Tanya Lapointe: Blockbuster 'Dune' now has a companion in book form

Zendaya as Chani in Dune. Picture: Warner Brothers
Zendaya as Chani in Dune. Picture: Warner Brothers

This new book by Tanya Lapointe is the official, profusely illustrated, companion to the film Dune, directed by Denis Villeneuve. The film covers the first half of Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune, which is regarded as one of the most influential science fiction books of the 20th century and has sold over 20 million copies.

Villeneuve's is not the first attempt to film Dune. Alejandro Jodorowsky's intended 1970's 14-hour version, with a soundtrack by Pink Floyd, with roles for Salvador Dali and Mick Jagger, never reached the screen except in a 2013 documentary. The 1984 film, starring Kyle MacLachlan and Sting, was critically mauled and disowned by its director David Lynch after the producer's final cut. A three-part science fiction television miniseries was released in 2000.

Dune was first published in serial form in John W Campbell's Analog magazine in 1963, but the final book was rejected by 23 book publishers before Chilton Books, better known for auto-repair manuals, published it in 1965. First editions in fine condition now bring five figure sums,

Frank Herbert wrote five sequels to Dune, while his son Brian with Kevin J. Anderson, has written more than a dozen more, but none have had the impact of the original. Neil Gaiman has said Dune "wasn't perceived as an instant classic; publishers saw this big book on ecological themes as rather peculiar, a sort of Lawrence of Arabia in the stars" .

Dune blends environmental concerns, Middle Eastern oil politics, Islamic theology, imperial oppression of native races and Zen mysticism into a far future setting of galactic power struggles. The setting is the desert planet of Arrakis, known as Dune, the only planet where the rare, mind-expanding "Spice Melange" is mined, a drug which is essential for the Guild pilots undertaking interstellar travel. Whoever controls the spice of Arrakis controls the Empire.

The Atreides family are sent to Dune, whose nomadic, native Fremen people regard the giant sandworms, living beneath the surface, as sacred creatures. This planetary custodianship is no sinecure, as House Atreides becomes entangled in a bitter power struggle with the Emperor and the ruthless House Harkonnen.

The young Paul Atreides is seen by the Fremen as their long-awaited Messiah, the prophet Muad'Dib. The Mahdi was as much an historical influence on Herbert as Lawrence.

Kevin Anderson has said Herbert came up with "not just a desert planet with sandworms, he had the full ecology worked out, all of the culture, even the language and the religion of the people and the giant galactic politics".

Dune has influenced many subsequent books and films, from Star Wars to Game of Thrones to the Wheel of Time series.

But then. Villeneuve says, "It was a very long process to find this identity in a world with the giant elephant of Star Wars in the room . George Lucas was inspired by Dune when he created Star Wars. Then as we were making a movie about Dune, we had to negotiate the influence of Star Wars. It's full circle".

But Paul is no Luke Skywalker. As the books progresses, the storyline becomes much darker. Villeneuve has said that "Paul is a teenager with an old soul".

Paul himself is conscious of his "terrible purpose" and a future of a universal jihad, where "fanatic hordes cut their gory path across the universe in his name".

Herbert himself said that Dune "began with a concept: to do a long novel about the messianic convulsions which periodically inflict themselves on human societies" .

Herbert once reflected, "superheroes are disastrous for humankind. Even if we find a real hero...eventually fallible mortals take over the power structure that always comes into being around such a leader".

Villeneuve says the film is "not a celebration of a saviour, it's a criticism of the idea of a saviour, of someone that will come and tell another population how to be, what to believe".

Herbert's themes are emphasised by Villeneuve, namely climate and conservation, oppression of indigenous races, drug culture, religious fanaticism, the role of women and gender dynamics.

Paul's mother, Lady Jessica, is a powerful figure, trained in the skills of the powerful female group, the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood.

Tanya Lapointe, executive producer for Dune and partner of director Denis Villenueve, provides fascinating behind-the-scenes insights, including that Villeneuve despite his other successful films, Sicario, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, felt he was in "uncharted territory" because "everything was larger-than-life".

She uses her "investigative and creative" eye as a cultural journalist and documentary filmmaker to create a book which is visually stunning and which will be for many an essential companion to the film.

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This story Doing 'Dune' justice on the page first appeared on The Canberra Times.