As we recently reported with the troubled big screen adaptation of The Dark Tower, as well as plans to turn The Stand into a feature trilogy, there have been a number of epic books that have proven problematic to adapt into films.
Dune certainly was one at the top of the list, although it’s interesting to learn that the version being planned in the ‘70’s was going to be directed by Alejandro Jodoworsky, director of the surreal midnight classic El Topo (which is now available on Blu-Ray), and was going to be written by Dan O’Bannon, the late screenwriter of Alien.
Paul Gaita, writer for the L.A. Times and Amazon.com, called El Topo a film that “drew inspiration from a dizzying array of sources, including Zen Buddist tracts, Artaud’s ‘Theater of Cruelty,’ the films of Jean Cocteau and Sergio Leone and the art of Salvador Dali.” El Topo was the first midnight movie, and it was a major trip film for hippies to get stoned to.
Not to mention what Dune could have looked like with the artwork of H.R. Giger, who went on to design Alien because O’Bannon was a big fan of his work. In the book on ‘70’s cinema, The Stewardess is Flying the Plane, O’Bannon recalled that Jodoworski had seen John Carpenter’s Dark Star, which O’Bannon worked on and had a starring role in.
The ship in Dark Star was designed to be broken down and dingy, much like the spaceships in Star Wars and Alien, which clearly had been around for a long time, and like a used car was clearly worse for wear. (Ridley Scott is a fan of Dark Star, one of the few science fiction films he enjoyed prior to working on Alien.)
Jodoworsky wanted O’Bannon to be the special effects supervisor on Dune, and he did some designs for the film in Paris, where Giger was having an exhibit.
O’Bannon recalled looking at Giger’s art was "a very spooky experience – the graphic equivalent of being introduced to H.P. Lovecraft’s work."
The money for Dune fell through, but it helped pave the way for Alien because O’Bannon kept Giger in mind, and it was Giger’s artwork that helped sell Alien to several of the cast members, including Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skeritt.
It was a great insight to have Giger design creatures that had never been seen before for a sci-fi / horror film, and the mind boggles at what kind of insane visions Jodoworsky, and O’Bannon could have all created together for Dune.