After delays and much anticipation, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune was released last week. The film had very good reviews, particularly praising the epic scale and cinematography, and with the next part already given the go-ahead clearly a respectable box office success. There is talk of Dune being the next big franchise, making billions of dollars and becoming a pop-cultural touchstone like Star Wars or the Marvel movies. The next big franchise is almost the Holy Grail of Hollywood and any number have been thrust forward: Maze Runner, Divergent, The Golden Compass, Dark Universe, only to fail to capture the public imagination.
What Is Dune?
Dune is a series of sci-fi novels by Frank Herbert and continued by his son Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson after Frank Herbert’s death. Dune is often cited as the best-selling science-fiction book of all time. There have been various adaptations of these books, most famously David Lynch’s 1984 version of Dune, loved by some, mocked by many and generally considered a failure. Frank Herbert wrote six books and with the first book already split into two films, there is potential for a lot more movies.
Denis Villeneuve and Franchises
This version of Dune was directed by Denis Villeneuve who is one of the best filmmakers working today. My first experience of his work was Sicario which is quite simply one of the best thrillers ever made. A later film, Arrival, is one of the best films ever made; a sci-fi film capable of making you break down in tears by the quiet tragedy of its story. Villeneuve has also been very critical of Marvel films, referring to them as “cut and paste” films for following a formula. Villeneuve doesn’t seem to think all the MCU films are bad but rather the way they are made is not how good films are made. It’s hard to imagine Villeneuve wanting to embark on a sprawling franchise and be some kind of Kevin Feige figure for Dune. The film was made by Legendary Entertainment who are certainly no stranger to making franchises having released Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, the Jurassic World films and more, and would presumably want to maximise profit – but at the same time, they hired Denis Villeneuve.
A Different Kind of Franchise
If we imagine that it is the intention to make Dune into a hugely successful franchise it would be a franchise like no other. Many have noted that Star Wars seemed to take a lot of inspiration from the Dune book series but the tone of the recent film and Star Wars are very different. Dune is a type of sci-fi that we don’t see too often, demanding a lot from the audience, not spoon-feeding them information or “Basil Expositioning” everything. In a major battle in the film, more time is spent on creating spectacular scenes of exploding spaceships than making it look cool. The characters in Dune don’t make quips or have amusing robot sidekicks, they discuss the use of power and who should wield it. It is also a film that has no problem with the oddities of the original work that many other filmmakers would have taken the edges of – such as as the bizarre Baron Harkonnen, a man of huge proportions who also floats around when he feels like it or submerges himself in black tar.
Will a Dune Franchise Work?
I don’t think so. That’s not a comment on the quality of the film or the source material but rather it’s not suited to a franchise. It’s dense, weird and currently helmed by a filmmaker who seems to be opposed to the very idea. There may be several films made but there are three Godfather films but that is not a franchise, it is a story told across numerous films. As a fan of films, I am not looking for more franchises and I am certainly not looking to shackle interesting films to the boulder of franchise expectations. I love Star Wars, I have enjoyed many Marvel films but I am desperate for big-budget films that aren’t franchises, that don’t have to fit into a twenty-two film plotline, that aren’t operating on “phases”, that can be a single film or a couple of films, and that, essentially be the end of it. To go back to The Godfather films – they made three films with one of the most talented directors ever and a superb cast weighed down by Oscars, and even then, one of the three films is not well-regarded. The brilliance of Jaws, Terminator 1 and 2, Alien and Aliens, is marred by the insistence of sequel after sequel that gets worse in quality. Denis Villeneuve also directed Blade Runner:2049, the sequel to the sci-fi classic Blade Runner. Around 35 years passed between those two films and the second being made only when there was a film worth making. Dune does not feel like someone trying to start a franchise but just trying to make the best film they can.