actually gets made, will figure out a way to compress Herbert's novel into a comprehensible film. The movie is also expected to stress the environmental/ecological subtexts of the book. Maybe I should take the persistent advice of friends who cherish Dune and just read it before the movie comes out. I don't think I've ever actually finished any science-fiction novels I've started, though. Except this one. But that probably doesn't count.