Late last year, a rare copy of one of the pitch books legendary director Alejandro Jodorowsky made to pitch his vision for an adaptation of Dune went to auction. Expected to sell for around $30-40,000, it went for around a baffling three million dollars, thanks to an ether-backed collective known as TheSpiceDAO. Now, they want to use manuscript to… make their own Dune.
SpiceDAO’s overwhelming bid for the book—one of a handful of copies still in existence, which has already been digitized and made available online before—was part of a number of headline-making landmark auctions for collectors items last year. Rare copies of Mario and Zelda games, comics like Spider-Man’s debut in Amazing Fantasy, and more all generated wildly-overestimated record breaking bids, in part driven by people with more money than sense placing speculatory bids into rare collectibles as the next big thing. The Christie’s sale of Jodorowsky’s Dune was no exception to this trend, albeit that it was one brushing up with another speculatory trend: cryptocurrency-backed DAOs, or Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, pooling together millions of dollars from supporting crypto owners in an attempt to buy something and web3-ify it in some nebulous capacity. There was a failed attempt to purchase the US constitution, and plans to transform Blockbuster into a future streaming service by similar DAOs, and now, there is SpiceDAO. The difference with SpiceDAO’s plans to these, however, is that they suddenly think spending three million dollars just means they own Dune.
SpiceDAO attracted a bevy of attention—mostly scorn—over the weekend by reiterating their plans for Jorowsky’s Dune after its purchase. The first, to make the book public with a new digitized copy while the purchased physical book is stored in a “fine art quality storage with a professional, insured service,” is admirable, if not, as previously mentioned, something that’s never happened with other copies of the book before. The problem is the other two plans, which involve turning the Moebius-illustrated storyboards into an animated series to sell to a streaming service, and then also having done that, encourage derivative projects based on the manuscript from the crypto enthusiasts who backed the bid in the first place.
Except, of course, Jodorowsky’s Dune is still Dune, an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s iconic novel. Purchasing a book of storyboards—one of several in existence, even if that number is low—and expecting that to transfer the rights to those storyboards, or the story itself, would’ve been like whoever purchased that copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 last year expecting they could go to Sony and direct Spider-Man: Are We Still Doing Home Puns?. Or, perhaps, you walking into a book store, picking up one of those re-released copies of Dune with the cast from Denis Villeneuve’s movie on the cover, and thinking you could walk up to Timothée Chalamet and tell him how Chapter Two is yours now.
SpiceDAO at least, in other avenues, has admitted that this would be a significant roadblock to adaptation, and intends to instead lean more towards creating something inspired by the work instead. “Jodorowsky’s expansive vision for Dune in some way planted the seeds for nearly every Sci-Fi project over the last 50 years. While we do not own the IP to Frank Herbert’s masterpiece, 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,” the DAO wrote on its own Medium page in the wake of the auction late last year. Any project that came out of SpiceDAO’s purchase would have to delicately tread the line of homaging not just Herbert’s work—and now the work of a major Hollywood studio in Warner Bros.—but the legal rights of Jodorowsky’s estate, Moebius’ estate, and others involved in the original pitch itself. But then why would SpiceDAO need to purchase Jodorowsky’s pitch bible to create something simply inspired by Dune and the aesthetic Jodorowsky and his collaborators envisioned, if they were so intent on creating an original work?
Perhaps, the answer, is that you couldn’t run an ancillary grift of getting those crypto enthusiasts who supported the bid in the first place to invest in your own Dune-themed cryptocurrency that way, could you? After all, the spice must flow one way or the other.
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