‘Dune’ is one of the most influential and respected science fiction novels in history. After the failed but already cult adaptation of David Lynch from 1984 comes a new version of Denis Villeneuve, but the trail of Frank Herbert’s novel has dotted the length and breadth of film and television history. We bring 11 audiovisual productions to go to if the Arrakis dunes have left you wanting more of arid planets and conspiracies between galactic empires.
‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968)
Released only three years after the publication of Frank Herbert’s novel, its production is not explicitly influenced by the epic original novel, but it does channel the sensation, palpable at the time (and in films to come, such as the wonderful French animated film ‘The Savage Planet’) from which science fiction could be used to go beyond mere stories of space adventures, especially thanks to the psychedelic sensitivity of the time. In this case, the sequence of the spatial door recalls the visions of Paul described in the novel, as well as the contemplation of the human species as the result of an evolution that marks millennia of the life of the cosmos.
‘The Topo’ (1970)
If you’ve seen the splendid documentary ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’, with the detailed story of how Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to set up his own megalomaniac adaptation of the book before the arrival of Lynch, you will know that the Chilean’s imagination and Frank Herbert’s have a lot in common. It is perceived in all the films of his filmography, but perhaps more in the cryptic, esoteric and decadent ‘The Holy Mountain’, and above all, in the buzzed and lysergic western ‘The mole’, with a spiritual kung fu movie plot and that works as an authentic song of love and hate to the desert. Phrases such as “The desert is circular; to find them we will have to travel in a spiral” would not clash in Herbert’s work.
‘Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope’ (1977)
Apparently there are no more opposite conceptions of science fiction than those of ‘Dune’ and ‘Star Wars’: serious, almost without action and solemn one, adventurous, carefree and joyfully lax the other. However, they have many elements in common: they portray a pseudo-feudal society where magic and belief are as important as technology. It is not difficult to find parallels between the Fremen and the Jedi, but above all, the similarities between Arrakis and Tatooine are obvious, two desert planets, with indigenous fauna, flora and inhabitants. One with giant worms, one with Tusken Raiders. Who can do more?
‘Alien, the eighth passenger’
Countless films have been influenced by the aborted project of ‘Dune’ directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. For example, the famous opening shot of ‘Contact’, where the cosmos is traversed from beginning to end, is said to have been conceived by Jodorowssky for the frustrated film, the planning of which Robert Zemeckis had access to. But no film was so impregnated by the seeds of ‘Dune’ as ‘Alien’, where Dan O’Bannon, Moebius or HR Giger, designer of the monster, met again. Many of his ideas for the planet the Nostromo lands on would even be recycled into Prometheus, which reused its designs for the Harkonnen Palace.
David Lynch’s film is a very expensive little disaster if we judge it as an adaptation of Herbert’s novel. But time has given it cult status, and it is no wonder: the power of many of his images (from Baron Harkonnen to the Navigator) it contrasts with producer De Laurentiis’ intention to turn it into a new ‘Star Wars’. The result is an exhilarating monstrosity, much funnier than it is claimed, and with more than a moment of genuine mad feverish imagination.
‘Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’ (1984)
Hayao Miyazaki’s last film before founding Studio Ghibli already has many of the constant themes that would characterize his later films, especially the female role and the environmental message. Released the same year as Lynch’s version of ‘Dune,’ his description of a largely hostile ecosystem, with giant insects and worms and a human species that is governed by ancestral customs, as well as the attempts of a colossal human force to take advantage of the resources of a planet still in a wild state, make it clear that the Japanese creator was a devotee of western classic science fiction.
Of course, not just any giant worm movie has to do with ‘Dune’ … but we’d like to think that ‘Bitelchús’ does. After all, these gargantuan striped annelids are the ones that surround the haunted house where the two protagonist ghosts are condemned to live for eternity. They are the ones who, mute and vigilant, prevent the characters from crossing the immense desert that surrounds them. In other words, it does have something to do with ‘Dune’.
If what you like best about ‘Dune’ is not the galactic intrigues or the oil metaphors but the good giant sandworms, ‘Tremors’ is a splendid monster movie that gives you just what you want. And the results are much better than you imagine: an overwhelming chemistry between Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward is the basis of an adventure of rednecks in the desert facing subterranean creatures they call Graboids. Although the first one is the best, the sequels (coming up right now) keep the type, because we never have enough giant worms.
‘Stargate: SG1’ (1997)
Beyond the suggestive but somewhat simplistic original film by Roland Emmerich, this series of no less than ten seasons explored the original idea of a stargate that communicates Earthlings with space civilizations in a series brimming with adventure and a sense of wonder. From ‘Dune’ it takes, more than concrete plot elements (although the film and part of the series have deserts to bore) the design of alien / future species inspired by exotic and historical races and civilizations of our planet.
‘John Carter’ (2012)
If you think that a piece of pulp fantasy like this does not fit with ‘Dune’ no matter how much desert it brings, it is because you have not fully analyzed the concept of “riding a giant sandworm”, which is not exactly hard-line sci-fi. ‘Dune’ has holdovers from the more popular and adventurous part of the genre, as evidenced by the impact Lawrence of Arabia’s biography had on Herbert, and this magnificent ‘John Carter’ is a good way to prolong that spirit.
‘Blade Runner 2049’ (2017)
Villeneuve says he’s been preparing for ‘Dune’ his whole life, and what is indisputable is that some of his footprint has been seen in previous films of the director. For example, the scenes in a desert Las Vegas from ‘Blade Runner 2049’, where a new blade runner (Ryan Gosling) tracks down an old replicant hunting agent (Harrison Ford). There are no giant worms, but it is clear that the director rehearsed the sandstorm aesthetic that he would bring to fruition in his next film.
You can see it in Netflix and Starz