Dune, the miniseries (Part III)

We come at last to Part III and the final act of the Dune miniseries! Been a long time in coming, and funny thing is, I tried to do all in one post. Now here I am breaking it into four just so I can cover the original movie and the miniseries faithfully. But as I’ve said many times before, the book is long and dense, and requires lots of time and space to do it justice. Wow, is there some weird weird esoteric shit going on here? Are all these posts visually demonstrating how length is the difference between success and failure here?

Sorry about that, I think my latest batch of moonshine’s got some weird properties… making me talk funny! Let’s just get to the third act and wrap this baby up!

The final act opens on an attack being made by the Fremen on the city of Arrakeen, capitol of Arrakis. We see Paul as he’s overseeing this attack, now a full 17 years of age and hardened by desert life and the gift of his prescience. At this point in the story, they’ve been waging their war against the Harkonnen’s for a full two years now and things are finally coming to a head. The Harkonnen’s forces no longer go into the desert, the Fremen has free reign there, and are basically trapped inside the capitol while the Fedaykin strike at them with impunity. Paul stands on the edge of achieving his revenge and the Fremen are on the verge of receiving their messiah. But first, a few things need to happen before they can make their final assault and Paul can become the Mahdi. In order to become a true leader, Paul must ride the worm and assume control over Fremen tribe in the desert (at some point, this will involve calling Stilgar out, as hinted at earlier). And to become a true prophet, he must take the Water of Life.

What’s good about the miniseries at this point is that they take the time to flesh out the events that took place in this time. In the novel they were talked about, but not shown. We skip from the point where Jessica becomes the Reverend Mother to where Paul is riding the worm and all that happens in between is described but not shown. But here, in order to provide additional pacing and keep the audience up to speed, we have several scenes which were both important and well executed. One is where Irulan, upon returning from Geidi Prime, begins to share her suspicions with her father, and I can honestly say its one of the best scenes in the entire series. It begins with her father pointing out how the Baron is loosing men on Arrakis and pleading for help. And replies by indicating that the kill-loss rate is a clear indication of how superior the Fremen fighters are. She then ventures that the only reason the Baron would allow Raban (who is clearly incompetent) to deal with this problem is because he has a plan to enlist the Fremen, and that he is grooming his nephew to take over. Hearing this, Irulan and Fenrig finally say flat out what’s been hinted at repeatedly throughout the series. “(Ten million people)… toughened by conditions worse than your own prison planet, father…” “The Baron would have a force to rival even your dreaded Sardaukar…” Fenrig is impressed, but Irulan concludes the scene with an obvious declaration. “My father can handle the Baron… it’s this Muad’Dib that I’m curious about.” Aka. she’s almost positive its Paul!

We also get to see Paul and his mother talk about the path he’s on, something that was quite important and never really included in the book. She expresses concern that Paul is beginning to believe in the legends they’ve been exploiting, to which he counters with another legend: the Kwisatz Haderach. Again, the name is dropped, Paul explains how the Reverend Mother came to him in a dream and told him. Jessica then explains what the Bene Gesserit had planned, what the KH was supposed to be. Now the audience, having been primed, knows exactly what the KH is, and what this means for Paul. Jessica says that she only gave the Duke a son out love, that she never meant to give birth to “a God”. But alas, we can see that even she’s not sure who Paul is anymore…

In between all this, we get the important stuff that did make it into the book. For one, we see Paul ride the worm for the first time. He knew he would have to do this eventually, due in part to all the Fremen warriors who have come to challenge him over the years, and to the fact that sooner or later, he will have to demonstrate this ability if he’s going to lead the Fremen. The scene where he does this is certainly cool, better than the original because its not so over the top (aka. no internal monologues, no really epic music, just a high-energy scene that’s faithful). It also ends with a fitting reminder: now that Paul has shown he can command the worm, there’s the little matter of him and Stilgar. If he’s to lead, he will have to best him in combat… Paul is clearly saddened by this realization, and you can see it. But for the moment, they’re riding a damn worm! Not to the time to be worrying about other things!

We also see Paul’s reunion with Stilgar. Earlier on in the series, he saw him working with smugglers, a preview of their eventual encounter. During an ambush, Paul recognizes him and the bring him and his men back to the sietch where they Paul asks him to enlist with him and his Fremen. “I never left your side,” he says, predictably. Good ol’ Gurney! But of course, he is surprised to hear Jessica is alive, and suspects SHE was the traitor. Then, in a scene which never made it into the movie, he confronts with her with his knife drawn, bad Gurney! But of course, Paul and Jessica talk him down once they reveal that it was Yueh and why he did it. Everything is resolved… though Gurney obviously feels like a douche! We also get a gander at Paul’s son who was born in the preceding two years and see the blossoming relationship that’s taking place between Chani and Jessica. These are not just filler, they preview the decision Paul will have to make, the same one his father made. For the sake of politics, the Duke never married Jessica, thus ensuring he could marry the Lady of another house and create and alliance. Paul, it has been hinted at, may have to do the same at some point. Hence, Chani will also be only ever be a consort in title, but in reality, will be his true love.

But the real money is in the palace scenes where the Baron is summoned and makes excuses for his inability to crush the Fremen rebellion. His exact words were said later in the novel, when the Emperor showed up on Arrakis demanding answers. The effect of this was to make the latter chapters feel rushed; putting it sooner in the series, before the Emperor decided to intervene, was a good idea on Harrison’s part because it helped with the pacing. It also makes the Emperor’s eventual intervention seem that much more justified. But alas, the lines: “Your majesty, these people are mad! They women throw their babies at us! They hurl themselves onto our weapons to open a wedge for their men to attack… I could wipe the planet clean of the entire race, but then there’d be no one left to mine the spice. It’s a terrible dilemma…” The Emperor, naturally, is unconvinced. The Guild and the Bene Gesserit, fearing what Muad’Dib represents, want him to intervene, and Fenrig points out that they can’t attack the Baron directly because of their past involvement together. I.e. he secretly helped the Baron destroy House Atreides, can’t have that coming out! So the Emperor decides to send the palace to Arrakis, along with the armies of every major house. He’ll deal with the Fremen rebellion first and the Baron later.

And then, Paul takes the Water of Life! The experience almost kills him, and the scene is detailed and long, reflecting its true importance. In the original movie, it was quick and rushed, Paul did it and it was over. In truth, the experience was nearly fatal, and having come through it, Paul now knows he’s the Kwisatz Haderach, his visions are complete. He sees the future and all the terrible things he will do, but now knows they are necessary and inevitable. He also sees that the Emperor and the great houses are coming! War is upon them at last! When he announces this to the Fremen, they know at last that he is truly their prophet, and demand he call out Stilgar. Paul refuses, saying that their ways must change and he will not cripple himself by sacrificing his best warriors. To resolve this impasse, he declares that he is not their naib, but their Duke! In other words, he asserts his royal claim over the planet and asks for their loyalty, and they give it!

The time has come at last to mount their assault on Arrakeen, now that the Emperor is there! This was apparently the point in holding back. If they took the capitol before the Emperor and his legions were on the ground, the Emperor could always attack and retake the planet. This way, he will defeat both the Emperor and the Harkonnen’s in one blow, and dictate terms to them. But… there’s one more card he needs. He hints at this by telling Othyem, one of his loyal Fedaykin, to take a supply of changed Water of Life to a large pre-spice mass. Otheym knows what this means, and is aghast, but obeys. We don’t… yet, but we can tell its significant. We’re getting the impression that this is the whole “You alone know what I can do!” that Paul said in the original movie. Good! I was wondering… Paul takes the time to bury his father’s remains in a Fremen tomb, and has one final conversation with his mother about the future. She is afraid, naturally, but Paul has become fatalistic about the whole thing. It must be, and he has no qualms anymore because as he says “there aren’t any innocents anymore!” Paul then takes this opportunity to reveal to hes mother that he knows her ancestry. She’s a Harkonnen, and therefore so is he! Cruelty is natural to them, as is nobility. Because of this, he has everything he needs to be the KH, and it’s the perfect irony. The Bene Gesserit wanted someone like him so they could control things, but since they couldn’t control Jessica, she’s changed everything. But has arrived before his time, and the consequences they were told to expect are now here! Bad things will happen, bad, necessary things. A shocking revelation! And perfectly timed since its act III and the attack is about to come.

But, true to the original story, the Sardaukar attack sietch Tabr, where Paul and his family have been living for the past two years, and murder Paul’s son! They also take Alia hostage, the bloody bastards! Paul knows his son is dead just before they mount their attack, rather than hearing about it in the course of it – as happened in the novel, which was weird! Like most of what Herbert wrote in act III, it kind of felt he was rushing towards the climax, getting that writer’s itch to draw things to a close! I know the feeling… But, important here, Alia being taken hostage puts her inside the palace and before the Emperor, where she can deliver her messages to him and the Mother Superior who is there with him. She sees her and recognizes her as “the abomination the ancients warned us about”, i.e. a preborn child, which the BG’s naturally fear. Irulan also connects all the dots now that she has Muad’Dib’s sister before them. She is Atreides in appearance, hence Muad’Dib is Paul! Everyone is breathless!

And then, boom! Paul attacks! Again(!), this battle scene is a lot more impressive here than the in the original movie. Not because of special effects, but because its much more drawn out and the camera gets around. We see fighting in the city, fighting in the desert, at a distance and at close quarters, not just a bunch of Fremen shooting down Sardaukar from the backs of sandworms. What’s more, its true and detailed to the story. They use a tactical nuke to blow up the natural shield wall that protects Arrakeen from the terrible sandstorms, the ensuing storm neutralizes the palace shields, and then, they attack with the worms and take down the Sardaukar and Harkonnen armies! And of course, while scrambling, Alia stabs the Baron with the Atreides gom jabbar (a poison needle), thus killing the bastard! And in the ensuing scene where Paul has his defeated foes before him and is dictating terms, the miniseries takes the time to explain exactly what Paul can do and how he will do it… if he’s not obeyed.

As I said in the Dune movie review, Paul has not truly won at this point. Though the Emperor’s legions are dead and the Harkonnen’s defeated, the Emperor still has the armies of the royal houses to call in. Paul tells them, don’t bother! His men are in the desert over a pre-spice mass with changed Water of Life, which is fatal to the worms, and ready to introduce it in. This will destroy this mass, but also create a cycle of death amongst the sandworms as they spread it to other spice masses and other worms. All the worms will die, and hence all spice production will end; civilization will end! And, classic line to top it off: “If I am not obeyed… the spice will not flow!” So naturally, Irulan intervenes and suggests she be married to Paul, giving him the throne and staving off disaster. But not before Feyd offers his own solution: a knife fight! It all looks hopeless when Feyd is about to slip Paul a poison needle (the cheater!) but Paul manages to whisper to Feyd that they are cousins! The momentary distraction gives Paul the edge to slip away from the needle and he slips the knife in his throat. Then… (again!) faithful to the novel, and (again!) way better than the original, Paul snubs Irulan, his wife to be, stands before Chani and looks at her lovingly, and Jessica concludes the whole thing with a voiceover (Irulan style): “Let us hope she finds solace in her writing and her books, she’ll have little else. She may have my son’s name, but it is we, who carry the name of concubine, that history will call… wives.”

And that’s the full tamale! All three acts, one big miniseries, one REALLY deep novel! And alas, the creators didn’t stop there. With Frank Herbert’s Dune garnering such high ratings for the Sci Fi channel, it wasn’t long before they tackled books II and III, combining them into a single miniseries named Children of Dune. I shan’t get into that one though, that’s something for another day, a long time from now! In the meantime, let me just conclude by reiterating everything I loved about THIS miniseries. The direction and pacing were great, the acting solid, and with the exceptions of Thufir and Duncan, the characters well-developed and fleshed out. The plot and execution were also faithful to the original, improving it on it in many cases, especially where revelations and twists were concerned. All of this was great in its own right, but especially so since all other attempts to adapt it to the screen failed. For the fans of the Dune franchise, this took over three decades, and Herbert himself didn’t even live to see it. Sure, it wasn’t the silver screen, who who cares? Chances are, this accomplishment was never going to happen on the big screen, and never will. The scuttlebutt says more cable adaptations are in the works, with God Emperor of Dune (Book IV) on the way, and possibly even another attempt at the big-screen. But we’ll leave that to history…

Frank Herbert’s Dune:
Entertainment Value: 8/10 (not recommended for people with short attention spans or special effects fetishes!)
Plot: 10/10 (Yo!)
Direction: 9/10
Total: 9/10

No endnotes! Ya’ll should know what’s what by now! 😉

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