Watch out, Denis Villeneuve. The crypto bros are coming for your job—or so they thought.
Late last year, a cryptocurrency-backed organization called Spice DAO won an auction for a rare copy of filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s pitch book for his never-made adaptation of Dune. The valuable collector’s item was expected to rake in between $30-40,000 at Christie’s, so when it was sold for a staggering $3 million, it was clear that something was up.
Created in the 1970s, the manuscript is one of just a few copies in existence. It features stunning storyboards (some of which are already available to view online) for Jodorowsky’s 10-hour adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 iconic novel of the same name. Though it was never made into a film, the experimental director’s ambitious vision captured the fascination of sci-fi fans and has had a profound impact on the evolution of the genre (it was even the subject of a feature documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune).
All of this is to say that while still an important cultural artifact, Jodorowsky’s Dune is not the same thing as Herbert’s Dune, whose rights are controlled by WarnerMedia. It should be obvious that owning one does not mean you own the other. And yet, as conveyed in a recent tweet about their plans for the purchase, Spice DAO appears to believe they now own the adaptation rights to Dune rather than simply a physical copy of Jodorowsky’s book. Suddenly, that eyebrow-raising bid makes a lot more sense.
In the tweet, the group breaks down a three-point plan for Jodorowsky's Dune. The first goal is actually doable—to digitize and make the book public. However, it’s the other two that indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of their ownership rights. They express a desire to “produce an original animated limited series inspired by the book and sell it to a streaming service” and to “support derivative projects from the community.” Presumably, this means helping artists (or the crypto-obsessed backers of the bid) who want to take a crack at making their own versions of Dune.
In spite of what the tweet suggests, a post on Spice DAO’s Medium page from December, titled “Spice DAO Next Steps,” states that the group knows they don’t own Herbert’s IP. Regardless, they posit, “we are uniquely positioned with the opportunity to create our own addition to the genre as an homage to the giants who came before us.” If they never intended to specifically draw from Dune, why they needed to blow $3 million on Jodorowsky’s work to make their own animated sci-fi movie is unclear. But for now, Timothée Chalamet can rest easy knowing that his status as Arrakis’ unlikely emo messiah is secure.