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Taken for a Quantum

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | January 5, 2010 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | January 5, 2010 |

Paramount has announced that it has brought on board Pierre Morel to direct the remake of Dune after Peter Berg dropped out of the director’s chair back in November. Morel directed 2008’s Taken and the John Travolta vehicle From Paris with Love that is slated for a 2010 release. Reportedly, Morel plans to stick close to the original novel and the studio is now bumping around for a writer to re-write the script penned by Josh Zetumer, who also wrote Quantum of Solace.

The early rumors were that two directors were in the running: Neill Blomkamp (District 9) and Neil Marshall (The Descent). The fact that both are out now and that the director/writer combo has little connection to science fiction and a lot of background in action films is fairly concerning for anyone who is a fan of the novel. This isn’t Sting in steel underwear bad, or Robert Pattinson playing Paul bad, but it’s definitely not encouraging, especially in combination with the fact that Kevin Anderson and Brian Herbert are listed as technical advisors. I guess it’s inevitable that Brian Herbert is connected since he controls the property rights, but there should be some sort of agency of art protective services that takes intellectual property away from abusive or negligent heirs. Frank Herbert’s enemies could not have devised a more devious and heinous revenge than the crayon his own son has scribbled all over the legacy of Dune. Potential authors: burn your notes lest less talented offspring go rummaging through your attic.

David Lynch’s take was a financial flop and generally loathed by fans of the book while being incomprehensible to those who hadn’t read it. The SciFi Channel put together a miniseries that held truer to the source material and was one of the network’s highest rated broadcasts, making enough buck to launch a second miniseries based off of Children of Dune. But while it was closer to the mark, the miniseries didn’t quite nail the heart of the book.

There is some question as to whether Dune is even filmable if really faithful to the novel, the same sort of argument that used to be made about The Lord of the Rings. The root of the unfilmability is different in the case of Dune though. The Lord of the Rings was long thought unfilmable chiefly because the visual spectacle was impossible to render until the advent of modern CGI, but whether you cared for Peter Jackson’s trilogy or not, it’s hard to argue that its faults derive from some incapacity to visually transform the words into film. Dune on the other hand is certainly filmable at face value. The great sandworms and assortment of science fiction trappings are certainly within the demonstrated abilities of the CGI artists.

But the deep beauty of the novel is in the nuances that are the first casualty of 120 minute run times and test audiences. While Paramount might claim that they are aiming to be true to the book’s ecological message, which they believe has special importance today, are they really willing to faithfully transcribe from the novel? Paul does not go into the desert and fall in love with its stark beauty and native people in a montage and then return to defend their way of life against the big bad empire. He uses the Fremen as a weapon and uses the knowledge of the planet’s ecology to devise a way to destroy it, the ultimate threat to use as leverage against the empire, to put himself on the throne. Dune is not a science fiction epic in which the good guys beat the impossible odds at the end and ride off into the sunset, it is a meditation on the nature of power and heroes. It forces a reckoning, Paul is indisputably a hero, but is the universe really a better place in the wake of his jihad and its billions of dead across hundreds of worlds?

Ron Moore. $100 million. Twenty hours. That’s the sort of arrangement it would take to make Dune work on screen. The guy who did Taken gets two hours and the script’s already being rewritten? I’ll just reread my dogeared paperback.

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.