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David Lynch’s Dune – A sci-fi film by a director without much care for sci-fi (tor.com)
134 points by rbanffy 156 days ago | hide | past | web | 203 comments | favorite



I for one love SF and Lynch's Dune. Is this article just an excuse to show us the awesome set art? Not being sarcastic here, I really wish I could see the full uncut version, have only seen the heavily edited TV one that airs every year or two. It's great far-future stuff, and I think more interesting (if less successful) than Alien or other Geiger-inspired sets.

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]


I also love Lynch's Dune. I've seen the extended version once a long time ago. From what I remember there was scenes of voiceovers and art explaining more of the universe and the houses and their relationships.

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jg4OCeSTL08 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jodorowsky%27s_Dune


Jodorowsky's Dune was a phenomenal documentary.

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.


I miss european and latin american SF it had a different flave. Sadly Besson Valerian seems to have been infused with American influences already.


What I enjoyed most about Lynch's version is he got the looks right. From costumes to hair color of the characters. These are simple things that book readers do notice. While his weirding devices and rain at the end were not great choices they did not take away from the movie too much for me.

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.


I would love to get a look at the "book" with all the art from Moebius, Giger and person who designed the space ships (forgetting his name right now). Edit: Chris foss.

Thanks for response :)



>Have you seen the documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune"?

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.


As a big fan of Jodorowsky (L'Incal is one my favourite graphic novels ever), I think we could also unequivocally say that whatever he had made would not have been very faithful to the book. It's quite possible that Dune fans would have been even less happy with Jodorowsky's film than Lynch's.

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.


I think one of the reasons why "Jodorowsky's Dune" is such an amazing documentary is that it describes an impossibly ambitious film, something so awesome that you're drawn into believing in it with the director himself.

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.


We'll never know. Another lost work I would kill to see is Tarkovsky's original version of Stalker.

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.


Stalker was a unforgettable mesmerizing, almost hypnotic film. I didn't know there had been an earlier attempt! IMHO that Tarkovsky was able to make ANY film at all in the hostile bureaucratic atmosphere in which he worked gives a ray of hope to artists everywhere.


Wow, that's probably the first time I see words "maturity and realism" applied to SW unironically. I understand what you're saying, though.

To my taste, self-acknowledged silly extravaganza is always better than something silly, made with the intent of being serious.


Every so often I feel the need for moment of silence for the reality in which Dali played the Emperor, and Orson Welles the Baron...


I would have loved to have seen The Holy Mountain With Spice - I think Jodorowsky perhaps would have presented Herbert's vision more in line with the original intent.


I agree, which is why I find it baffling that the author started out complaining about the set design and the limited outdoor scenes -- for a movie made in 1984. C'mon, it was a lot harder then. One of the directors almost died falling off of a miniature model used in a establishing shot. And I like the dark baroque sets, they'll always be the canonical look for my internal Dune universe.

(I do think the second half of the movie and the battle scenes kinda dragged, though.)


The problem isn't the sets are meticulous, it's that they are all dark and could be different parts of the same world.

Caladan is supposed to be a verdant world full of water, it looks like it's dark small and rainy in the movie.


I really hated the movie. I preferred the Mini Series from 2000 from SciFi. The special effects certainly didn't age well but it told the story much better.

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 didn't like the 2000 SyFy miniseries at all :( It looked so... cheap and campy. There are plenty of flaws in Lynch's Dune, but it managed to look awesome at times. The meeting between the Emperor and the Navigator is awesome and ominous. Nothing in the SyFy miniseries matches this. And SyFy's Baron Harkonnen manages to look completely non-threatening :(

I really hate the miniseries.


The first mini-series was a bit hit-and-miss for me as well. I loved James McAvoy's take on Leto II in the Children of Dune miniseries though. The sci-fi miniseries treated the characters alot better than Lynch's work, but sacrificed the special effects and some of the world building.


Those guys in black mopping up after the Navigator just set everything off with a "WTF" quality above and beyond the weird-ass monster thing in the box, right? Love that scene. The whole room is gorgeous, and the various people running around, his generals, the dogs. It's amazing.


Yup. So bizarre and cool. Unlike anything I had seen at that point in my life. I guess that's Lynch for you :)


> 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'm glad to see I'm not the only one who likes Lynch's Dune. I enjoyed it, visually I think its beautiful. I don't think it dishonors the book.


I first saw it as a teenager, right after I had finished reading the Frank Herbert series. It was so different from what I expected - I HATED it! But over the years, it has grown on me, and has really made me appreciate the difficulty that creators face when they are adapting something into a different medium. Lynch is a master filmmaker, and he was ruthless in his re-molding of the source material to make it work on the silver screen. The books are very focused on the internal lives of characters, and the grand designs of powerful people - and I think Lynch instinctively knew that a lot of that wouldn't translate well. Indeed, the awkward inner thoughts that you hear all through Lynch's Dune are one of the worst aspects of the movie... despite being faithful renditions of Frank Herbert's Dune.

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!


As a young man who had read and loved Dune, Lynch's movie infuriated me. (Weirding modules? Really?) I should give it another chance.


IMHO the weirding modules made more sense than the kung-fu kicks against armored and armed stormtroopers. Plus, it gives you the classic line "His name is a killing word."


More the merrier, indeed. I hated the Lynch movie at first viewing, but have grown to appreciate it as an abridged story.

The SciFi series was better, IMO. I would love to see McAvoy reprise his role as Leto for a "God Emporer" production.


I actually think the movie works best as a companion to the book. It's probably quite confusing if you're not familiar with the story and universe already.


I watched the movie many times before I touched the books and sure, there is a lot left unexplained, but I really loved the "tip of the iceberg" effect that created. Paul is permanently overwhelmed by knowing more than he can make sense of and Lynch does an excellent job of putting the viewer in harmony with that state of mind.

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.


the "everything has to be explained" crowd

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.


> a CGI-clad sudoku

That might be kinda cool too...


I agree, as a companion to the book, it is fantastic. (Although rain on Dune? WTF).


spoilers

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.


More spoilers

In later books only portions of the surface of Arrakis are given to the worms and the spice.


IIRC, that's how the book ended as well. To go further, Paul held on to the water and only rarely allowed rain as he knew the water itself was poison to the sand worms.


ditto


I love the first half of Lynch's Dune. Even the long comic-book style exposition dump at the beginning.

"What is in the box?" "Pain"

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.


Frank Herbert liked it too.


based on the tone of this article, the writer of this article would judge anyone, including Frank Herbert, who professes to liking the film version to be lacking in understanding or appreciating Dune and SF in general.


I think that's a bit harsh. The article explained why the writer feels that the movie fails as a movie, especially as a SF movie. Even David Lynch wasn't that happy with the end result and really disliked the TV cuts. The title of the article is a bit punchy, but it's clearly about Lynch's understanding of the SF genre, not about how people who liked or hated the movie feel about SF.


After decades Lynch's Dune is still my favorite movie of all times. I was very young when I watched it and I didn't have much of a reference for what movies were even supposed to feel like at the time, so Dune seemed like a perfectly normal place to start. Suspect the experience is quite different if you already have decades to movie going by the time you see it.

Besides Star Wars and Blade Runner I can't think of another SF movie that has as much impact on me.


> I've read elsewhere on the Internet that Dune the novel actually is an inspiration for the Star Wars universe

A greater inspiration is the comic series Valerian and Laureline [1]. 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 [2].

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.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Val%C3%A9rian_and_Laureline

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerian_and_the_City_of_a_Tho...


This spanish comic has also been mentioned. Look at the images of the main character and his robot:

https://www.google.es/search?q=dani+futuro


The complete director's cut is fantastic. It has all the little touches book fans say are missing, and really lays out the universe in the beginning with a 10 minute preamble with handdrawn, courtroom style pictures. Just a magnificent achievement.


That's not a 'director's cut' given that Lynch didn't make it and had his name removed from the credits (and from all other versions beside the theatrical release).


Correct. It's no longer David Lynch's "Dune" but Alan Smithee's "Dune".


> 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...

Probably more of a common influence on both by the Lensman series, I'd guess.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lensman_series

[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.


I like David Lynch's Dune as well. It is weird, but interesting.


To the best of my knowledge, there is no high definition, theater aspect ratio, completely uncut version (that is, includes all scenes shot). Would really like to see that one day; the rumor is that there exists enough for a 3+ hour format, and Lynch shot 5 hours of material. Would like to see what fans could do with all 5 hours of raw footage in this day and age.

There are detailed run downs of the differences between the TV version and the theatrical version (which apparently is called the extended edition) [1]. 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 [2].

[1] http://www.movie-censorship.com/report.php?ID=1380

[2] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087182/alternateversions


I liked the movie too. I think it's because I saw the movie without any expectations. When I saw it I had no clue what the movie was about or that the movie was an adaptation of a book. I was able to be amazed by the ideas it put forward. I specially was amazed by the idea of space travel by folding space. And the mix of ancient ideas along with futuristic wonder. The navigator scene was great. The idea that the spice had mutated their kind was amazing, even now. I too would love to see some of the other cuts.

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.


You can find a lot of cut scenes on Youtube, but the problem is the decision to go from 3-hour epic to 2-hour feature was made about mid-way through the production, so we really won't ever see what was truly cut, because it never got shot in the first place.

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.


The writer was wrapping up a reread series of the entire first novel and is now covering the movie versions before moving on to the second novel. I think that colors the perspective: as an adaptation of the novel, Lynch's movie fails horribly, IMO.

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.


If you're interested in more behind-the-scenes on DL's Dune, this book has a lot of information on the filming and set construction, with some actor anecdotes on the side.

https://www.amazon.com/Making-Dune-Ed-Naha/dp/0425073769


Now you've got me imagining a David Lynch film about a space marine fighting robot demons on Mars.


I'd love him to make the last episode of Star Wars.


George Lucas asked him to direct Return of the Jedi. I still don't quite understand why he turned that down but picked up Dune a year or so later.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJQ4vCu-S0U


This should happen.


Look, I'm a big fan of the original Dune series (not of the mess Frank Herbert's son did after his death in order to make money out of his father vision - those books actually ruined a bit of the originals for me, I actually suggest that you don't read those).

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.


Look, I'm a big fan of the original Dune series (not of the mess Frank Herbert's son did after his death in order to make money out of his father vision - those books actually ruined a bit of the originals for me, I actually suggest that you don't read those).

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.


I feel like the prequels don't fit with the rest of the series, which got weirder and weirder as they went further into the future timeline. The prequels, etc. kind of just got bland and pedestrian. But some of the characters were interesting and it wasn't a completely terrible read. Just not as good as what Frank Herbert would have done.


I didn't mind the House * prequels, but the ones covering the butlerian jihad were pretty awful.

The sequels were ok, I was just happy to have closure.


Alternative hypothesis: something set 21,000 years (edited - well spotted!) into the future is going to be as impossible to imagine for us as today's world was for Jules Vernes. As such gothic madness might be a more realistic interpretation.

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...


The criticism reads like superficial snark, and misses the wood for the trees.

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.


drug-assisted weird things

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:

http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/498489-we-all-want-expanded-...

He just has a remarkable vision and ability with the weird.


>But terrible? Wisecracking CGI Superheroes Episode Number Actually I've Lost Count Now is a terrible film.

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.


I respectfully disagree and think the 2000 version has aged very badly (artistically speaking, it also holds lower value for me).

For example, watch the harvester-eaten-by-worm scene [1] [2]. 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.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P50b-19_j8c&t=18s

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxDjnSnbNhw&t=1m30s


The 2000 miniseries already looked awful and campy when it came out. I should know -- as a Dune fan I bought it instantly, and was deeply disappointed.

Lynch's version, for all its flaws, is still watchable.


The live play staging in the 2000 version looked really out of place on TV when I watched it. Having everyone retire to a dramatic pose with dramatic lighting at the end of a scene? It just looks amateurish on TV IMHO.


I never noticed it before and TVTropes' Dune page confirms, David Lynch was the voice on the harvester radio in that scene.


He's also the actor. There is a shot of him talking on the radio in the harvester as they decide to evacuate it.


That miniseries is terrible. The acting is wooden as all get out, all of the scenes look like they are shot on a hastily dressed community theater stage and it's boring as hell.

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.


Dune the book was written in 65, the movie 84.

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.


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.

http://dailygrail.com/Shamanism/2014/7/Magic-Mushrooms-were-...


Nitpick - the year 10,191 is something like 21,000 years in our future as the dates used in Dune start from a key date that is far in our future (I forget exactly what it is - the end of the Butlerian Jihad?).


Founding of the Spacing Guild, though I thought you were right before I got more curious and looked it up.


Very surprised to pop in and see discussion of Dune without mention that Denis Villeneuve is rebooting Dune. [0] Villeneuve is also working on the Blade Runner sequel scheduled for release in October.

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.

[0] http://www.theverge.com/2017/2/1/14468876/dune-reboot-denis-...


I am happy and sad. Arrival and Sicario are precisely the kind of complex, thoughtful directing that SF needs after years of Marvel movies.

On the other hand, why reboot Dune yet again? Nobody has given Asimov's Foundation a try!


How do you make a movie out of Asimov's books? There's hardly any action, Asimov said so himself.


The original "Foundation Trilogy" is actually a series of short stories bound together. In a perfect world, I'd suggest taking each story, expanding it into a full movie, and adding such action as is necessary. If my memory serves me (as it often doesn't), the Foundation Trilogy still has some action as quite a lot of it takes place during war, and as a consequence of that, could easily be expanded to have a bit more "action". (I wouldn't want to focus on that necessarily, as the Foundation series has always been cerebral, but we would like to avoid Star Wars: The Phantom Tax Dispute Menace, too.)

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.


"I, Robot" wasn't an Asimov adaptation, which is why it seems so off. It was actually developed from a script titled Hardwired, with very tenuous links to anything by Asimov, and later re-written with references to the Three Laws. Thematically it's unlike anything Asimov wrote. It directly contradicts most characterizations in Asimov stories, including -- but not limited to -- a direct contradiction of the character of Susan Calvin and everything she stood for in the stories. Old, ugly, cerebral but misanthropic woman turned into a young pretty girl/damsel in distress who's also the hero's romantic interest. Ugh.

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).


"Thematically it's unlike anything Asimov wrote."

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.


> it is a pitch-perfect Zeroth Law story

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.


"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.


Maybe "everyone seems to miss it" because it doesn't fit?

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.


"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?"

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.


Ok, you didn't say it was a good thing. Let me rephrase: so you find it "less wrong" because they replaced an allegedly paper-thin but relatively unique character with another paper-thin but bland and uninspired Hollywood trope?

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!


It's a zeroth-law story, but definitely not a pitch-perfect one. The robots in Asomov's were both much subtler and more competent about their execution of the zeroth law.


I Robot (movie) is just horrible. Really irks me to see Will Smith on the eBook cover.


> I, Robot were both quite accurate, loving adaptations of his work

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.


I disagree about I, Robot completely as it's more of an action movie that licensed some Asimov IP to reskin itself than an Asimov story. It's not offensive to me as I don't see the two being that connected, but it's not great either.

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.


...Netflix?


Foundation makes more sense as a miniseries/series similar to the Battlestar Galactica reboot.


What do super hero movies have to do with science fiction?

They are old stories, warrior epics, with modern fantasy furnishings.


Both require similar moviemaking techniques as well as the huge budgets that go along with them. Both types of movies also tend to be slotted in as "summer time" blockbusters... Im not the guy you are asking the question to, he might have been thinking along different lines, but that is at least one way they could be lumped into the same category.


I kinda think that works in my favor. There are good low budget science fiction movies. Super hero movies, less so. Especially in the post Jurassic Park era, where the bar for effects has gotten quite high.


Don't forget Prisoners, which deserves a mention all its own.


I haven't seen this, although I hear it's also excellent. Thanks for the rec!


Woah. I'm on board the hype train. Arrival was a great exploration of language.


I hope it's more like the trilogies and less like the first Lynch version.


Lynch's Dune does have many problems, but I still enjoy it. The set design and world that the film describes is often quite beautiful and has in many ways set the tone for all depictions of the universe after. The books don't offer much in the way of visual specificity, so even the later Scifi Channel's mini series took on various inspirations from the Lynch film.

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.


Has the author even read Dune? Like, really read it?

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.


1. The writer just finished doing an entire reread of the first book in the series before writing this review of Lynch's movie.

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.


I can't remember if this is established in Frank's books or instead retconned by his son, that all AI and computerization was banned after the Butlerian Jihad.


My recollection - and I admit it's been a while - is that the events of the Jihad were expanded on in some of the Brian Herbert / Kevin J Anderson works, but that the basic notion (electronic computation forbidden, and why) was well established in the very first book.


"Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a man's mind" is cited by Paul from the OC Bible in Dune.


There are countless passages in the original series where people recoil in horror at even the slightest thought of things like computers and artificial insemination.


Yes, I remember that, but don't remember if they explain why.


AI was banned, but I don't think computerization was. They had mentats to do what we'd use a neural network for today.


The jihad and it's repercussions in the form of outlawing all but the simplest computing devices is discussed in Dune.


It's established in the original books, not talked about much, but established. That's why there are Mentants.


That was in the movie. It's the whole point of the Mentats.


I'm thinking particularly of Dune the book.


The books don't rule out computers altogether do they? They ban "thinking machines", but it looks like calculators are fine.


Lynch's Dune is so weird – It's deeply, irredeemably flawed, from the perspective of someone who started with the rich world of the novels. But it's paradoxically beautiful and I can't help but enjoy it.


It's hard to squeeze Dune into a single movie. The book is a good 500 pages long, which fits better into one three movies than into one.

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.


SciFi network (back when it was still SciFi and not "sharknados") did a pretty good miniseries. It doesn't have big budget special effects, but I thought it did a reasonable job of expanding on the story that didn't appear in Lynch's version.


Lynch in a nutshell: created on drugs; best consumed on drugs.

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.


> Lynch in a nutshell: created on drugs; best consumed on drugs.

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).


Lynch doesn't do drugs, he does transcendental meditation.


What substance in particular would you recommend?


IMHO leaving out Liet-Kynes turns Dune into too much of an unironic hero-story, which is emphatically not what Herbert intended. Hence why he followed up with Dune Messiah.


This is exactly had the Sc-Fi channels trilogy did it. It's a much more faithful adaption.


Did Stanley Kubrick have an "interest in SF"? I think as a director you should have an interest in making a good movie that is somehow coherent for the audience that watches it. Which is also the reason why computers are almost always absurd in movies. They're mysteries that need to be represented differently than just their correct technological side.


Kubrick worked pretty closely with Arthur C Clarke.

IIRC Clarke wasn't happy with the result. The film would probably not have been as good without his help, however.


Is there a source for this? I always thought Clarke was so satisfied with the movie that he actually wrote his book sequels to better match the movie rather than the first book!

(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).


I recalled incorrectly; Clarke was apparently pretty happy with it. I must have been thinking of some other SF film. . .


If you haven't done so yet, buy the book, read all 900 pages of it, it's amazing! The first game about Dune with it's combination of adventure and strategy is also very nice. http://gamesnostalgia.com/en/game/dune


Three words: Dino De Laurentiis

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 enjoy Lynch's Dune. There are some great fan edits, the 'Third stage navigator' edits that add in a fair amount of the cut scenes. The longer cut is a great improvement.


If you enjoy listening to podcasts, Unjustly Maligned has a pretty good appreciation of that movie: https://www.theincomparable.com/ump/37/

Recommended.


fun little anecdote: Lucas asked Lynch to direct Return of the Jedi. The mind reels… http://www.slashfilm.com/david-lynch-talks-about-not-directi...


The visual were great. It looked better than the 2000's mini series. The story failed to capture the book, but it's not like a lot of stuff happen in the book itself, since it's more a description of the ecology and culture of a planet.

I've heard they are doing yet another movie, but they should go for a TV show, game of throne style, not a movie.


Lynch's Dune shares some names of people and places, and some basic concepts with the book. Very little else. There's a lot of change for change's sake in it and most of that is in illogical ways (some of which are pointed out in the article).

I've seen it a couple of times, but I see no reason to do so again. I can just read the books again!


Dune is a beautiful film by Lynch, but the story pacing and deadpan-ish acting really hurts it. Lynch sometimes needs to be reined in. A reined in Lynch can make the difference between an amazing "Elephant Man" or weird as hell "Rabbits."


I think that a "reined in" Lynch would ruin all of his movies, both the ones you like and the ones you don't.

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.


Reign - to control as a monarch.

Rein - the straps used to control a horse.

Lynch needs to be reined in.


No rein on Dune.


Stop raining on my post


I saw Dune on the big screen when it first came out, and it is unquestionably the second-worst SF movie I've ever seen - so bad it put this formerly avid SF fan off the genre for years...


I saw it back then too. I think it's still the only movie I've ever fallen asleep to in a theater, if you don't count the 24-hour sci-fi marathons.

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.


Name the worst as well as as your top 3. I need some context here.


I'd have to put the two Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic flops on the list - Waterworld and The Postman.

The Postman rankles especially, since it was a pretty decent book that was butchered badly https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Postman


Let me guess; you've seen Battlefield Earth?


What a travesty that was... L Ron Hubbard is very hit or miss, but the actual Battlefield Earth novel was one of his better efforts.

I'd like to see a Final Blackout[1] movie adaptation...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_Blackout


I loved Lynch's Dune. Whatever the cause, the end result was a film that felt as weird and surreal and alien as Dune itself. The retro-futurist aspect of the tech only added to this.


So the creator of Eraserhead, Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet is being lectured to about world building? Dune is one of the few Lynch works I haven't seen, but given his oeuvre I'm willing to chalk up any lapse to him not being on his game for a moment.

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.


This reminds me of JJ Abrams and his 'I never got Star Trek' comment. To this day it's like a jock giving a wedgie to the geeky kid in me.


I mostly agree with the premise that it's a deeply flawed film that fails to capture many parts of what makes Dune such a masterpiece. That said, the scene where Paul calls his first sandworm is one of my favorites (the great Toto score certainly helps) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bj7R_2WWdKs


"The movie also has the distinction of branding the character in an explicitly homophobic light by heightening the Baron’s actions and displaying them all at once:"

Hmmm. I don't think you've read the book.


I think the author never read Frank Herbert's book, but only saw the movie. Most people who hate the movie have never read the book.


The writer just finished a reread of the first book. The link to the series of articles is literally right at the top of the page above the title. And there were a number of fans of the books who hated the movie when it came out in 1984. It's an interesting take, or we wouldn't be talking about it still, but kind of divisive and not a great adaptation of the novel IMO.


Wow. A whole article, an entire HN thread- and not a single mention of poor old Sting?


s/Lynch/Herbert/

I remember as a teenager eagerly anticipating reading Dune. And was totally disappointed. There's nothing SF about it.


Science Fiction is about political/social/ethical problems in a future setting. This is one of the most consistent things that runs through the works of Clarke, Asimov, Banks, PKD, Le Guin, etc. they take political and social problems, reframe them and drop them in the future, and solve them there, mostly relying on human puzzle solving than technology itself. Even in hard science fiction, the technology is simply the spice for the political/social/ethical problems that are presented.

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.


It can be about politics - See Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series and Foundation by Asimov for two classic works with that as the center theme. But you're painting with too broad of a brush when you label all sci-fi as primarily about politics. There still plenty of other aspects of humanity and society to explore.


> But you're painting with too broad of a brush when you label all sci-fi as primarily about politics.

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).


I'm noticing you are applying this motte-and-bailey tactic, first claiming "it is all about politics" (bailey), but when people confront you, you retreat to "it is all about sociology" (motte) that is a lot easier to defend than the previous claim.


Huh? Ok, I'll edit my first use of "politics" then.


Funny you should mention the Mars series, as in Red Mars one of my favorite characters actually says “Everything is political!”.


Hah. But that's​ my point: what's political about some author recreating a famous naval battle in an updated backdrop using space ships? What's political about the chemistry needed for Kirk to make gunpowder and shoot diamonds out of a bamboo cannon at the Gorn?

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 difference tends to be a bit semantic; by political I (and the character) mean something much broader than the mere party politics of 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 :)


Sounds like either Frank or Maya?


Arkady, actually :)

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.”


I didn't like the second book as much as the others because I felt it had more politics than them. Sure the story about a revolution is politics, but it isn't just politics.


Mind reading, Personal shields, planetary nukes, FTL travel, cyborgs, history of AI war vs humans...


Any and all of these don't make an SF. It's debatable whether Dune is SF or Fantasy. Star Wars, for example, is an action fantasy with an SF theme (more or less). I've found a definition of what makes an SF recently and this is it:

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.


I'm not saying Dune is idiomatic Sci-fi ... but your definition fits almost perfectly Dune :)

> 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...


Indeed. There is very little action in Dune. Almost all of it is politicking and inner monologues. Dune is definitely NOT a space opera like Star Wars.


It's debatable, as I've said. It certainly can be viewed as an SF. However, main story vehicle is that of 'the chosen one' and of 'the legend / prophecy' which is usually main driving vehicle in fantasy. So, maybe an SF Fantasy? :) Matrix trilogy dwells into that space as well.

I love Lynch's Dune adaptation very much though.


The Lion of Commare follows "the chosen one" arc, yet nobody doubts that it is science fiction.


I like my definition better: "if the main character is wielding a sword, then it's Fantasy; otherwise, it's Science Fiction".

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.


I get what you're saying, but I wouldn't cut it just like that. I mean, you could and it would kind of be valid, but hear me out. In my opinion, SF is really about thought experiments, psychological stress to the extreme and what if's. One could imagine a story with a swords and sorcery and still keep it like that. There's also that whole science aspect of SF which I don't think has to be held up to literally. Fantasy, in contrast, is more goal oriented where there's a clear hero's journey line to it. Whether more stories in fantasy wield a sword could lean distinction like you've mentioned. I'm trying to keep the line more at the base level.

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.


I appreciate your reply and I find it well thought-of.

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 time, always).

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 the trappings.

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.


Additionally- I personally find that analysing plot elements as hints of genre is very unproductive because their classification can only be subjective. That sort of thing is how we end up with sub-categories like Space Opera that are completely pointless, bagging together Star Wars, Dune and Consider Phlebas, as if they were the same kind of thing.


I think we both speak of the same thing, but I come from dramaturgy background. Story is story, no matter the genre or medium. At its core, story is always about change in the character through dramatic arc. If there is none, it's journalism, for lack of better words. Mechanics are vastly different through media. For example, in screenplays you get to write only what you hear and what you see. Essay form is allowed only to explain to the creators of ultimate form what you mean.

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[1] 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.

[1] 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!


It's alright to elaborate, we have the floor anyway. Our conversation is scratching an itch of mine -in fact, a couple of them all at once. You see, for the first part of my life I figured I would most definitely grow up to become a writer: I spent most of my time reading and writing. Things didn't turn out as I expected. For one thing it was just not realistic expecting to make a living out of writing what I really like to write (SF primarily but also Fantasy, particularly horror) in my native language (Greek) and I didn't like the idea of having to "sell out" to make ends meet. Also, I basically burned out during my teens and got a writer's block that is pretty much still holding today- I haven't managed to finish a story for years.

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.


I went from graphics programming into content creation! Structuring written stuff is kind of hard if there's no strict 'grammar' behind it. That's why screenplays might be of interest to you. There have been kind of elaborate attempts to come upon a structure in detail, even with help from software - stuff like Dramatica, and to a lesser (much) extent Save The Cat. They try to catch form of the structure (not formula).

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.


Witchcraft, sword-fighting, riding around on beasts, feudalism, scarcity, walking...

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.


Dune's setting feels almost medieval instead of futuristic. Some futuristic technologies exist. But in many ways it shows how humanity has regressed rather than advanced.

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.


Mindreading? Was that in the books, have I forgotten it? I believe it's in the movie, sort of, but in the book the Bene Gesserit were trained to communicate with covert hand signals while simultaneously carrying on a verbal conversation. I think they conveyed this in the movie as mindreading, but it's been years since I watched it.


The parent comment used the phrase mind reading. In the book it wasn't technically mind reading but picking up on body language and stuff. But to such an insane level it might as well be mind reading. Also they could literally mind control people through their voice. And at one point they drink a potion that lets them communicate telepathically and some other crazy stuff. Not to mention Paul's future seeing ability.


s/mindreading/truthseeing/


Ah, yeah, forgot about that. Reminds me a bit of Lie to Me taken to an extreme.


It's still SF though:

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.


I've only read the first book, perhaps the rest of the series does get more sci-fi. But there are no clones or genetic engineering, and nothing about drug assisted spaceship navigation. The mentats are just highly trained people.

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.


No, sci-fi is not "anything set in the future", which is why I didn't use the word "future" in my post at all. By that token, SF is also NOT "filled with blasters and droids and space battles"... that's space opera! ;)

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.


Both the mentat and the navigators are assisted by spice (the juice of saphoo or whatever is a spice concoction). The navigators themselves are potentially a new species after evolving under heavy influence by the spice.


> nothing about drug assisted spaceship navigation

I think you missed something.


Quite possibly. Is it in the last 76 pages because I haven't finished it yet. So far the guild has only been mentioned as some mysterious organization no one knows anything about. I think they said no one has even seen a guildsman. They certainly haven't been an important part of the story.


There are a number of references, some oblique and some more direct. One of the clearer you've probably not hit yet (at least at the writing of your comment). But you've earlier passed, for instance, "But the idea of living out his life in the mind-groping-ahead-through-possible-futures that guided hurtling spaceships appalled him. It was a way, though. And in meeting the possible future that contained Guildsmen he recognized his own strangeness."

> 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.


The sci-fi take is basically "what would the future look like if we had interstellar FTL travel and enhanced humans, but no computers, lasers, or bullets?"

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 have lasers, but if they hit a personal shields it explodes the the shooter, the victim and anyone near both.

They also have computers, but they're limited.


Trying to classify Dune, I think it's more of a Hyper-Postappocalyptic setting with today's eyes.

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.


My guess is that BeetleB has certain expectations of Sci-fi that probably aligns more with the Hard Sci-fi genre. Which is a personal preference. To me, Dune is Sci-fi + Fantasy.


Well I can agree with that, but he stated "nothing like sci-fi"


There's nothing sci-fi about mind reading, the may as well cast a spell to read minds, it's a plague on the entire genre.

Fortunately dune didn't have mind reading.


all of those things are more like "space fantasy" than sci-fi.


@BeetleB: "I remember as a teenager eagerly anticipating reading Dune. And was totally disappointed. There's nothing SF about it."

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 :)


I didn't bother to downvote it, but it's obviously wrong and probably trolling?

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.


As the original commenter, I feel I should at least somewhat explain.

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 upvoted the article because I like Dune and think that discussion of the books/movies is interesting.

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.


Well, thanks for the explanation. Context is a hard problem in text.




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