Media Musing: Dune

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Every true fan of science fiction, whether it’s movies or literature, has heard of the incredible book and story of Dune. Winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the Hugo Award in 1966, it is an understatement to claim Dune changed the dynamic of science fiction as a whole. It was one of first serious science fiction books that received critical praise. Not only did it tell an epic story of heroism and adventure, but it contained a complex universe with political systems and cultures that kept the readers completely immersed. Readers equate the book more to the expansive universe that Tolkien created for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit than other science fiction sagas like Star Wars because of the deeply intricate background stories and lore that author Frank Herbert created.

The story takes place far in the future on the desert planet of Arrakis, otherwise known as DUNE. The future that Frank Herbert describes is void of any robots or computers. After a technological crisis sometime in the past, humans have avoided dealing with computers or any other technology that is intelligent. In this way Dune is far from the beaten path of an A.I. future that the science fiction genre loves to incorporate in its stories like iRobot, Terminator, and Blade Runner.

The planet of Dune contains a special resource called “spice” that allows for people to live longer once ingested. It is the only planet that contains this resource, so it is constantly fought over by political families. In the Dune Universe there are royal families that work under an Emperor. The protagonist, Paul Atreides, is the prince to one of the families that is occupying Dune. Yet, he is not a local. The Arakeen, a race of tribalistic humans, have inhabited Dune for centuries and have their own beautifully constructed culture. Instead of valuing the spice beneath their feet, their most valuable resource is water.

We watch as rebellions, wars, and battles erupt on this politically charged planet, and follow Paul as he is displaced into the desert and grows to become pseudo-messiah for primitive Arakeen population. The book takes readers on a wild ride through romance and death. Giant sand worms that grow to 1,300ft long and 130ft wide burrow under the planets sandy surface and rip ships from the sky. Dune keeps the reader on edge and brings enough action and twists to force long binging sessions.

The whole book serves as a political and environmental allegory for the Middle East and oil, but one would not know unless they were looking for the clues and symbols. The book also takes a special focus in the ecological nature of the planet Dune and why it is a desert void of life. In fact, an important character to the story is an ecologist who wants to restore the planet to having oceans and forests. Man versus nature is a prominent theme Herbert explores. In a way, Herbert was making a prediction about where Earth might be heading if we continue to battle nature and reap oil (spice) rather than live together harmoniously. This duality of being a critical text as well as a great story allows readers to cycle between a blissfully entertaining read and a thought-provoking reflection. Dune is an attention-grabbing story as much as it is an eco-political critique.

The great David Lynch tried to adapt the epic novel into a movie in 1984 with Kyle MacLachlan staring as Paul Atriedes, but fans of the novel agree that his attempt fell incredibly short. There was no way that a director could pack a single movie with all the action, political drama, and romance that the original book contained. That is until recently when veteran science fiction director Denis Villeneuve announced he would be creating a two-part film based on Dune. Villeneuve is one of the hottest science fiction directors in the industry right now with great successes like Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival. He also has the film technology that Lynch lacked in the 80s allowing him the opportunity to create a beautiful and believable adaption of the Sandworm infested Dune planet.

Dune and George Orwell’s 1984 have been Villeneuve’s favorite books since he was 12 years old. When he was offered the rights to direct Dune, he immediately said yes. “That’s going to be the project of my life,” he told Variety. With a skillful and passionate director behind the wheel, Dune is looking to be a master piece.

If Villeneuve’s directing wasn’t enough for you, Eric Roth, writer of Forest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, will be writing the screenplay for Dune. Production for the movie is due to start in 2019 and could be the biggest science fiction franchise to hit the big screen since Star Wars.

Zoe Saladana has already publicly stated that she would love to fill the part of Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother, in the upcoming film. “I was Lady Jessica every other Halloween…” she mentioned at a Guardians of the Galaxy 2 press conference, “…so I would love to be in Dune. And I heard that Denis Villeneuve is thinking about revisiting it, and I hope he decides to do it.” With other science fiction films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Trek under her belt, it would make sense that Zoe Salandana would want to fill the role of one science fiction’s greatest female leads.

The Dune Franchise contains six books by Frank Herbert that explore every facet of the universe he created. After reading the first book, readers are left with a deep curiosity on how the story continues as well as what brought Dune to its current state. The other books satisfy this quenching thirst and offer an incredible saga that, truth be told, is widely underrated. If Villeneuve is attempting to make two movies out of the first book, he is sure to have much more material to work with in the future if the films are a success.

Right now, Dune is available on Amazon as a paperback for less than $10 and is worth every penny. You could read through the first book and start diving into the rest of the series before the movie comes.  Trust me, you’re going to want to be a part of the fan movement with Dune finally gets its second shot at the big screen.