SUNDANCE- Alex Gibney’s shocking new documentary tells the story of the best science fiction never made: Rob Schneider’s Dune.
Frank Herbert’s novel Dune has proven a disaster for many film makers. First Ridley Scott tried and failed. Then Alejandero Jodorowksi. Then Alan Parker, John Boorman and David Lynch. Admittedly David Lynch actually completed the film but by then no one was interested because they knew the one that mattered – Rob Schneider’s – would never be seen.
Often praised by peers as a visionary consistently let down by inferior material, Schneider has also been a lifelong fan of Science Fiction. Throughout the Eighties, the young comedian wrote script after script based on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. When those attempts came to naught and emboldened by his growing success on Saturday Night Live, Schneider turned his attention to the massive 1963 Frank Herbert novel which had previously been made into a film by David Lynch in 1984. Schneider says:
I always felt that the Lynch film had got some major aspects of the book wrong. In a way that film is great as a Lynchian play with the future, but it just doesn’t sustain the sweep of the story and I had a feeling I could do it.
Casting himself as Paul Atreides, Schneider wrote a script and prepared to direct. George Lucas – a fan of the book and Schneider’s Tiny Elvis – was on board as a consultant and producer, but the two ultimately fell out over a comic character Lucas wanted to introduce into the film, who would later become Jar Jar Binks. ‘This is the one time in comedy history when Rob actually had more taste,’ jokes collaborator John Milius.
Alex Gibney‘s documentary is an entertaining portrait of a period as well as of the non-making of an almost classic. Talking head interviews with all the principles – except for Meg Ryan who pulled out of the project at a late stage for undisclosed reasons – are enlightening though there is the rosy hue of nostalgia distorting some of the harder economic realities. And despite Schneider’s presence there are moments of genuine comedy such as the casting reel, which shows Robert Downey Jr and James Caan struggling to get into their roles, Duke Leto and the Beast respectively.
Ultimately, heavy drug use and a spiraling budget doomed the project, but its influence can still be seen in such far flung regions of the galaxy as Paul Blart Mall Cop and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.