New 'Dune' Movie Has A Director And Jodorowsky's Vision

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A ship from Alejandro Jodorowsky's 'Dune' from 'Jodorowsky's Dune.' Sony Pictures Classics

Legendary Entertainment bought the film and TV rights to Dune last November and moved fast, confirming Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario, Enemy) would direct the upcoming adaptation. This will be the third retelling of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune, after David Lynch’s in 1984 and Sci-Fi Channel’s 2000 three-episode miniseries (and a cult classic board game that would make a really fantastic gift). But it’s the Dune adaptation that failed, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s (El Topo, The Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre) 1974 moonshot, that — thanks to a documentary — looms most over Denis Villeneuve’s attempt at the material.

Dune’s about the planet Arrakis — which has all the super awesome space drugs — and what happens when the Emperor uses Arrakis as the bait in a plot to secure his power over House Atreides. It’s got political back-stabbing by soldier-fanatics, giant sand worms and desert mystics.

And all that madness will be directed by Villeneuve, whose great strength is bringing restraint and a flavor of realism to genres and big budgets not used to either. Most recently, in Arrival, he obscured his aliens in a thick fog. Dune cannot be obscured in a thick fog. Villeneuve will adapt to the more psychedelic Dune; the first trailer teaser trailer for Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is enough evidence that, at least stylistically, Villeneuve can work in different sci-fi modes. But were there a parallel reality, one where Jodorowsky’s Dune didn’t lock that name and that book title together in so many minds, Villeneuve would make a less weird Dune.

2013’s Jodorowsky’s Dune revealed a colorful, psychedelic, hugely ambitious attempt at adapting Dune, stuffing it with giant tongue landing strips, tiger shark spacecraft and H.R. Giger architecture. All that and Orson Welles. And Dal í as the mad space emperor. And Mick Jagger for some reason. That it never made it past pre-production makes this Dune so much more powerful in the imagination than any other adaptation. “I wanted to make something sacred… to change the young minds of all the world,” Jodorowsky says in the trailer.

No one expects Villeneuve’s adaptation to be anything like that, though we may wish it. But it’s a vision so immense and so influential (even if the doc plays up its centrality in 70s sci-fi cinema) that there’s no way Denis Villeneuve won’t be grappling with it and probing for a view of his own; one that can compete with the expansive imagination of Jodorowsky’s and whatever madness it stirs in our own hopes for a new Dune.

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