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As the saying goes, the spice must flow, and apparently, it has to flow to movie theaters.
It turns out that Frank Herbert’s Dune is once again being developed for screens big and small, with Legendary picking up both TV and movie rights for the beloved sci-fi novel series — a move that suggests the studio might finally have a handle on how to translate the property outside of prose.
On paper, Dune seems like a slam dunk for adaptation — a sprawling science fiction adventure epic that mixes ecological themes with an End of Empire narrative for maximum contemporary buzz. It can look, from certain angles, like a mix between Star Wars, The Hunger Games and Lord of the Rings, and everyone knows how well each of those three franchises performed at the box office. Why would any movie executive resist?
An answer to that question might lie in previous attempts to turn Dune into a movie; Paramount tried for a number of years to bring the property to the screen with no success, despite the efforts of talent including Peter Berg and Taken‘s Pierre Morel. Similarly, there was an entire documentary about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempts to make a Dune movie, and the one big-screen version that was completed — 1984’s Dune, directed by David Lynch — can be best described as “brave,” a euphemism rarely used to describe successful projects.
The problem is that Dune is far too large to fit into a movie. Ignoring the fact that Herbert himself wrote an additional five sequels, with his son Brian co-writing more than 10 other novels based on the property with author Kevin J. Anderson, just the first Dune novel alone is more than 500 pages of dense writing that struggles to be parsed into a movie of any reasonable running time, especially considering the many new concepts that require introduction in the process.
This is where the idea that Legendary picking up both TV and movie rights becomes interesting — because what if Dune is approached not as one single narrative, but a shared universe setting, with threads, characters or plotlines to be plucked out of their original prose settings and placed in new stories onscreen, a la Marvel’s Cinematic Universe?
Instead of one movie, or even movie series, bearing the weight of the 20-or-so Dune novels, the books become source material for new stories in the way that comic books feed Marvel’s, Warner Bros’ and Fox’s superhero adventures — creating a structure so that as in each of those cases, multiple stories can unfold simultaneously in different movie and television series. Purists may call foul, but they did the same when comic books went from being canon to inspiration for Iron Man, Captain America et al., and things worked out well for everyone in the end.
There’s no evidence to suggest that Legendary’s Dune plans extend beyond straight adaptations of the Herbert works — but the idea that both film and television are in play, combined with the decades-long sweep of the novel series as it currently stands, suggests that, should the studio want it, the material for a ready-made Star Wars competitor is right there for the taking.
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