Dune has inspired many materials. From films like Star Wars and Aliens to games such as Warhammer 40K, the influence is vast and widespread. This following article will investigation some of these mediums.
An Earlier Attempt
In the 1970s, there was an attempt to create a unique vision of Dune by the famed director Alejandro Jodorowsky. He initially attempted to produce his own vision of the book, which was later known as the biggest movie never made. His 300 page script would have been correspondent to a 14-hour movie. In the end, the ambitious project was cancelled and the crew members started to work elsewhere, responsible for some of the great movie projects. This is distinct from the 1984 Dune film by David Lynch.
Famous artist H. R. Giger was previously attached with Jodorowsky’s Dune. After the cancellation of the project, Dan O’Bannon, who was also attached with Jodorowsky’s Dune, started to work on the new 1979 Alien film and he hired H. R. Giger for the visuals of the new film. The end result was the Xenomorph, the nightmarish set and the rest is history. Later, similar artwork was also used in the 2012 prequel Prometheus.
Ridley Scott was originally attached with the 1980s Dune. He really enjoyed the script of Jodorowsky’s vision. So much so, he hired the two leading visual experts from the unmade film, namely Dan O’Bannon and Jean Giraud. Together, they managed to create the futuristic environment seen in the 1982 Blade Runner movie. Also, the idea of a minority group fighting against the government is reminiscent of the Fremen rebelling against the imperium in Dune. Interestingly, Dan O’Bannon also worked with Ridley Scott in Alien a couple of years prior. Ironically, the sequel for the film was directed by Denis Villeneuve, who will be adapting the new Dune film.
The 1997 film Contact has an infamous sequence where the movie opens with a shot of Earth from the galactic space. This sort of scene later inspired other science fiction movies to open with similar moments to this. Director Robert Zemeckis allegedly had access to Jodorowsky’s Dune and incorporated this into his film. So any movie which was inspired by this particular scene was indirectly inspired by Jodorowsky’s visuals and thus Dune.
This 2000s series was a combination of an American biopunk and cyberpunk form of science fiction. During the course of the series, two specific groups are introduced into the series. Firstly, the Manticore group is quite similar to the Bene Tleilax from Dune. Both of these groups are experts in genetics and use their knowledge to create the ultimate warrior. In Dune, this was extensively covered in Paul of Dune. Secondly, the Conclave of Dark Angels are highly reminiscent to the Bene Gesserit of Dune. Both organisations are designed to produce the ultimate warrior through selective breeding.
This 1980 film has a quite a few similarities between the art of Jodorowsky’s Dune and the actual scenes in the film. Namely, the background of the football fight scene is reminiscent of a concept art from Jodorowsky’s Dune. This is so accurate that it even matches the staircase (2) in the background. There was also a scene where a characters snatches some spectacles from robots to reveal wiring, which was also based on Jodorowsky’s version, alongside character arts.
Game of Thrones
Dune has been frequently described as “Game of Thrones in Space”. Both works of fictions are based on feudalistic setting with medieval mentalities. There are some similarities between the family houses of both materials. The honourable House Stark appears to represent House Atreides. The greedy House Lannisters to House Harkonnen and the mighty House Baratheon to House Corrino. If the books are anything like its television counterpart, there is also a steady deconstruction of the ‘chosen one’ trope, at least according to some opinions. Both materials have concepts which allow them to produce an insight into the future. The fight for the throne is similar to the fight for the imperial throne. The Face Dancers of Dune are practically identical to the Faceless Men of Game of Thrones.
DUNE is a classic work — George R. R. Martin
However, chances are that Game of Thrones was actually more inspired by the War of the Roses.
The Hyperion Cantos is a series of five books published in the 1990s. It’s another science-fiction franchise which bears certain similarities with Dune. Both Dune and Hyperion take place over a long period of time in which empires rise and fall and rise again. Both galaxies are ruled by a central ruling authority, who are referred to as Imperium and the Hegemony of Man respectively. In both universes, Earth has been destroyed or abandoned. In Dune, this was during the Butlerian Jihad and in Hyperion, this was after The Big Mistake. Both Dune and Hyperion use calendars which restarted after a key event. In Dune, this was when the Spacing Guild established a monopoly on space transportation and finance and the creation of the Golden Lion Throne alongside the foundation of the Royal Houses of the Landsraad and CHOAM. This was around 11076 A.D. In Hyperion, the new calendar was established after the founding of the Hegemony. This was 3 standard years following the destruction of Palestine via a nuclear jihad. The calendar reset in the year 2143 C.E. Some major differences are that the Hyperion Cantos contains an open-use of artificial intelligence, remnants of ancient alien civillisations and a form of time travel.
Masters of the Universe
This 1987 film has two characters which appear to resemble some of the character arts from Jodorowsky’s Dune. The central figure appears to resemble Duncan Idaho and the yellow-figured Skeletor strikes shocking similarities to the yellow-figured Padishah Emperor.
The 1984 book Neuromancer is seen as the origin of the cyberpunk trope. During the writing of his book, William Gibson was inspired by the release of 1982s Blade Runner, which itself was inspired by Jodorowsky’s Dune. It was quite difficult to read. I had to read a summary afterwards and it was still quite difficult to comprehend.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The 1981 Indiana Jones film had a scene near the ending which bore striking similarities with Jodorowsky’s vision of Dune. In this particular moment, the Ark of the Covenant is opened and a divine smoke is released into the atmosphere, affecting all who came into contact with the force. At the ending of Jodorowsky’s Dune, Paul Atreides is killed and his force of consciousness is dissipated into the native population, who all end up turning into messianic figures.
The 1980s animated series and later book series Robotech has borrowed elements of Dune. In Robotech, protoculture is the name of the substance obtained from a dangerous source which serves as the energy source for robo-technology in the series and can also boost awareness. In Dune, spice melange is the name of the substance obtained from a dangerous environment and is used for a variety of purposes, such as increasing lifespan and allowing faster-than-light speed travel, increased awareness and also allowing prescient visions.
From the similar technologies to spiritual and somewhat incestual bonds between siblings, as well as the similarities between the Jabba the Hutt and God Emperor of Dune and the possession of a supernatural ability to control the action of others alongside the protagonists being raised on desert planets, the comparison between Star Wars and Dune has already been thoroughly investigated.
This is an interesting entry. When the Terminator scans the rooms and environment looking for Sarah Conner, a Point Of View (POV) shot was used. This POV also had bits of technical information as the terminator scanned his surroundings. This might have been inspired by the storyboard of Jodorowsky’s Dune, where a robot character also uses a POV frame filled with technical information. This also might have inspired the heat vision of the Predator franchise.
The Fifth Element
The 1997 film The Fifth Element was a science-fiction story starring Bruce Willis and Milia Jovovich. The Fifth Element bore striking similarities with the comic series The Incal, which itself was based on Jodorowsky’s Dune. There were so much similarities that Jodorowsky attempted to sue the creators.
After the project proved too ambitious for Hollywood, Jodorowsky decided to create a graphic novel series based on the artwork produced by Jean Giraud. This was published in the 1980s called ‘The Incal’. Both Dune and Incal have similar elements, such as messianism, political intrigue, science, mysticism, artwork etc. This comic later inspired The Fifth Elemen.
There are some elements of Jodorowsky’s Dune which somewhat influenced The Matrix franchise. The Matrix itself was primarily inspired by the 1984 William Gibson novel Neuromancer. That book itself was partially and indirectly inspired by Jodorowsky’s Dune.
This film franchise has one of the most obvious references to Dune. In Tremors, the desert worm creatures are almost definitely inspired by the Sandworms of Dune. Both creatures are practically blind and hunt by sensing vibrations. The mouth of the creature was described as a ‘grotesque flower’ in Tremors, which looks similar to the triple-jawed mouthed Sandworms of David Lynch’s film.
Warhammer 40000 is a gaming franchise which has borrowed heavily from Dune. Both Warhammer and Dune have a massive galaxy/imperium which are ruled by the Emperor of Mankind and Padishah Emperor respectively. Both materials also possess lasguns. Warhammer and Dune both possess navigators and both undergo mutations to enhance their abilities, which involve developing a third eye or transforming into an alien-like being respectively. Both mediums contain female-only organisation with similar roles, which include the Adepta Sororitas in Warhammer and Bene Gesserit in Dune. Both materials have outlawed the use of artificial intelligence after the Dark Age of Technology and the Butlerian Jihad. They were replaced by Sevitors and Mentats respectively. The Space Marines serve the Emperor of Mankind and Sardaukar Soldiers serve the Padishah Emperor. The amount of similarities between Warhammer 40000 and Dune are vast and endless.
Wheels of Time
The fantasy book series which was first published in the early 1990s has many elements borrowed from Dune. The character Rand al’Thor from Wheel of Time has obvious similarities to Paul Atreides of Dune. Both of them possess abilities which normally only belong to female-based societies, who are known as Aes Sedai in Wheel of Time and Bene Gesserit in Dune and possess supernatural abilities. Both Rand and Paul are messianic figures who unite the people of the desert and develop leadership skills. The desert people are known as Aiel in Wheels of Time and Fremen in Dune. Both series also possess concepts which allows prediction of the future: It is known as Foretelling in Wheel of Time and Prescience in Dune. Both materials use Islamic/Arabic terms, such as ‘Shaitan’ and ‘Mahdi’.
It was not just the media which was influenced by Dune. Not so much an influence as is a prophecy, the story of imperialistic powers attempting to control a precious resource which is highly sough after is deeply analogous with the current oil crisis. Oil is the most precious commodity for humanity which is used for a variety of functions and thus is hugely sought after of which countries have went to war with. He who controls the oil will control the economy, as proven by the 1973 Oil Crisis.
One of the themes of the Dune series is ecology, with the environment of Arrakis changing from a desert environment into a green-forested black-water planet, with this drastic change responsible for the reduction and steady extinction of the original species of the planet. With the current climate change phase and the gradual extinction of various indigenous animals, this has never been more relevant.
Furthermore, the author of the series, Frank Herbert, has previously stated that the resources are being produced and consumed at an exceedingly large rate. This will contribute to the eventual depletion of natural resources. He recommends people on switching to renewable energy sources:
I just say we have to shift from non-renweable energy to renewable energy. And we have to start taking the steps now. We really do have to start taking those steps now.
He said this in the 1970s. Frank Herbert was ahead of this time.
[Update 24/01/2021, 13:19 GMT —Updated hyperlinks.]