While all things considered Frank Herbert’s sci-fi masterpiece Dune hasn’t gotten too many big screen adaptations as of yet, the lengthy tale of spice, war, and worms has come pretty close. You see, back in the late 2000s, it was rumored action director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Patriot’s Day) was going to be taking a swing at the space saga in an effort to create something a little less, well… obtuse than the 1984 version created by David Lynch. However, not much was known about what the project would look like or who was slated to work alongside Berg — until now.
In a recent edition of Keith Phipps and Scott Tobias’ new Substack newsletter The Reveal, author, actor, and humorist John Hodgman shared a story about meeting Berg on a flight and subsequently being asked to work on Dune with him. The encounter began when Hodgman caught Berg reading Dune while sitting next to him on a plane, remarked he wished he had brought his own copy to read, and was then asked by the director if he’d like one as he was currently carrying two. Naturally, this response made Hodgman curious as to why anyone would have two copies of the same book on board a flight, and a pretty funny and enlightening conversation ensued:
“I’m like, “What are you talking about, Peter Berg? Why do you have two copies of Dune?” He said, “Well, because I’m thinking about making it into a movie.” I mean, he said it with such Peter Berg-y jock-y confidence that I actually had a moment where I was like, “Does he not know? Does he not know that there was a movie?” Because he was like, “I’m thinking about turning this book into, get this, a film. And not only was there a movie, but at that point, there had also been a mini-series on Sci-Fi channel in the year 2002, two of them. It had been adapted already. Am I going to be the guy who has to tell Peter Berg that David Lynch already made a movie of Dune?”
Luckily for Hodgman, Berg soon revealed he knew both a Dune movie and mini-series existed, but was quick to point out where the two faltered, in his opinion, and how his version would both adhere to Hollywood standard as well as offer a different take on the story.
“He was saying, “Look, this is a classic hero’s journey about a chosen child who must heed a call to adventure and all this Joseph Campbellian stuff.” And then Peter Berg, being the artist that he is, takes out a spreadsheet and points out the top-grossing movies of all time and he’s like, “Chosen one narrative, chosen one narrative, chosen one narrative, chosen one narrative.” I’m like, “Yeah, I get it Peter Berg. White guys love to see movies about white guys who are the chosen special ones. Basically, Peter Berg’s take on Dune was that he was going to focus on the adventure and the warfare and a little bit less of the psychosexual stuff .. He was like, “David Lynch made his version.” I don’t want to put words in Peter Berg’s mouth, but he was like, “I’m going to make this a guy’s movie, not a weird guy’s movie.” And so I was like, “Well, good luck to you.””
However, the story of Hodgman, Berg, and Dune didn’t end there. According to Hodgman, not long after his encounter with the director — and shortly after he submitted a screenplay that was ultimately passed over — his manager reached out to him to ask if he was interested in writing a film adaptation of Dune. Ultimately Hodgman turned the offer down, citing two major reasons as to why he thought it was a bad idea.
“One, I think the book is unfilmable, but who cares? Two, is Peter Berg directing it still?” And they’re like, “Yeah,” and I’m like, “I don’t think it’s going to work. I don’t think that jock is going to like this nerd, because the only thing I like about the previous movie is the heart plugs and the weird stuff.” That’s why I declined to work with Peter Berg and he later dropped out.”
As it stands now, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is the third adaptation of the series and does a pretty good job of treading the line between the type of movie one might expect from Lynch vs. Berg, with all the niche, sci-fi goodness we geeks love made pretty easily accessible. At the very least, America already seems to love the fresh new take on the saga.