In the 11th millennium, Shaddam IV, ruler of the Galactic Empire, rids himself of his competitor Duke Leto Atreides by giving him control of the desert planet Dune also called Arrakis; fully aware that its present owner, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, will not give it up without a fight. The reason is that Arrakis is the source of the valuable spice, a substance produced by enormous and dangerous sandworms, which bestows special mental qualities on anyone who consumes it. A short while later Harkonnen does indeed succeed in ambushing and massacring Leto and his men. Leto's mistress Lady Jessica, who is a member of the clairvoyant order of Bene Gesserit, manages to escape into the desert with her son Paul, and after a long and dangerous march they finally encounter the Fremen, the long suppressed desert tribe of Arrakis. Impressed by Paul's clairvoyant abilities, tribal prince Stilgar takes in the fugitives. Very soon the Fremen are convinced that Paul is their long-prophesied redeemer, and... Written by
I consider Frank Herbert's "Dune" to be the greatest science fiction novel of all time. Others would disagree, but they would have to admit that it is up there, even if it isn't their #1. I'm not talking about the whole book series, I'm just talking about the original novel. So I'm a serious fan of the material.
The 1984 film adaptation was an abortion. The depth of this novel cannot be conveyed in a two hour film, and David Lynch was badly undercut by the producers, who changed things to match their own desires. In its defense, however, it contained very high production values, lavish production design, a stellar cast, and much incredible visual imagery that sticks in the mind. If you can just try to forget that rain falls on Arrakis at the end (without reason), the rock group Toto's score, the ridiculous and distracting attempt to allow the characters' inner monologues be heard on screen, and the truncation of many plot elements, you can stand it. If you don't know the novel at all, you could be lost.
John Harrison's new adaptation takes the breadth and depth of the book and really makes a go of it. He slowly unfurls the intrigues and action of the novel, allowing character to be built and introducing the nuances of the novel, sometimes in clever ways, at other times not so subtly. One gets the feeling when watching that Harrison really cares about the source material, and wants the viewer to be included in its richness. This causes it to be slow moving at times, but it becomes more and more engrossing as time goes on. For many elements of the film his production designers, who did a first rate job, borrowed heavily from the 1984 Lynch adaptation, especially in their portrayal of the Harkonnens, who are comic-book villains again without a dash of dangerous cunning. In other cases I was thrilled by Harrison's renderings - of the Fremen sietches, much more livable than in the book, and the scenes where Jessica becomes a Reverend Mother. I don't feel gypped by this adaptation - it feels proper.
The movie is hamstrung a bit by a lack of budget - considering the subject matter, $20 million for six hours isn't much, and every penny and then some is there on the screen. He makes do by using a lot of international actors, and filming in Prague and Tunisia had to help. The special effects are for the most part CGI and bluescreen and are very effective for the money spent. Production design is EXCELLENT, especially when reminded of the total outlay for the film.
The calibre of the cast in the first film was so high that they pose a hard mount for any followers to climb. The only one who is clearly better is William Hurt in the expanded role of Duke Leto, as opposed to Jurgen Prochnow in the original. Alec Newman is fairly new to the screen and was a bit old, and not self-absorbed enough, to play Paul as well as Kyle Maclachlan did in 1984, but he has developing charisma and his performance at times radiates Muad'Dib's complexity. Saskia Reeves is good as Lady Jessica, but once you've fallen in love with Francesca Annis as Jessica it would be hard for anyone to replace her. Of course the original's Patrick Stewart as Gurney Halleck, Dean Stockwell as Yueh and Freddie Jones as Thufir Hawat are insurmountable, regardless of the brevity of their roles. I rather liked the Scottish Duncan Idaho, although I don't know if his brogue will hold up well in the potential sequels.
The nicest thing, for a fan of the book, is to see so many of the great scenes of the novel finally brought to the screen that could not be included in the two-hour film. These add a depth to the proceedings that was only hinted at in the 1984 adaptation. I am thoroughly enjoying this adaptation, and hope that the expanded Lord of the Rings that will be released theatrically will have as much care as this one did.
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