May 2024
Alan Dean Foster

Dune Too

Contrary to what some think, Frank Herbert wrote a good deal more than Dune and its sequels: The Dragon in the Sea (not about dragons), The Dosadi Experiement, The Santaroga Barrier, and more. He did a lot of research for his stories, as anyone who has read (or, by this time, seen) Dune knows. He also wrote some very fine short fiction, but he is mostly remembered for his novels.

We attended the same dinner once. He sat across the table from me, separated by our editors, and we managed to chat occasionally. What I remember most about the dinner is that the waitress kept trying to take away everyone’s food before they were finished. Especially the desserts, which, as anyone who's attended a banquet dinner knows, is often the best (okay, only) edible part of the meal.

Frank was no more irascible than anyone else, defending his dessert with all the vigor of a fremen protecting his sietch (Dune references there). My wife, who had labored hard in the same thankless table-waiting profession, was about ready to go to war on behalf of the beleaguered waitress. Fortunately the woman found other tables that needed bussing, and peace prevailed in our little literary circle.

Years later I was at a World SF convention when a voice rang out nearby, calling my name. Turning, I saw an older gentleman I did not recognize making his way through the crowd toward me. It was only when he drew near and I saw the nametag he was wearing did I realize it was Frank. But it was a Frank transformed, and not by the Water of Life but by the Blade of Gillette. For decades Frank had fostered a huge white beard that made him look like Santa Claus’ younger brother.

“What do you think, Alan?” He didn’t have to explain the source of the “what.” I just stared. It was undeniably Frank. He was grinning hugely.

“Big change,” was all I could think to say.

He leaned in and lowered his voice ever so slightly. “This is great! I’ve been walking around all morning and people I’ve known for 20 years don’t recognize me!”

His attitude and expression was that of a mischievous elf suddenly dropped into a Shriner’s convention: all grins and chuckles. Instant anonymity had granted him the time of his life. Later I met his much younger second wife, with whom he was able to spend some years before he passed on. What would Frank have made of Denis Villeneuve’s two-part film adaption of Dune? No one can say for sure, but people can speculate, and many have. Certainly Villeneuve loved the book or he would not have taken on the herculean (and financially risky) task of adapting it for the cinema. Simply getting it made, much less as a two-part epic, is triumph enough. The films are beautiful, exciting, true to the spirit of the story, and place you in a highly believable human-settled galaxy 20,000 years in the future. Those who have read the book have issues with the changes. So do I, but I also understand and sympathize with (most) of the reasons behind them.

Every time a well known and widely loved tale is adapted for the screen, there are inevitably changes made, for reasons of time, budget, and storytelling. The Bible has been “filmed” many times. On each occasion decisions had to be made on what to include, what to leave out, which storylines had to be shortened, and for that matter, which version to adapt. A film is not a book. Book authors have unlimited length, unlimited budgets, and control every aspect of the story (bar editorial interference). Filmmakers operate under much greater restrictions. I believe that most filmgoers loved Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but to this day many of those who read the books decry the absence of Tom Bombadil and the many characters who interacted with him.

Unless you have a government behind you and can do something like Sergei Bondarchuk’s seven-hour version of War and Peace, or crazy control, as Erich von Stroheim had when he shot the original nine-hour version of Greed (which some of the twelve people who saw the full cut called the greatest film ever made, at least up to that time), you are compelled, even if it goes against your artistic vision, to make cuts and changes. The alternative is an ongoing miniseries like Apple TV’s current take on Asimov’s Foundation trilogy (often voted the second-most important science-fiction story after Dune) or possibly the current version of The Three-Body Problem. Prior to the current films, Dune had already received the (not bad) miniseries treatment on the SF channel.

Certainly I have my own gripes with Villeneuve’s version. That doesn’t mitigate what he has managed to accomplish in shooting what was for decades considered an unfilmable book (pace David Lynch). It is possible that some of these may be ‘fixed’ in his proposed version of Dune Messiah, the second book (and third film). Or in an ultimate “Director’s Cut” (the studio owns the films, not Villeneuve).

I thoroughly enjoyed Dune, both parts 1 and 2. It stands on its own, apart from the book, as so many cinematic adaptations must do to be successful.

Like it or not, that’s why it’s called the movie business.

Prescott resident Alan Dean Foster is the author of 130 books. Follow him at AlanDeanFoster. com.