I've read elsewhere on the Internet that Dune the novel actually is an inspiration for the Star Wars universe, even if the Star Wars cinematography predates and must influence (even if through intentional avoidance of such appearance) Lynch's treatment of Dune...
[edit: fixed typo of Dune, not Doom]
Have you seen the documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune"? If you're a Dune fan, or a fan of 70's and 80's era sci-fi films, I highly recommend it. What I found most interesting about that documentary is how the director created this amazing team to work on his Dune project, which eventually failed, but ended up influencing the style/art of so many subsequent Sci-fi films because that team dispersed and they worked on so many prominent films.
This film that never got made is the stuff of nightmares for project managers and money people, but damn, Jodorowsky's contagious inspiration was (and still is) off the charts. We need more Jodorowsky's in the world.
Where I like the SF version was the followup, Children of Dune. That I enjoyed, I didn't care for Leto's transformation makeup but marked it off as budget.
Thanks for response :)
I find it hard to praise as a lot of what gets passed off as Jodorowsky's 'work' is actually Moebius's work and as a big Moebius fan its disheartening to see the narrative downplay his achievements here to create this 'mad genius' Jodorowsky character. Yes it makes for good entertainment, but its not really fact and the documentary is very wary about giving credit where credit is due. Worse, the ending that showed future art as being derivative of this production was completely disingenuous. That art shown was already the established style of the people involved. Jodorowsky and his crazy Dune ideas didn't inspire Moebius, Giger, O'Bannon and others, they simply took their talents elsewhere. Of course the drawings and set ideas look alike, these people were already established artists at this point in their careers with established styles.
We also have to remember that this was before Star Wars and Alien. Most scifi at the time was, with some honourable exceptions (2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running, The Andromeda Strain, Solaris), pretty silly, childish, often campy stuff: The Black Hole, Buck Rogers, Moonraker. Pulp origins aside, Star Wars introduces a level of violence, maturity and realism to the genre that stood out at the time, and closer to that of contemporary adult 1970s productions like Apocalypse Now, Easy Rider and so on.
For all the considerable talent involved in the Dune adaptation, it's quite possible — and this eases the pain over the loss of the project a bit — that it would have been closer in tone to something like Zardoz or Flash Gordon, i.e. a big, colourful, but ultimately also a bit silly extravaganza. Even O'Bannon's Alien script was also pretty pulpy and silly until Ridley Scott, David Giler and Walter Hill hammered it into shape.
If it really _were_ made however, yeah, it could _only_ have be a disappointment in comparison to what the documentary about it suggests.
Jodorowsky's version of Dune is perhaps the greatest film that was never made and, ironically, it is better this way.
He spent an entire summer filming the Strugatskys' original screenplay, based on their masterpiece Roadside Picnic. But he was using a type of American Kodak film stock that was found to be out of date; he tried several times to confirm the problem with the Soviet processing lab, but they were unfamiliar with the stock, and only by the time he was done shooting did they realize that the footage was in fact unusable.
At this point Tarkovsky had used too much money, and had no choice but to go back to the Soviet film board to negotiate a new financing deal. At the same time, he was deeply unhappy with what he'd filmed so far (he had also fired his cinematographer), and was desperate to start over fresh. Helped by the Strugatskys, he developed a new, miminalistic framework for the film that eliminated most of the scifi trappings of the novel, and he reshot the film almost without a script. (The whole story of Stalker is much more complicated, of course. I recommend the book "The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue", by Johnson and Petrie, for more information.)
I don't know what happened to the damaged footage, but I guess it must have been destroyed. We'll never know what it was like. I don't think anyone except a handful of people have seen the footage, and they are all dead.
To my taste, self-acknowledged silly extravaganza is always better than something silly, made with the intent of being serious.
It would take at least a Hobbit level of production and length of time. I don't ever see that happening. The book is just to large. It would be like movies for Asimov's Foundation Series. (Though the Caves of Steel would be awesome!!!)
I really hate the miniseries.
Same here. A good case for why a more a faithful adaptation doesn't make for a better product. You believe in the world Lynch creates. The miniseries, by contrast, is so fake looking and fake feeling that you can't suspend disbelief.
(I do think the second half of the movie and the battle scenes kinda dragged, though.)
Caladan is supposed to be a verdant world full of water, it looks like it's dark small and rainy in the movie.
Besides Star Wars and Blade Runner I can't think of another SF movie that has as much impact on me.
What finally won me over was the realization that Lynch's movie in no way devalued the books. Sure, it left out a lot... but it more than made up for it by giving me some visual glimpses of what a Dune universe might be like, how live-action representations of these characters might behave. The aggressive weirdness helped give it that otherworldly feel that I felt when reading the books. I would never recommended it as a substitute to reading it... but as a companion work, it's excellent.
I hope the scuttlebutt about a new Dune movie is true. The more the merrier!
The SciFi series was better, IMO. I would love to see McAvoy reprise his role as Leto for a "God Emporer" production.
This unexplainedness by the way also keeps the mind engaged without dropping into the game of trying to mentally map out every little detail as a plot explanation mechanism. This mode of watching besets me when I see a movie that caters to the "everything has to be explained" crowd, but it should be exclusive to the murder mystery genre. Attempts to transplant that into other types of movies tend to either be painfully obvious or pointlessly complicated, to avoid the former. And somehow, they often manage to be both at once. I want immersion, not a CGI-clad sudoku.
Thank you for that expression.
I also watched the movie before... actually I still haven't read the books. I guess they must be superb and that's why readers are spoiled and dislike the movie.
The scene with the emperor and the navigator is best thing I've ever seen in sci-fi, both visually and for meaning.
That might be kinda cool too...
Dune had a lot of water. It wasn't circulating in a normal precipitation model but was instead sequestered underground via a few different means. And that doesn't even mention the sand-trout.
In later books only portions of the surface of Arrakis are given to the worms and the spice.
"What is in the box?"
IMHO it all goes wrong after Paul and his mom escape the betrayal and attack. The movie gets so bogged down with turning Paul into a Freman god that it goes completely off of the rails.
A greater inspiration is the comic series Valerian and Laureline . Lucas pumped not just the characters and spaceships (yes, the Millenium Falcon comes from there) but also the atmosphere of Far West casual fun adventure and creativity bordering on the fantasy.
I look forward to reading articles about how Valerian copied Star Wars when the movie comes out .
Note the years the series was written and do not read the last few if you are not used to the way authors of that era dared to wrap up their stories.
Probably more of a common influence on both by the Lensman series, I'd guess.
[EDIT] I'd add that a bigger cinematic influence on Lynch's dune was probably Lawrence of Arabia, which is fitting since if you've read Seven Pillars of Wisdom it's hard to believe it wasn't sitting at the top of a pile of books on Herbert's desk while he was writing Dune.
There are detailed run downs of the differences between the TV version and the theatrical version (which apparently is called the extended edition) . A point brought up in that article which I agree with is that while the TV version is longer, the pan-and-scan removes much of Lynch's vision of the movie. IMDB walks through many of the known versions .
I've since read the book and I can see why fans hate it. It doesn't measure up to the book. But no movie could have /would have been good enough. The book is so grand it would have taken hours and hours to do it justice.
Over the years I've seen it a number of times and like it even more. But don't try to measure against the book. It will always fall short.
Dune could have been a proper masterpiece if the producers let Lynch geek out with a 3 hour cut. Instead we have the first half of a very gorgeous and interesting movie with a wonderful slow-burn leading up to something then... a sudden "Oh god, we have so much story to finish," second half that feels entirely too rushed for its own good. The non-canonical ending could have been workable with enough exposition and justification, but as-is completely comes out of nowhere and caps the mediocre 2nd half with a nonsense ending few walked away from happy.
There are alot of influences for Star Wars, but the biggest is probably all cinematic: Kurosawa's movies, WWII fighter movies, and some episodic action serials. I won't say that Sci-Fi books weren't an influence, as I'm sure there were people who read Dune working on Star Wars, but they weren't a huge influence for Lucas.
A lot of the criticism misses the mark. I can try and find alternative explanations. The "outdated" computers? The Butlerian Jihad caused that future world not to build anything more complicated than a light switch. The unique worlds, monochromatic and with their odd uniqueness? Visible signalling of these being different cultures that survived by virtue of their unique characteristics. Unlike the "bugs vs Marines" of a lot of space opera, the Tleilaxu, Guild, Bene Gesserit and Harkonnen are all fundamentally different, their differences giving them a survival edge, influence and power. Black desert suits? Maybe the filters need solar energy to run. Erotic Bene Gesserit intonation? Have you read the later books?
This was the only depiction of Baron Harkonnen which I thought truly captured his sadistic genius. And the blocky shields are so much cooler than the form fitting transparent bubbles of later Hollywood SF (e.g. Star Wars), also explaining the difficulty involved in going slow for so long when trying to penetrate them (because the space between shield and human is so great). Or what about the worms, which despite (or perhaps because of) the sorry state of 1984 CGI somehow were just as immense as I had imagined them reading the words. There was this alien feel to all the vehicles, especially the ornithopters and the harvester carrier, which has only been recently replicated in the seemingly nonsensical vertical ovals of Arrival or the glaring contrast between earth and ship in District 9. This was definitely the artistic generation responsible for Brutalist architecture, which is not always fun to live in, but has a thousand times more soul than the International Style condos copy/pasted across all of the world's megacities today.
Lynch's movie was glorious precisely because it freed itself from the constraint of present day science and became a standalone creation from the inspiration of the source material. The other interpretations did not create that sense of awe. I found the miniseries particularly boring, a kind of BBC period drama feel instead of being transported into a completely new, intense world. What makes Dune great as a book and as a 1984 movie is precisely that it frees itself from "realism" and suspends disbelief in just the right way for telling a great story. Might as well complain about X-wings flying like F-14s and making sound in vacuum...
It's not a terrible film. Not by a long way.
It's a difficult film. It's risky. It's not entirely successful.
But terrible? Wisecracking CGI Superheroes Episode Number Actually I've Lost Count Now is a terrible film. (One of a long, long series.)
Men With Guns and So Very Much Shooting is a terrible film.
Too Many Explosions Looking for a Plot That Isn't All About Running and Shouting is a terrible film.
Dune was one of many drug-assisted weird things that fell out of the 1970s and never quite left. It's not a terrible film - it's a museum piece.
Minor point - whilst Lynch's work certainly frequently looks like it was drug-assisted, Lynch is actually not at all a fan of drugs as a creativity aid:
He just has a remarkable vision and ability with the weird.
That's a really low bar. A better comparison would be the three-part Dune miniseries that came out in 2000, one in which Lynch's version doesn't fare very well.
For example, watch the harvester-eaten-by-worm scene  . Which of the two has stood the test of time? I could watch the 1984 version over and over again. Everything about the 2000 version - even the timing of each shot - is uninspired and dated, almost like a Westwood Command and Conquer in-game video. Watch how much more engaging the storytelling is in 1984 in this essentially dialogue-free chapter.
Lynch's version, for all its flaws, is still watchable.
The Lynch movie has, like most Lynch works, a strange atmosphere that in this case helps highlight the changes that Paul is going through as his consciousness expands.
That said the children of dune miniseries fares much better, but maybe because there isn't anything to compare it to.
The book heavily references the middle east, and oil dependecy.
The movie has zero, or at the least, very little visual symbolism. Especially if compared to Lynch's other work.
Drug assisted is the last thing I'd say about either the book, or movie.
I dunno about the movie, but I have heard sometimes that Herbert was quite fond of helping the creative process by those means.
For anyone who has seen Arrival, Sicario, or his other movies, I wonder if you're on the same hype level as me. He's absolutely excellent. He also seems to loves sci-fi, which can't hurt.
On the other hand, why reboot Dune yet again? Nobody has given Asimov's Foundation a try!
In reality I have little confidence in either Hollywood to pull that off, nor the stories to carry movies. Personally I think both Bicentennial Man and I, Robot were both quite accurate, loving adaptations of his work (almost everyone seems to miss that I, Robot was a pitch-perfect Zeroth Law story and fits in quite well to at least the tone, if not the literal timeline), and what they showed is, yeah, don't try to adapt Asimov to the screen. There is an immense wealth of other great science fiction from that era that would do better in adaptation.
It's also an awful, awful movie. (also see: the obnoxious product placement, with Will Smith selling you sneakers at a random point in the movie).
Again, as everyone seems to miss, it is a pitch-perfect Zeroth Law story, and to my mind fits in squarely into his Robot stories about the perils and limitations of the entire idea of the Three Laws. It is definitely an alternate timeline from the other ones, but that's not hard to believe. I find myself wondering if everybody read the same Asimov as I did. Or have only I read the later Asimov stories? If it was so accurate by accident, then they did a good job being so accidentally accurate.
Yes, Susan Calvin is wrong, but by adaptation standards that's nothing, and Asimov's characterizations were always paper-thin anyhow. I guess I find it less horrifying that Susan Calvin is wrong than some fans because "old, ugly, cerebral, and misanthropic" is pretty much her entire character. It's not like she's some fully-fleshed out character masterpiece with a multi-story arc, reasons for her characteristics, relationships with other characters in the universe, stories of her own, foibles and weaknesses to match her quirks and strengths... she just... likes robots, hates people. Asimov doesn't do characters.
I really feel like for both movies I mentioned, that's it. That's what an Asimov adaptation is going to look like. Those are the best you can possibly hope for. To the extent you still don't like them, a perfectly viable opinion as I do not deny my tastes can be a bit quirky even by HN standards (I like both the Tron movies and Star Trek: The Motion Picture too), then I would therefore not suggest agitating for Hollywood to dip into Asimov's works any more, because it's not going to get any better than that.
100% agree. It also mostly follows the Three Laws, with one egregious failure (but it was a set up so he could snipe the robots using uzis after jumping the motorcycle so.....?)
It actually makes a good example of the sort dangers of AI that people like Eliezer Yudkowsky like to point out.
I would agree with you that by adaptation standards, it's in-tone with the bulk of the Asimov robot novels, although there are some definite parts where the Hollywood breaks out of the basement.
Yes... I'm not saying it was a great movie or anything. I'm just saying A: it was a Zeroth-Law story and B: It is probably about all we can hope for from an Asimov adaptation from Hollywood.
The inference you can draw from the combination of "it was not a great movie" and "it is about all we can hope for from an Asimov adaptation" is fully intentional.
I must have read everything by Asimov and it doesn't match the tone of any of his stories, and also it's a terrible movie with generic action and obnoxious product placement. It's really an indefensible piece of trash.
So in your view they replaced an allegedly paper-thin (but pretty unique by SF standards) characterization of Susan Calvin as "old, ugly, cerebral, misanthropic" with the far thinner and less unique "young, pretty and in distress" and that's somehow a good thing? It would have been acceptable if they adapted the character into young, perky and interesting, but they did "damsel in distress" instead. The anti-Susan Calvin.
That's not an accurate characterization of what I said, which you can see if you read what I actually wrote instead of what you expected me to write. If you wish to carry on debating with the things you expect me to say rather than what I'm actually saying, I don't see how you need me to help you with that.
I guess I disagree this is unimportant. Susan Calvin was a pretty cool and unique character when I read the stories. A woman of cold logic who out-thinks men instead of being a piece of decoration? Cool! Instead, they butchered her in the movie, along with inserting Will Smith's character which doesn't match with anything in Asimov's robot stories -- not even with characters such as Mike Donovan and Greg Powell -- and is completely out of tone with everything Asimov wrote.
Also, buy my vintage all-star converse sneakers, and drive my powerful futuristic Audi. Yuck!
I, Robot is not an Asimov adaptation. It's, being somewhat generous, something that has some thematic fit with some of his works, and assumes a couple character an organization names from some other of his works.
It also suffers from trying to layer that and its original mystery-story origins with a big-budget star-driven action movie, losing focus badly.
Bicentennial Man is closer to some of his stories though I feel like it got a bit of the sappy Hollywood treatment in some places. The sort of mashup between AI robots and the Ship of Theseus paradox is definitely closer to his writing.
They are old stories, warrior epics, with modern fantasy furnishings.
I think the real hatred for the movie comes from not just cutting down the original material to fit within a film, but then needlessly adding new material that wasn't at all in keeping with the book, so it loses "trueness" from both ends. There's also some unevenness in the pacing and gravity the movie tries to get across. Dune is by no means an action story, but the movie can be a bit plodding at points that don't call for it, and faster paced parts sometimes don't work or come off poorly or cheesy.
I think also there's an unnecessary attempt at adding mystery to a story that didn't really have or need it. The book explains many of the strange parts of the universe quite well, but the movie has characters uttering odd phrases and strange events happening without comment or description -- reading the book fills in most of this strangeness, but it shouldn't be necessary as the film should stand on its own.
Still, the new cuts of the film are good watches and make for an entry into a nice thoughtful sci-fi weekend that might include movies like Bladerunner.
One caption reads:
> This looks like a future computer, I’m pretty sure.
Obviously suggesting it's not science-fictioney enough, but there are no computers in Dune - everything doing data storage and retrieval in that universe is understood to be a very complicated mechanical machine.
Dune is more steampunk than laser beams, and Lynch brilliantly captured that aesthetic.
2. My take on the caption is that the set piece just looks weird. Both in a world that doesn't have electronic computers and just in general as it doesn't seem to have much purpose except to look "cool" in a 1980s kind of way.
3. The article was mostly supportive of the rest of Lynch's set pieces and design and one of the biggest complaints was that the lighting was so dark that you can't actually see any of this cool stuff.
But if you are determined to fit it into a single movie, it should be possible. Here's the outline I came up with:
ACT 1 (30 min)
Start in Arrakeen, with the Atreides already in charge. Leto is the kind master, Paul his formidable young son. Their rivals are the Harkonnen, a nasty bunch (they abuse servants). Introduce Arrakis as the source of the Spice, possibly as part of Jessica's training of Paul in esoteric disciplines. The Fremen are mentioned, but as a minor impoverished rabble. Meanwhile, the Emperor, the Space Guild, and the Harkonnen meet and agree to replace the Atreides, together to maintain control of the Spice. The Harkonnen attack, Leto dies, and Paul and his mother flee to the desert. End with Paul looking back and vowing revenge.
ACT 2 (30 min)
Paul and Jessica encounter the Fremen, and are taken in by them. Paul tests himself against young Fremen fighters and is impressed; they are very good, but he is better. He accompanies them on a raid against the Harkonnen, and is again impressed. He joins the Fremen, and becomes a worm-rider. He learns the true size of the Fremen from seeing one of their secret meetings. At Jessica's urgings, he decides to lead the Fremen against the Harkonnen. Meanwhile, the Harkonnen are making a cruel mess of Arrakis.
ACT 3 (30 min)
Paul campaigns to become the Fremen war-leader; this is shown as a montage of public speaking to increasingly large gatherings and knife fighting. Harkonnen cruelties continue; the Emperor announces plans for a visit. Jessica speaks of the Voice from the Outer World prophesy. Paul, Jessica and Stilgar begin training the troops, incorporating her and Paul's esoteric training. They wait for a sandstorm, and attack in force with wormriders. Fight scenes between Fremen and Hakonnen. The fight goes to the Fremen. The Emperor flees in a ship. Paul addresses the crowds of Arrakeen from a balcony proclaiming a new day of Arrakis, with the natives in charge.
I think that could work. But some stuff did get left out: the spice as a mutagen, the nature of the Bene Gesserit and their goals, the Kwisatz Haderach, Paul's Harkonnen heritage, Paul's duel with Feyd-Rautha, and everything about Liet-Kynes.
The problem with Lynch's Dune is that it seems not to have been planned properly (at all?); i can only assume they started shooting with what they thought was a half-finished script which turned out to be a 1/10 finished script.
This lines up with everything else David Lynch has done (e.g. Twin Peaks loses the plot 3/4 of the way through the first season and never recovers, Mark Frost -- his co-creator -- has said in interviews they had no plan as to how the story was going to resolve and that certainly gels with my viewing of the show and my reaction to rabid fan explanations of how it all makes sense and Fire Walk With Me is a work of genius).
Dune starts out at a deliberate pace, covering stuff in the first 100 pages or so quite nicely. I love the look and design of everything, and the first fight with shield effects was awesome for the time. But then most of the running time and budget are gone and whoops, need to cram in the rest. Because the shield effect was too expensive they introduce the "weirding way" b.s. to eliminate the need for all that fancy knife-fighting, shields, etc.
So the last 45 minutes is just a montage of silliness.
I am not sure if Lynch draws his inspiration from drugs; I cannot rule it out, but it feels unlikely somehow. (Although it would explain Inland Empire...)
The second part is true, though. ;-)
As for the pacing, I read somewhere that the first version of the movie was about four hours long, but the studio made him cut it down to two-ish hours (or maybe they did it for him).
IIRC Clarke wasn't happy with the result. The film would probably not have been as good without his help, however.
(Personally, I think Kubrick's movie is a masterpiece and far superior to Clarke's first book, which is an ok but entirely forgettable and minor work of SF).
Lynch is very circumspect when talking about him (at least in the Lynch on Lynch book I read), but it's likely Dino had him under massive pressure to make various schlocky compromises.
Despite many of the impressive titles in among De Laurentiis' filmography as a producer, it should be recalled he made over 500 films and was very (even purely) commercial in outlook. He was definitely also a "hands-on" producer.
I've heard they are doing yet another movie, but they should go for a TV show, game of throne style, not a movie.
I've seen it a couple of times, but I see no reason to do so again. I can just read the books again!
I would say that raw creativity cannot happen in an environment where you have to please everyone all of the time. There's already enough bland stuff like that. Let the weirdos be weirdos.
Rein - the straps used to control a horse.
Lynch needs to be reined in.
As I recall, if there was anything happening in the movie -- which wasn't at all clear to me -- I had no idea what it was.
The Postman rankles especially, since it was a pretty decent book that was butchered badly https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Postman
I'd like to see a Final Blackout movie adaptation...
As far as the title of this article is concerned, I doubt that Lynch is overly concerned with any genre so much as the ineffable, ill-defined language of human dreams and desires.
Anyway, first time I saw Lynch's Dune I didn't really liked it because it was too different from the books. But after some years (and reading the all series from Frank Herbert) I actually started to like the film.
See, for me, Lynch's film, was the best possible one. A lot of Dune is about thoughts, mental plans, counter plans. A mental chess game that goes on the mind of all the main characters and I don't think you can actually put all that on screen (at lest not without extending the film for several hours).
Sure you could have a grander vision of the books with better SciFi and a lot more money, but other than visually for an higher budget, I don't think any director can really do much better than Lynch.
Well, it's my take at least. I might be wrong (and would like to be proven wrong by a new Dune movie that exceeds my expectations) but until I see a movie that does better, I actually vouch for Lynch's Dune.
I tried to love the son's prequels but couldn't and therefore I second your comments. There were many mysteries within mysteries in Frank H's series that weren't present in the followons.
The sequels were ok, I was just happy to have closure.
Hmmm. I don't think you've read the book.
I remember as a teenager eagerly anticipating reading Dune. And was totally disappointed. There's nothing SF about it.
In Dune, the politics are the centerpiece. The scientific background of this, [the ethics of] genetic breeding, the butlerian jihad, [the ecology of] Arrakis, [the sociology of] the Fremen and their customs, all make it true science fiction.
You'll note that I said "political/social/ethical". I'd be willing to look at any hard science fiction books that don't have a social/ethical/political problem at their core. Hell, even Asimov's relatively simple short stories about robots had stunning sociological observations at their core (I'll go with "Victory Unintentional" and "Robbie" as my examples).
Maybe what got him into that situation could be classed as politics and for those most interested in and by politics I'm sure that's what the story is about for them. But for me that's just a lever and the interesting bit is the science. It is after all called science fiction not political fiction.
I just object to the poster's portrayal of all sci-fi as equivalent to something like House of Cards.
The chemistry used by Kirk may not be political, but the show - and that episode in particular - is intensely political! It deals with how we interact with each other and with other societies, and those are always primarily political questions. And had Kirk thrown a rock at the Gorn instead, would the plot be any different?
That said, I don't think all sci-fi is political - only most of it :)
Frank has another quote which I relished: “It was a mistake to speak one's mind at any time, unless it perfectly matched your political purpose; and it never did.”
Science Fiction is speculative literature that generally explores the consequences of ideas which are roughly consistent with nature and scientific method, but are not facts of the author’s contemporary world. The stories often represent philosophical thought experiments presented in entertaining ways. Protagonists typically “think” rather than “shoot” their way out of problems, but the definition is flexible because there are no limits on an author’s imagination.
At its core, SF is putting characters into far psychological extremes and thought experiments.
> The stories often represent philosophical thought experiments presented in entertaining ways
Like acquired omniscience, for instance ? Or the idea of a galatical economy based on travel fuel ?
> Protagonists typically “think” rather than “shoot” their way out of problems,
About half of the story are analytical inner monologues...
> SF is putting characters into far psychological extremes and thought experiments.
Yeah well that's the TL;DR of the Atreides arc...
I love Lynch's Dune adaptation very much though.
Star Wars, for instance, is Fantasy because lightsabers. Star Trek is Sci Fi because phasers. Hobbit- swords. Dune- weirding modules. Highlander- swords. Blade Runner- no swords. Etc etc.
FWIW, I've been in TV and Film and storytelling for the better part of last ten years or so, so I might have another perspective on it. I'm looking at the distinction based on character development. SF stories have character arc driven by internal goals, whereas Fantasy is more the opposite where external motivation is the one driving the development of the inner goal (a proverbial journey, if you will). It's not a clear line when you look at the story structure, but it's definitely clear when you look at the arc and inner vs outer motivation on the character development front.
I've been taught of a certain way of developing stories, so maybe that's my bias. Always develop the character change first and then build the supporting ones and their arcs as well. Then, build a story structure around it (like a separate supporting structure on top of it). Character change IS the story. If character is the same in the beginning and the end, you haven't told a story. The way character changes, not the mechanics, but expression of goals is usually what defines the genre in my opinion. Theme, setting, story structure, and rhythm are flairs which can be genre-specific, but are on top of the 'main story'.
I might've gone maybe too much into it though.
The problem is that Science Fiction is, literally, Fantasy without swords (or sorcery, but my position is that the two basically go together).
Or at least that's what it started as, back in the Golden Age. For instance,
you'll probably know that in that era the editors of Sci Fi pulps would reject
a story if it had magic in it, so writers instead framed magic as "psionics" -
because that made their stories sound more scientifically plausible (for their
So in essence, you could take the exact same story, with the same characters
having the same motivations and advancing down the same goal etc, and simply
change the external trappings, from sword and sorcery to ray guns and
psionics, or vv, and- presto, genre change.
The distinction is entirely artificial, is what I'm saying, and dictated more by the needs of the publishing (or TV, film, etc) industry than what kind of stories a writer wants to write or a reader/viewer enjoy.
That is as true now as it was back then but it's actually a good thing, nowadays, because it
means that you can tell the same stories either as Fantasy or as SF and all
that matters is really how good the story is. Hero's journey with aliens and
spaceships, for Star Wars, gritty realism with swords and dragons for The Game of Thrones.
And why not?
The best Fantasy and SF is very often found in the boundary between the two
genres. The flimsier the boundary, the easier for the two genres to
intermingle to the delight of all of us who enjoy a good story, regardless of
Btw, I should say that most of my interest in (and knowledge of) Fantasy and
SF comes from novels, rather than TV shows and films. I appreciate that TV
shows, in particular, have been able to tell more engaging stories in recent
times (eg. I'm totally a BSG fangirl) but still TV prioritises tropes and
specialises in providing a quick fix- which though makes my criterion even
more relevant. In writing, it's a lot easier to escape the tropes and just
tell a story about people doing things, rather than who-fought-whom-with-what.
When you shed all the layers of genres, when you come down to the basic principles of dramaturgy, you're left with the core of storytelling that's in all stories ever told. From Plato's Cave to Aristotelian unities onwards to Star Wars and Seinfeld, there are certain core principles which hold true in form and structure. Form, not formula. In dramatic arc and story structure there are elements which morph and trade places and these, along with psychological and visual motifs make a genre. It's probably valid approach to view/interpret this on a whole other level, and that's the beauty of it. This is just my viewpoint based on some experience and background in dramaturgy. It's a view on abstract principles of storytelling where you get to manipulate form and structure itself before you materialise it into particularities. Kind of like virtual functions, or better yet a class diagram of a story before you write it down. Dramatic theory is not competing with literary theory - it complements it, specializes it. I took dramatic theory as a heavy weapon which I find extremely useful in my work, but I didn't dwell much further into literary theory. I took some bits and pieces that I find useful for my work, like intertextuality (esp. biblical - which is tropey as it gets, Star Wars for example and Hero's Journey, but most modern literature as well)... etc. I have colleagues which are far more well-versed in literature theory than I am for when I need insight. I'm more concerned with dramatic mechanics and structure, because that's what I do and what interests me.
What I'm saying is that behind all of the layers of a genre, there is a common subset to all stories. If you start with that and build towards a genre, you get to see the specifics of how it modulates that core structure. SF, in that regard, is always heavily biased towards internal-driven change with accentuated wants and needs switch where character is in an extreme psychological situation driven by an extreme physical situation flared by science. Character is driven into a corner where he/she has to act on his core flaw in order to achieve the need in order to change. Whereas fantasy has a character on a journey both physical and psychological through which he/she overcomes the flaw in his character in order to act on it when third act kicks in.
It's a bit of an abstract way of thinking, but I don't know how else to put it without first explaining all of the intro to dramatic theory, hah.
 Wants vs needs is the epitome of character arc mechanics. There's something character wants that drives his story arc, only to be exposed to his actual needs (what he really wants). Shedding his wants and fulfilling that need he discovered he overcomes his major flaw and thus changes his character.
Now, if you view through prism of that mechanics (core one though) and go back to genre structures you can clearly see where most differ (not all, there are blurry ones!). For example, if you look at Star Wars or Conan which are fantasy (one with SF theme and one with fantasy theme) - there's a clear flaw in the character that gets replaced by a need and fulfilled on the journey (actual one). Be it Force training vs Dagobah cave or Sword training vs Valeria. It's an actual quest! Now look at a clear-cut SF, for example Inconstant Moon episode from Outer Limits (check that out if you haven't!) or any of the more fabled STNG or DS9 episodes. In Inconstant Moon, main character realises this might be the final night of his (and everyone's life - Sun has gone Nova on the other side of the Earth (it's nighttime), and he notices Moon is exceptionally bright because of it... so he calls up his ex girlfriend (wants) and he becomes more open and free (needs).. or in DS9 Pale Moonlight (Moon, again!) where cptn. Sisko wants an action attack plan or whatever only to need to become vile and dirty character in order to win, thus overcoming his flaw (being a good guy)... no quest. When we return to Dune, that's where lines get blurred and there's an endless debate.
I mean, I could go on forever and we all could probably be right to most extents. This is just my way of thinking. Flair on top of all of that is of least concern, but is the most visible in a genre. By that I mean spaceships vs swords or whatever. It's just a motif. Hence why people commonly confuse Star Wars as an SF - which it isn't at all. Also a reason why new Star Trek movies aren't really SF. It's a fantasy or in ST case action story with an SF theme on top.
I'm really passionate about this subject (storytelling) and we have debates like these almost on a daily basis because we all love it. We all agree on one thing and that's that everything lies in character development and arc and grows from there, so excuse my elaborate intro to debating the topic!
But- I got into computers and specialised in AI and I'm always thinking of
ways to use my new knowledge to do what you say: tell stories. I agree with
you that regardless of the medium, the story is what matters (although I'll
also say that what attracted me to writing was my love for words and language,
what I refer to as form: the written word as a purpose in and of itself. Most
of my knowledge in AI is in natural language processing, particularly tasks
like grammar induction and language generation).
So, one of the projects I've had in the back of my mind for a long time is
some kind of system, or (programming) language, to help writers author their
works. In particular, what I would really like to achieve is to create a
system with these two capabilities: a) given a story skeleton authored by a
human writer, the system should flesh out the skeleton producing a "rough
draft" that the writer could then edit further; b) the system should have
parameters giving the writer control of such things as theme, style and
"voice", so that by adjusting the parameters the writer could turn a horror story
to a romance ("Cthulhu and Shub-Niggurath, their love everlasting"... though
that would probably count as comedy) or, there you go- turn a
Fantasy story to an SF story.
Suffice to say that this capability is still light years away from our current
technology and probably also from our understanding of how a story works and
so I haven't really made much progress. One big problem for me is that it is
very hard to identify concrete and objective story elements that could
constitute the "bones" of a story-skeleton, with enough clarity that an
automated system could manipulate in the way I want.
It would not be enough to just describe such a set of elements in narrative language- one would need something like a formal grammar, some kind of structure that a computer could use. Some
might think that just training a neural network, or some other machine
learning algorithm would do the job, as if by magic, but what exactly would
one train a model on? If you just hand over a bunch of text to an automatic
learner it learns to reproduce the text. The structure language-learning algorithms learn is the structure of the language, not the structure of the story.
What one would really need is a big corpus of literary works annotated with
the kind of story elements you'd want your algorithm to learn- just as natural
language corpora are annotated with syntactic elements in order to allow
training language modelling algorithms. Such a literary annotated corpus of
course does not exist- and it would be extremely hard to create one, given
that, like I say, what constitutes a narrative element is very subjective and
there is probably little agreement on that even among people with your background in
dramatic and literary theory.
So I guess where I'm coming from is that I've tried, and failed, to
systematise story authoring, a failure that I attribute to the elusive nature
of narrative elements, and that may be partly why I tend to focus so much on
superficial elements, tropes, that can be much more easily represented.
Of course, I still think that there is value in tropes- because there is a difference in how
writers and publishers etc see literary works, and how the general public
does. I think sometimes people just want to read, or watch, a thrilling story
with spaceships or swords- and they don't really analyse the character's
traits, or the plot, very deeply as long as they feel pleased when they put
the book down, or exit the screening area.
If you're interested in writing, want to write, or just want to talk about it every now and then, hit me up via email. It's in my profile.
A lot of it feels an awful lot more like magic than science. Like the mind reading and prophecy stuff. The more interesting technology, personal shields, is just an excuse to explain why people fight with swords instead of modern weapons. Which lends to the medieval feel thing. And an awful lot of technology is missing, like anything remotely like a computer. The robot wars happened in the distant past and aren't part of the story. Just an explanation for why there aren't any computers. It's barely mentioned in the book at all actually.
Human computers (mentats), drug-assisted spaceship navigation, genetic manipulation and cloning (the Tleilaxu), ecological reshaping of planets, complex ecological lifecycles, etc.
Anyway you dice it, Dune is a genuine work of SF with a rennaissance/medieval flavor.
If your definition of sci-fi is anything set in the future or with some futuristic technology, then sure. But there is something very different between Dune and "typical" sci fi. It reminds me a lot of Star Wars, which people have described something like "fantasy adventure that just happens to take place in space". But at least star wars is filled with blasters and droids and space battles.
It's true there are no clones in the first Dune book, but there is genetic engineering (that's what the Bene Gesserit breeding program is, after all). There is drug assisted navigation -- how else do you think the Guild Navigators manage to do it? That's a main plot point and why Arrakis and melange are so important. The mentats go beyond being "highly trained" people (they are the "human" response to computers after the Butlerian Jihad), and they claim the drugs they sip (called "sapho juice") assist them in their mental powers -- but if they were merely highly trained people, that would still be firmly within the realm of SF and outside Fantasy :) This is all from the first book, by the way.
Dune has plenty of SF, as myself and others have already mentioned.
I think you missed something.
> They certainly haven't been an important part of the story.
Directly? No. But they're why the spice is necessary to space travel, which plays a major role in the economics (and thereby politics) of the situation.
It's hard to imagine any kind of modern government where your armies have to be trained in hand-to-hand rather than conscripted with rifles, and where you can't have computers to keep track of records.
I can understand why you might not buy into it, but it is very much a speculative fiction type book.
They also have computers, but they're limited.
I tend to think of Fantasy as linked to philosophy (moral choices etc), while Sci-fi is linked to sociology (what would society be like if...). But those classes don't really help with Dune, so I choose the HPA definition.
Dune is great sci-fi even just for pointing out the future might look more like the past than the present.
Then, the middle books cover prescience and its implications. The last two have more typical 80's sci-fi: ships, planets, weapons, dystopian overcrowded cities.
The final clincher for me though is the strong thread of politics* throughout and the exploration of relationships outside of the bounds of the possibilities of past or present.
In case you can't guess, I highly rate it all! (Although 2 and 3 are a bit weaker.)
* Indeed, in an early scene, Paul identifies the purpose of the Bene Gesserit as politics, and they are arguably the main thread of the books.
Fortunately dune didn't have mind reading.
To whomever modded down the above, care to offer a reason as to what you find objectionable in that statement. Personally I don't need other people to censor posts on this here forum. I am quite capable of making up my own mind as to the veracity of such statements.
edit: Censorship practised on Hacker News
I'm sick of the censorship practised here through the use of the modding system to render certain comments invisible. Yet another self confirming echo chamber on the Intertubes. So long and thanks for all the fish :)
Not to mention that "is this SF" is a bad question, like "is this Art": it tends to produce gatekeepering flamewars rather than an interesting discussion on genre boundaries.
The article is about how Lynch's movie "has no interest in science fiction". And why? It lists qualities that are true for many, if not most, SF movies.
Essentially, the author of the article may have made good arguments on why Dune is not a good movie compared to the novel, but did not make any good arguments on why it is not SF.
So, I can make the exact same silly comment in response. Yes, it's true that Dune did not fit my liking for SF, and when I read it, it was just a fantasy with some whizbang stuff thrown in.
>Not to mention that "is this SF" is a bad question, like "is this Art": it tends to produce gatekeepering flamewars rather than an interesting discussion on genre boundaries.
Is that not what the article does? Why is my comment so irritating to others when the article isn't?
Ultimately, I think I'm downvoted because people liked the book and I didn't - the same reason the article is being upvoted.
I disagree with your take on the original article in that the point is that Dune fails as a sci-fi movie partially because Lynch didn't get the genre and didn't understand the original novel all that well.
IMO, Lynch had the deck stacked against him from the start as the studio didn't know what kind of budget and planning it would take to get everything right in the movie and both the studio and Lynch learned some expensive lessons from this. So the movie was a failure, but an interesting one.