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
If only movies had spliceable DNA as well as frames...
I was wondering if I needed to wait until viewing the entire mini-series version of Frank Herbert's seminal science fiction classic, but now having seen Part One, I know that won't be necessary.
How I wish there were some way to extract the charisma of the movie's cast, and somehow meld it with the production values and plotline of the new version. That way, fans of this sprawling allegorical tale could have the best of both worlds. Not that there aren't admirable things about both versions.
Where the magnificent photography of the late, great Freddie Francis served well David Lynch's more ethereal tendencies in the 1984 version, Vittorio Storaro's cleaner, clearer images for Harrison's miniseries could very well be a metaphorical reflection of the ever-expanding vision of its hero, young Paul Atreides (nee Paul Mu'ad D'ib.) The production design of both films is lavish, but where Lynch's film gave locations and accoutrements a more lived-in look, the mini's similar designs, though equally accurate by the novel's standards, reflect that antiseptic cleanliness that we are learning to recognize more and more with the advent of digital technology and its application to cinematic visual techniques.
With a few exceptions, the casting and therefore the subsequent performances are just as clean and clear-cut, dispensing with some of the character's humanity in exchange for the original's hystrionics of its more memorable characters.
Where Kenneth McMillan's unredeemably repulsive yet completely unforgettable Baron Harkonnen was the apex of pustulant, corpulent evil, Ian McNeice's version comes off as daintily perturbed, as if the most upsetting event in his worldview is not being served tea on time. William Hurt and Saskia Reeves capture the confident, manor-bred mantles of Duke Leto and the Lady Jessica accurately enough, but gone are the sorrowful grace of Jurgen Prochnow and the stunning Francesca Annis, whose relationship seemed tinged with the inescapable taint of a prophecy waiting to be fulfilled, and the damned, doomed parts they both played in its unfolding.
The rest of the cast, though gamely essaying their roles to the best of their ability, could hardly hope to match the powerhouse ensemble assembled by Italian mega-mogul Dino de Laurentis. For years, David Lynch was wrongfully assigned the blame for butchering his own film, when buffs everywhere know that he suffered through the ham-handed, studio-supervised editing of what should've been a landmark of science-fiction filmmaking, similar to what Terry Gilliam would endure at the same studio with BRAZIL.
Further insult was added to the injury when a four-hour cut was assembled by Universal for the TV version, which Lynch promptly removed his name from, (hence the traditional "Smithee" credit for direction, and the writing by "Judas Booth.")
While it is a splendid example of how CGI and other visual technological developments are making it possible for filmmakers to maintain accuracy and a truth to tell those stories it would've been impossible to film over a decade ago, (and for about half the cost), I for one do miss the star power and (at least) some of the remarkable acting in the Lynch version. I suspect where more money was spent on securing stars in '84 than for the sets and costume designs, the exact opposite is true for the new miniseries.
New and old fans of the tale should view and enjoy the latest version for the visuals, then go back and review the movie for the Lynchian touch, which in some odd but affecting ways came closer to Herbert's underlying messages of mysticism, miracles and seizing one's destiny than the Harrison version. In any case, you can come away with some elements of the best of both DUNE worlds.
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