Katzenfabrik and I recently watched the 1984 film version of Dune, and attempted to follow this up with watching the 2000 miniseries. Neither of them is an entirely satisfying attempt at putting the book onto the screen, and we spent a lot of time discussing what our ideal Dune film would look like.
Dune, the book, is a giant in the science fiction canon. It's one of the books traditionally recommended by aficionados to introduce others to the genre. Though much shorter, it's arguably science fiction's Lord of the Rings - a masterful exercise in world building.
Now that the success of the Lord of the Rings films has shown it's possible to do well with a giant trilogy of films, one can imagine some kind of giant high-budget version of Dune. But what would it look like? What changes would it have to make to the source material? Who would be cast in it?
The David Lynch version is a very mixed bag - a lot of the visuals are stunning, and have firmly defined what certain aspects of the universe, such as sandworms, look like. On the other hand, there are some regrettable Lynch-isms such as the antidote scene with the taped-together cat and rat, or the heart-plug thing - or frankly most things associated with the Harkonnens.
The film also dumbs down some aspects of the story. Especially egregious is replacing with "sound modules" the more subtle idea that the Atreides pose a threat due to their popularity and martial training. To me, this runs counter to the way the setting works - it's people who you have to watch out for, not machines. Even with this dumbing-down, Lynch thought it necessary to include a spoken prologue and a lot of the characters' thoughts, doing a lot of damage to the pacing.
The casting, too, is of widely varied quality. I like Jürgen Prochnow as Leto Atreides, and Max von Sydow as Kynes. Sting is surprisingly good as Feyd-Rautha, and is clearly having the most fun in the film. Patrick Stewart as Gurney Halleck is a very odd choice. He does a fine job, but looks out of place. Paul and Lady Jessica are fairly forgettable, and a lot of the others run the gamut from wooden to hammy.
A few days after watching the Lynch version, we decided to give the miniseries a try. We didn't last very long. Perhaps it becomes better over time, but the first half-hour was no better than the film in any way, and a lot worse in many: The minimalism of the sets, no doubt stemming from a relatively small budget, is completely at odds with the feudal setting. And the characters are dreadful. Paul acts like a surly American teenager - which is perhaps meant to let audiences identify with him, but just put my teeth on edge. Leto is played by a plank of wood. Jessica doesn't as much act as just stand there and say the words of the script. The CGI would have looked dated at the time and now looks like something any first-year student could whip up in their spare time. On the whole, for a story where a lot of the draw is in the world, it all looks disappointingly generic.
What would an ideal film version of Dune look like? I'm not sure in detail, but I have some ideas:
Split the story into two films. The first part starts out with something interesting: Paul sparring on Caladan. Right away, we see that this is the future, they have energy shields that mean they fight with swords, and they have some sort of feudal system. As we follow the preparations for the departure to Arrakis, the situation can be revealed quite naturally. The first film tells the story until the sacking of Arrakeen - a low point, but with some hope left over. The second film could start with Paul dueling the Fremen - a nice echo of the first - and would obviously conclude with the retaking of Arrakeen and the ascension of Paul.
As for the casting, that's rather more difficult. The Atreides family are described as Hawk-like and of Greek heritage, which gives me quite a vivid picture, but no concrete idea for who would play them in this ideal interpretation.
The two castings Katzenfabrik and I readily agreed on were Judy Dench as Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, and Jessica Chastain as Lady Jessica. The former because of her formidableness and willingness to play genre roles, the latter because we simply both agreed that she looked the part.
The Harkonnens are also an interesting conundrum. In the Lynch version, they're profoundly disgusting halfwits, which does not quite make sense given their clear competence and ability to make plots. Still, the source material doesn't give us too much leeway - they're clearly loathsome, and the Baron is clearly sadistic and fat - though Feyd-Rautha is only the former. There needs to be some family resemblance connecting the fat, scheming baron with Feyd-Rautha the dangerous fighter and Rabban the tyrant. My solution would be to recast the Baron as looking something like Henry VIII in his later years - once quite handsome and athletic, now gone to fat, and dangerous.
Of course, there was a recent attempt to make a big Dune movie, but that appears to have floundered - and perhaps it's more fun to think about what the book looks like in our heads anyway. What are your thoughts? Who stars in your perfect version of Dune? Which bits of the plot are trimmed or rearranged? What does everything look like?