Hunters of Dune, part II

Hunters of Dune, part II

Okay, now that I’ve managed to sum up the book, let’s get down to why it sucked! In addition to the usual weakness one can expect out of a book by these two – bad characters, bad story, cliches, and a general feeling of exploitation – there were several other glaring points. As usual, I’ve tried to break them down as succinctly as possible, going from best to worst.

1. Sequel Complex:
As I’m sure I’ve said before, the Preludes and Legends series suffered from an unmistakable sense of duty. I.e. the story was brought down by the voluminous amount of page time that was dedicated to origins stories and explanations that really had little or nothing to do with the main plot. In this book, things were turned around slightly. Instead of explaining where everything came from, the duo dedicated all kinds of page time and chapters to explaining where everything went.

Examples abounds, but here are just a few that come to mind. In the early chapters, much is made of the differences between the BG’s and HM’s and how they were having a hard time getting along. This was best demonstrated by Murbella’s chief companions, one a BG, the other an HM (for the life of me, I can’t remember their names!). Point is, after many chapters of doing the “odd couple” thing, the HM woman suddenly kills the BG woman, Murbella forces her to take on the other’s memories, and the thread is dropped.

Another example comes in the form of Uxtal and his efforts with the HM’s. After having several chapters dedicated to him and his attempts at recreating axlotl tanks so he can make gholas, artificial spice, and the raising of the Baron Harkonnen ghola, he is killed and fed to a farmer’s sligs. If the early chapters that featured him were any indication, it was that he was supposed to be a main character. However, once he serves his purpose, he’s cast aside and the thread that took place from his POV dies. Just another victim of Brian and KJA’s writing style!

And finally, there’s the many, many chapters dedicated in the beginning designed to flesh out every single detail about the gholas, the Face Dancers efforts to infiltrate the Old Empire, and the the war between the Sisterhood and the HM holdouts. For the most part, these chapters feel like pure filler, giving us a slew of boring details that could have been left in the background and do nothing to build towards the climax.

2. Weak Writing:
Brian and KJA are known for their wooden dialogue and one-dimensional characters. But in Hunters, as with the Preludes series, things were not nearly as bad as they were with the Legends series. One can infer from this that wherever Frank’s original characters and notes were available and the duo didn’t have to rely on their own instincts, everything read much better. However, some examples of crappy writing still crept into this book and it really showed!

Take the part of the book where the Paul and Chani gholas are talking and falling back into love. Seriously, the dialogue was so weak and sappy that I was honestly reminded of the terrible love scene from Attack of the Clones! “I love you. I have always loved you. Time cannot separate us,” is literally the type of dialogue that occurs here. Who the hell talks like this? Also, consider the chapter where Sheeana decides to ride one of their captive sandworms in front of a Futar. The purpose, apparently, was to impress the half man, half felines, in order to earn their loyalty and get information from them about the Handlers (who they are, etc). It responds by saying “You better than Handlers!” And thenceforth, they become their loyal protectors. Weak!

Another glaring example is the many, many references to what is referred to as the Outside Enemy (this is actually how it appears in the text). In Chapterhouse, we are made aware that the HM’s were themselves fleeing from something, and that was why they had returned to the Old Empire and were seeking to obtain the BG’s secrets. However, at no point where they referred to as the Outside Enemy. What’s more, this is such a lame name for an enemy. Hell, it’s not even a name, it’s a basic description! It as if they had found a footnote in Frank’s notes where he described the threat in these words and decided that this was how they were going to reference it from thence forth. I’m not sure if that’s weak or just plain lazy.

And finally, there is the addition of the Phibian creatures – a race of man-fish hybrids that are basically the aquatic versions of Futars. Aside from making a brief appearance in the story, they serve no purpose and seem to only exist because Brian and KJA thought they were a cool idea. This novel and its sequel, Sandworms, abound with examples of this, things that Frank made no mention of and seem completely at odds with his original vision, but made it in because the authors seemed to think they were cool. The fact that these terms now show up in Dune terminology is both sad and discouraging!

3. Weak Plot:
As all the previous examples will attest, this story suffered from the problem of making the reader wade through a slow-buildup packed with extraneous detail and poor writing before it finally got to the climax. But by the time it arrives, the entire pace of the book changed and important revelations are simply dropped in or rushed through in a desire to get to the halfway point before all the real action starts (which takes place in book II). And in truth, I was able to endure all the weakness thanks to the anticipation factor; I hung on in the hopes that something big was going to be revealed soon!

In fact, its not until the Ithaca and its crew discover the planet that’s been cloaked by a no-field that things begin to feel like they’re picking up. Finally, we are handed the first bit of hard evidence that the threat the HM’s were fleeing was a plague that left their world’s sterilized and deserted. However, they deduce so quickly that this planet was destroyed by a terrible plague after chancing upon an abandoned library and picking up one shred of document. C’mon man! Show us some mass graves, show us some hospitals filled with dead people, show us some signs that there was a terrible holocaust! This is important stuff, don’t just have them figure it out and then take off!

What’s more, no good reason is ever given for why the Face Dancers (and their machine masters) need gholas of Paul and the Baron. It is merely said that the former is “necessary” for the “Enemy’s” calculations, i.e. to help them take over the universe. As for the Baron, no real reason is given beyond saying he’s useful too. But its pretty clear its just so they can bring back the old characters and give them a final run. And of course its obvious from the get go, even without the extremely strong hints they give, that the Ithaca’s Paul and the Face Dancers “Paolo” are going to meet up and battle it out. Wow, a battle between the hero and his evil twin! Nothing cliche or obvious about that!

The same holds true for the Ithaca’s own gholas. In their case too, Duncan, Sheeana and the rest simply decide to start making them because they figure they might be “useful”. But if Duncan is already the new Kwisatz Haderach, what do they need to be resurrecting Paul and Leto for? What reason, for that matter, do they have for creating the others aside from bringing all the old crowd back and giving them a big sendoff? I get the sentimental appeal, but it really wasn’t necessary or even plausible to be resurrecting so many old characters. What was the point of killing them off if they’re all just going to be back before the end?

And let’s not forget what Daniel said at the end of Chapterhouse when Marty mentioned how Scytale had that nullentropy tube full of ghola cells and asks why he let them get away. “Didn’t let them…,” he replies. “Gholas. He’s welcome to them.” In other words, it sounds like the old man and woman were not the slightest bit threatened by the Ithaca and its ability to create gholas, nor do they seem to have any particular use for them themselves. So why would they go to the trouble of creating their own? Like most things in this book, it doesn’t fit with Frank’s original work.

4. Tie-ins:
A major flaw in this series, one which I hear many a fan complain about bitterly, is the fact that Brian and KJA felt compelled to write their own characters into the story. Not only is there no reason for them to be included, they are shoved into the story with all the subtlety of a square peg being rammed into a round hole.

For example, we are told that Scytale’s nullentropy tube, which he carries in his chest, contains the dead cells of all the series’ major figures. This includes Paul, Leto II, Jessica, Chani, Stilgar, Duke Leto, the Baron, Duncan, Thufir, Gurney, et al. In essence, the tube is the means to create gholas of all of history’s greats. But in Hunters, Brian and KJA decided to amend this list to include Xavier Harkonnen and Serena Butler. These two characters did not exist in the original series and were not mentioned once in Chapterhouse when the ghola tube was first described. So really, throwing them in was just a shout out to their own work, which seems crass.

Also, in the course of exploring her “Other Memory” Murbella comes across the memories and personality of Serena Butler. Aside from making this brief appearance in the story, she serves no purpose other than mentioning that she knows a thing or two about wars. This did not fit with the story at all seeing as how Serena is never mentioned in any of the original books, and really served no purpose other than as a reference to the duo’s work yet again. Brian and KJA even tactitly admitted this by writing that Murbella had no idea who Serena was or how she was related to her. Her voice, much like her inclusion in the story, appears out of nowhere and then promptly disappears.

Another tie-in comes in the form of the “Oracle of Time”, a Guild Navigator who never appeared in any of the original books. Initially, it seems that she is a descendent of the “Oracle of Infinity”, the patron saint of Navigators who first appeared in Dune: House Corrino, but by the end it is revealed that she in fact Norma Cenva (a character of the Legends series). In short, she was yet another character from Brian and KJA’s shoddy prequels who was thrown into the mix to draw attention to their own work.

Her character plays a central role in this story and its sequel, unlike Xavier or Serena; however, her appearance is rendered completely implausible because of the simple fact that she made absolutely no appearances in any of the original novels. If she comes to us from the Legends series, then she’s been around for over 15,000 years, right? So where has she been all this time, and if she’s an oracle, why the hell didn’t Paul or Leto notice her in the course of their prescient sweeps? Surely the existence of another prescient being, aside from the regular navigators, would have sent up some red flags for them! But again, this was not done for the sake of consistency or plausibility, it was done solely so the duo could write their own work into Frank’s story.

5. Wrong Again!:
As I mentioned before in my reviews of the Dune prequels, one can’t help but get the feeling that these guys completely misunderstood what Frank was going for. In the Legends series, for example, we are presented with a vision of the Butlerian Jihad that involves free humans battling it out with robots for the sake of freedom and survival (a la The Terminator franchise). Not only did it seem like Brian and KJA were relying on a ton of cheap sci-fi concepts to create this series, there was absolutely no indication in the original novels that the Jihad was anything like this. Consider this definition taken from Terminology of the Imperium, the glossary for the original Dune novel:

JIHAD, BUTLERIAN: (see also Great Revolt) — the crusade against computers, thinking machines, and conscious robots begun in 201 B.G. and concluded in 108 B.G. Its chief commandment remains in the O.C. Bible as “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.”

When one looks up Great Revolt, it simply refers back to the other definition.

GREAT REVOLT: common term for the Butlerian Jihad (See Jihad, Butlerian)

Not a lot to go on there, but notice the complete lack of any mention of cymecks, evil robots, or hive minds enslaving humanity. Also, there is no indication that this “Jihad” was a war in the literal sense. If anything, it sounds like a metaphor for a moral crusade against a specific kind of technology, a Luddite rebellion in other words. In God Emperor of Dune, Leto II explained the Jihad further:

“The target of the Jihad was a machine-attitude as much as the machines,” Leto said. “Humans had set those machines to usurp our sense of beauty, our necessary selfdom out of which we make living judgments. Naturally, the machines were destroyed.”

Once again, sounds like Frank was talking about a war in the metaphorical sense, that humanity’s “slavery” to machines constituted a willingness to let them handle our decisions, not slavery in the literal sense. So in addition to the Brian and KJA’s books reading like pulp sci-fi crap, it also seemed to completely miss the point of what the Jihad was all about.

The same is true in Hunters of Dune. Essentially, we are expected to believe that the old man and woman, the people who represent the threat the Honored Matres were fleeing, were in fact the evil robots from the prequels. Not only did this seem like a blatant and wholly transparent attempt to tie the ending back to their own work, it also seemed like it completely missed the mark! At the end of Chapterhouse, Frank Herbert strongly implied that the old couple were in fact Face Dancers. Consider the following conversation that occurred between the old man and woman, Daniel and Marty:

“[Tleilaxu Masters] have such a hard time accepting that Face Dancers can be independent of them.” “I don’t see why. It’s a natural consequence. They gave us the power to absorb the memories and experiences of other people. Gather enough of those and…” “It’s personas we take, Marty.” “Whatever. The Masters should’ve known we would gather enough of them one day to make our own decisions about our own future.”

Notice the key words here: “US”, “WE”, “OUR”. Why use the plural, when referring to Face Dancers, if they were in fact robots in disguise (uh-oh, I sense another franchise being ripped off here!)? In addition, all kinds of hints were dropped in Heretics and Chapterhouse that alluded to the possibility that Face Dancers were evolving beyond their master’s control. And, to top it all off, there’s the part in Chapterhouse when Duncan is confronted with the image of the old man and woman where he draws the following conclusion about them:

“That thought aroused Idaho’s suspicions because now he recognized the familiarity. They looked somewhat like Face Dancers, even to the pug noses … And if they were Face Dancers, they were not Scytale’s Face Dancers. Those two people behind the shimmering net belonged to no one but themselves.”

See? Face Dancers, clearly. And clearly of a variety that had learned how to stand on their own two feet and had their own agenda, whatever that was. Turning them into Omnius and Erasmus, who were not part of the Face Dancers but LEADING them, was nothing short of forced and inaccurate. It also makes no sense, seeing as how the Face Dancers were supposed to have evolved beyond the control of their masters. Why the hell would they throw off the shackles of the Tleilaxu only to enlist with the robots? And what reason could they possibly have for wanting to see humanity, of which they are essentially a part, annihilated?

And I am certainly not the only one who sees the inconsistency in all this. Consider the following statement by author William F. Touponce from his 1988 book entitled Frank Herbert:

“Herbert gives us a segment narrated from their point of view only at the very end of the novel. They are offshoots of the Tleilaxu Face Dancers sent out in the Scattering and have become almost godlike because of their capacity to assume the persona of whoever they kill — and they have been doing this for centuries, capturing Mentats and Tleilaxu Masters and whatever else they could assimilate, until now they play with whole planets and civilizations. They are weirdly benign when they first appear in the visions of Duncan Idaho as a calm elderly couple working in a flower garden, trying to capture him in their net…”

Similarly, in an August 2007 review of Sandworms of Dune, John C. Snider of SciFiDimensions.com argued that it “doesn’t fit” or “add up” that Frank Herbert’s Daniel and Marty are the “malevolent” thinking machines Brian Herbert and Anderson created in their Legends of Dune prequel novels. I, and many fans besides are inclined to agree. For starters, how could Frank have planned to end the series with characters he didn’t even create? Repeatedly, Brian and KJA have stated that they based Hunters and Sandworms on Frank’s “copious notes” and outlines, but they also claimed that when it came to the Butlerian Jihad, Frank had left no real notes behind, so the two had to rely on their own imaginations to come up with the story.

In short, Omnius and Erasmus were the creation of Brian and KJA, not Frank. Making them the villains at the end not only didn’t fit, it was also a clear attempt to put their own indelible stamp on Frank’s series. And that, in addition to being cynical and exploitative, just seems like a big ol’ middle finger to both Frank and his fans!

Some Final Words:
When Brian and KJA began releasing the books of the Preludes series, they made it abundantly clear that they would concluding the franchise by creating Dune 7. What’s more, they insisted that they were writing it based on Frank’s original notes, of which there were many! In spite of all the accusations to the contrary, they continue to make this claim, stating that the series ended precisely how the elder Herbert had intended. However, given the content, the writing style, and the completely unlikely ending, there is no way this can be true.

For one, the entire saga ends with characters that Frank Herbert had no involvement in creating. Norma Cenva, Erasmus, Omnius – these were all the independent creations of the Brian and KJA. What’s more, the story they concocted blatantly contradicted Frank’s own work. You can say you were following the master’s plan all you like, but when the end result is loaded with references to your own stories and the whole thing reads like nothing he would ever produce, people are going to know you’re lying through your teeth!

However, what’s become clear to many over the past few years is that KJA is the real driving force behind their collaboration. In addition to the McDune books reading more like his work, the sheer number of books released since the two teamed up is more in keeping with his quick, prolific style. At this juncture, it seems clear to many that Brian’s only real role in the duo is contributing ideas and making sure the name Herbert appears on the cover. I honestly feel guilty when doing these reviews and including Brian’s name in any indictments or criticisms. Sure, he might be drinking from the cup, but that doesn’t mean he’s not being used and abused! Rather than criticize him, I want to urge him to ditch the leech that’s been sucking him and his father’s legacy dry!

Okay, that’s about what I thought of Hunters of Dune and the partnership of Brian and KJA. I shall return, just as soon as I summon up the strength to actually (gulp!) read Sandworms of Dune in full. Not an easy task, but someone has to warn others to stay away! And you really can’t criticize if you’re not willing to read… This is gonna suck, I just know it! Until next time!

Hunters of Dune, a review

Hunters of Dune, a review

Oh boy, it’s finally here! After years of waiting and having to endure those horrible prequels, the long-awaited conclusion is finally here! Yes, that’s what I thought when I first heard the news. After years of making us wait and spend our hard earned money on a sleuth of teaser prequels and filler, Brian Herbert and KJA (or as I like to call him, NOT FRANK HERBERT!) finally delivered on their promise and released the damn Dune 7 novel!

Like most fans, I had been waiting years for that day. Ever since KJA and Brian got together and announced that they would be releasing Dune 7, a book which Frank had apparently been working on shortly before he died, I was understandably excited. It was just a few years before this announcement that I had finally worked my way to the end of the Dune series (Chapterhouse: Dune) only to find that it ended on a cliffhanger note with numerous loose ends.

For example, what was this mysterious enemy that the Honored Matres were fleeing? Who were the old man and woman from Duncan’s visions? What was Duncan’s role in all this; i.e. was he the new Kwisatz Haderach or something even greater? And above all, was this all the result of Leto’s vision, or were the main characters finally free of the Tyrant’s “Golden Path”? These and other questions I wanted answered, and after many years of waiting, I kinda felt entitled!

Needless to say, the anticipation I felt was rivaled only by the disappointment, but that didn’t occur until the very end when the answers were revealed. There was plenty of material to disappoint in between, but I was able to endure all that so long as I got see how it all ended. I’ve said all this before, so I shan’t waste any more time with it here. Let me get to the specifics of the story and why it was such a horrible, crass, and cynical novel that left Dune fans everywhere disappointed and angry.

Hunters of Dune:
As fans of Dune are no doubt aware, this book was part I in a two part collection that was meant to tie up the series. While this novel didn’t end, it did tie up most of the threads Frank had laid down in Chapterhouse and predicted what the ultimate ending would be. It is for this reason that this book is arguably more important than its follow-up Sandwords of Dune. This book established what the conclusion would be, the other one was mere filler, seeing the threads through to their conclusion and giving every character a final farewell.

Plot Synopsis:
The story picks up three years after the events in Chapterhouse: Dune, with Duncan and the crew of the Ithaca trying to find their way in an alternate universe, hoping to stay ahead of the old man and woman. However, there efforts are upset when Duncan is spoken to telepathically by a mysterious character known as the “Oracle of Time”, a Guild agent who then plucks him from his current location and brings him back to the known universe. The old man and women realize he’s returned, and immediately begin trying to catch him in their tachyon net again.

Meanwhile, back on Chapterhouse, Murbella is continuing with her efforts to bring the Bene Gesserit and Honored Matres together in preparation for the coming war. In addition, she is approached by the Guild who are desperate for spice now that Chapterhouse is the last known source of melange. Given their past support for the Honored Matres, Murbella is loath to help them, but manages to leverage their future loyalty in exchange for not cutting them off completely. In the meantime, the Guild is in contact with the Ixians, who are busy developing a machine that will take the place of a Guild Navigator. Unbeknownst to them, Face Dancers have already infiltrated Ix and are now dealing directly with the Guild.

The Face Dancers are essentially doing this all over the Old Empire, infiltrating worlds and replacing key people with their own copies. Having replaced the last of the Tleilaxu masters with their own copies, their leader Khrone now focuses on infiltrating the HM’s. They do this by putting Uxtal in the custody of Hellica, the new leader of the HM’s. In exchange for sparing his life, Hellica demands that he teach them the secret of axlotl tanks. In addition, Uxtal’s tasks include creating a ghola of the Baron Harkonnen and Paul for Daniel and Marty’s purposes. The reason for this is because the old man and woman feel they will be “useful”, especially Paul who’s prescience will be intrinsic to their “calculations”.

A third reason for his research into axlotl tanks is to create a Waff ghola so he can obtain the secret of making artificial melange (a secret thought to be lost with the destruction of the Tleilaxu Masters). This will come in handy for the Guild Navigators, who are looking for an alternative to the Sisterhood’s source. However, they are unaware that Scytale – the last surviving Tleilaxu master – has already given said secret to the crew of the Ithaca. They in turn are generating it using their own tanks for their own use, seeing as how the sandworms they have aboard are not yet mature.

In addition, Scytale has revealed the existence of the nullentropy tube with the ghola cells he’s kept hidden to Duncan and the Ithaca crew. He does this in exchange for the creation of a Scytale ghola, one which replace him when he dies, which is getting closer. Duncan, Sheeana and Miles all decide that it would also be in their best interests to start cloning all the other people in this tube – Paul, Leto II, Chani, Stilgar, etc. – because apparently, “they will prove useful”. Over the course of the next few years, they begin to give birth to and rear these gholas, one by one.

In the meantime, Murbella’s forces continue to consolidate their hold over more and more of the Old Empire, flushing out HM’s and adding their weapons and resources to their own. This includes the so-called “Devastators”, some kind of super weapon that can sterilize an entire planet. Murbella also begins searching her “Other Memory” in order to find the answers she needs; namely, where the Honored Matres came from and who their enemy is. She learns in the course of this that the HM’s are the descendents of Tleilaxu women who were freed with the help of Fish Speakers and Bene Gesserit’s from the Scattering. Hence why the HM’s seem hellbent on wiping out the Tleilaxu. There’s also the brief and needless scene where she converses with Serena Butler, figurehead of the Butlerian Jihad.

Shortly thereafter, the Sisterhood attack Ix, and Hellica, and Uxtal all die in the process. Waff however, escapes and finds refuge with the Guild, promising them the secret to breeding their own sandworms instead of artificial melange. Meanwhile, the Ithaca stumbled onto a planet that is concealed by a no-field. They find that the place was sterilized by a deadly plague, and after a very brief exploratory mission, they realize that it was this same plague that the Honored Matres were fleeing. Shortly thereafter, they come upon the planet of the Handlers, which they learn are in fact Face Dancers. In the course of trying to return the Futars to the surface, a boarding party attacks them and they are forced to flee, but some make it aboard.

And finally, through “Other Memory”, Murbella realizes the true identity of the old man and woman. Apparently, they’re the evil robots Omnius and Erasmus, who survived the Butlerian Jihad by sending probes into deep space. They reveal themselves shortly thereafter when their ships are marshaled and start heading into the Old Empire to attack. It is also revealed that the “Oracle of Time” is none other than Norma Cenva, who’s been alive and hidden for 15,000 years and has come out to fight this war. The story ends on the cliffhanger note, if it could be called one, and is one of the biggest disappointments in the history of literature…

More to follow in part two, coming up soon!

Best Dune Lines!

Hey all! As you can plainly see, I did a rather long review of Dune, the movie and miniseries, recently. One thing that kept coming to mind was all the great lines that made it in. Some of these were taken from the novel, others were the result of John Harrison’s imagination. Either way, they were cinematic gold and I found that I could only write in a few. If I had taken the time to include them all, my connection might have done down. DSL can only handle so much…

Anyway, here is a brief list of some of the gems that have stuck out for me.

Baron Harkonnen:“By the time the traitor is fully revealed, the fate of Atreides will already be sealed.”

Paul: “Without the spice, the navigators will become blind, the Bene Gesserit will lose all power, and all commerce between the Great Houses will cease. Civilization will end! If I am not obeyed… the spice will not flow!”

Mother Superior (using the Voice): “What do you think they mean, these dreams of yours?”
Paul (Voice): “Why don’t you tell me?”

Baron: “Perhaps your incompetence will prove useful after all, in hastening the day House Atreides will fall.”

Guild agent: “It is said that the Fremen of the deep desert drink blood as well. Isn’t that true Doctor Kynes?”
Doctor Kynes: “Not the blood, sir. All of a man’s water. The body is over eighty-percent water. A dead man surely has no more use for it.”

Baron: “Never trust a traitor, even one you created yourself.”

Paul: “Then may your knife chip and shatter.”

Baron: “My family has hated the Atreides for centuries. They have been the sand in our eyes, the stink at our meals, these arrogant Atreides, always standing in our way. I want Leto to appreciate the beauty of what I’ve done to him. I want him to know that I, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, am the instrument of his family’s demise!”

Jessica: “He has never had to kill before…”
Stilgar: “Then he had better learn!”

Baron: “Then you will squeeze, like the grips of a vice, so that our coffers become fat with the profit of spice.”

Fenrig: “ten million…”
Irulan:“Toughened by conditions worse than your own prison planet, father…
Fenrig: “The Baron would have a force to rival even your dreaded Sardaukar.”

Paul: “I knew Jamis. He taught me that when you kill, you pay for it…”

Baron: “So let the emperor mock house Harkonenn, Call us swine. Because in the end his throne will be mine.”

Jessica (using the Voice): “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll find an honorable way to let this go…”

Baron: “If you wanted to kill me, Feyd, why not just do it yourself? You’ve had plenty of opportunity.”
Feyd: “You always taught me that my own hands must remain clean.”
Baron: “Oh quick, boy! Very quick!”

Jessica: “I was supposed to have a daughter, one that could be wed to the Harkonnen heir. A way to end the feud and possibly produce the Kwisatz Haderach…”
Paul: “…the one who can be many places at once.”
Jessica: “The ultimate achievement of centuries of Bene Gesserit breeding. The man who could go where we could not. The one with perfect memory, who could provide perfect predictability.”
Paul: “And perfect power to the Bene Gesserit of course.”
Jessica: “I did what I did because I loved your father! I only wanted to give him a son. I didn’t want to create… a God!”
Paul: “Then you don’t believe its true?”
Jessica: “I’m your mother, Paul! I know who you are!”
Paul: “Do you?!”

Feyd: “You intend to draw the Emperor into this?”
Baron: “See, Feyd, this is why you need me alive: to help you think, to help you plot. Why do you think I tolerate your dim brother’s incompetence, because it amuses me? Think Feyd! There has to be method to this madness, though you’ve been too dull to divide it.”
Feyd: “The spice?”
Baron: “Of course, Feyd. The spice. The one thing important enough to draw the Emperor out here, away from his royal pleasures to the fringes of the empire. Where he is vulnerable, where he can be reached.”

Dune, the miniseries (Part I)

In my previous post, I think I made it pretty clear that the Dune movie was a flop. And I mean this in every sense of the word: commercially, critically – hell, even Lynch distanced himself from it! But that was to be expected, since Dune is just not something that translates into a movie format. There’s simply too much going on, and any fan of the series knows exactly what I’m referring to here. In terms of length, pacing, content, characters, background, detail, depth and commentary, Dune is just too dense to fold into a few hours of footage. As I also stated in my last post. Lynch attempted to address this problem in a number of ways

1.) Prologue: In the original movie, Lynch tried to cover Dune’s extensive background by having Irulan give a breakdown of how the universe works. In the Director’s Cut, he took a different route and went with a narrated preamble (using animated stills) that covered all the major events leading up to the original novel. These included the Butlerian Jihad, the founding of the Guild, the Bene Gesserits, and other secret societies, and then moved on to cover the basics about the Dune universe, such as its feudal structure, the spice, etc. Nothing wrong with either of these, except that they were both kind of awkward. They were a tad expository, and in the case of the animated opening, it went long. (Yeah, yeah, just like my reviews!)

2.) Exposition: In the opening scene, Lynch uses a reworked plotline to help the character of the Emperor set up everything that’s going to happen in the first act. In the subsequent scenes, all the other main characters do the same thing. The Baron and Piter de Vries explain their plan to attack the Atreides to his nephews, and Paul is told the reasons for their move to Arrakis by his mentors. But the problem here was, it all felt too unnatural and clunky. You really got the feeling that someone had read the book and was trying to give a synopsis to the audience, no suspension of disbelief. You can’t make a decent movie if everything feels like there’s a sense of duty behind it, then it’s just boring.

3.) Internal monologues: it goes without saying that you can’t clog up a movie with endless dialogue, especially stuff where characters are just standing around and explaining things in an unnatural way. Some degree of this is understandable, but after awhile, the audience will simply begin saying, “Nobody talks like this! Get on with it!” So Lynch tried using internal speeches, and like I said before, it was annoying as hell! Even after all the expository speeches his characters made, there was still tons of things the audience needed to be told in order to know why stuff was happening or why it was important. And, as I also said before, the movie would have worked better without it. Let the camera and the actors tell the scene, not the little voice on the track!

Okay, at this point I’m thinking anyone reading this is saying “We get it! It didn’t work, move on!” So as I’m sure I’ve said a few times already in the course of this thread, a miniseries was created in 2000 that sought to adapt Dune into a miniseries, one that wouldn’t be hampered by these difficulties. By going with a three part, six-hour format, the creators clearly felt that they would time enough to provide adequate build-up, character and plot development, and make sure that nothing big would be left out or glossed over. And, with some exceptions, they did just that! Even before I read the books, I saw the miniseries and was highly entertained, and even felt that I had been given the complete rundown of everything in the novel. Then, upon reading the novel, I decided that the miniseries was not only faithful to the original material but even improved upon it in some areas. But I’m going long here and I haven’t even got to the good stuff. Nothing worse than a long preamble, right? (Sorry Mr. Lynch, I had to!)

(Background—>)
The miniseries itself was a collaboration between several studios, which included New Amsterdam Entertainment (US), Blixa Film Produktion (Germany), Hallmark Entertainment, and the Sci Fi Channel. Much like the studios involved, the cast was also very international in scope, with actors and actresses from the US, Britain, Germany, Czech Republic, and Italy filling the top roles. These included such big names as William Hurt, Giancarlo Giannini, Ian McNeice, and P.H. Moriarty. It would take me too long to list all the movies these people have been in, but trust me, you’ve seen them! John Harrison, a veteran television writer/director with a tonne of sci-fi, fantasy and horror titles to his credit, was brought in to direct, but also had hand in writing the script. In describing the final product, he claimed that the miniseries was a “faithful interpretation”, in which changes and elements that he had introduced served to elaborate on rather than edit material from the original. Having seen the miniseries and read the novel – in both cases, more than once – I can verify this claim. While their were several differences between the miniseries and the novel, I can honestly say that they worked in its favor. But I can’t really say how without getting into specifics, as well as the differences between this adaptation and Lynch’s failed attempt. So let’s get to it!

(Content—>)
The miniseries opens with a rather brief prologue by Princess Irulan, explaining the significance of Arrakis (Dune) and the spice. We then cut to a quick montage of images that represent a nightmare being experienced by Paul, where we see Arrakis, the carnage that is to come, Chani, and of course, Paul’s father dying. Upon waking, Paul realizes he’s left one of Doctor Yueh’s recordings on, a recording which explains the importance of their move and recaps the balance of power their society rests on. This intro, unlike Lynch’s, provides a brief yet informative snapshot of the Dune universe and what is to come. And unlike the novel or the original movie, the opening scenes are not taking place on Caladan, but on the Guild space liner that will be taking them to Arrakis. I’m not sure why Harrison went with this, but I can say it doesn’t mess up the scenes at all. The setting works, and more importantly, the actors and dialogue are spot on. Paul, and everyone around him, understand that this move is a big deal, that is there is a great deal of danger involved, and that in spite of the fact that it is almost surely a trap, that they have no real choice.

What follows is an altered, but faithful reenactment of the Mother Superior scene. Having come aboard their ship to see Paul, they discuss the subject of his dreams, giving the audience a crucial hint as to how Paul is special (i.e. he’s potentially prescient) as well as some hints of how the story will unfold. From his brief, broken glimpses, Paul can tell that Arrakis holds many things for him. He tells her that he sees desert people chanting his name, terrible wars, and his father dying. The Mother Superior is intrigued, and of course, she conducts the pain box test. Naturally, Paul passes, but storms out in anger, leaving the Mother Superior and Lady Jessica to discuss her defiance to the order. As anyone who’s read the novel knows, Bene Gesserit sisters are under strict orders to produce daughters only, as part of their breeding program, until the eugenics program is complete and one will bear a son. This son, if all goes as planned, will be the Kwisatz Haderach*, their superman who has perfect memory and perfect prescience. So by giving her Duke a son, Jessica has disobeyed the sisterhood, and potentially doomed herself and her son in the process. The Mother Superior says they will suffer for this, not at their hands, but in general. She also says that they will do what they can for the boy, but “for the father, nothing…”, thus letting us know that something’s in the works, that the Bene Gesserit know about it, but appear helpless to stop it. Another thing they do right here, even though its breaking with the novel, is that at no point are the words Kwisatz Haderach mentioned! That’s something Harrison chose to reveal slowly, and in increments instead of giving it away early on.

All of this is starkly different from the original movie and even the novel. It is expository without being preachy or dutiful. If anything, its cool and intriguing, relying on well-honed dialogue that lets us know what’s coming without giving it away. Another change I should mention is Paul’s character. Whereas in the novel and original movie he’s a cheery and positive boy; here, he’s angry, impatient, and resentful, which is what any teenager would be in his situation. In fact, his angst and defiance run through all of Act I, and this is one change I highly approved of, as its far more realistic. Whereas Paul was always portrayed in the novel as the kind of child who never had playmates or a normal childhood but was still well-rounded and upbeat, here we see the realistic outcome of that. He misses his father and Duncan, the closest person he has to a friend, and chooses to take that out on his mother, the Mother Superior, and Gurney when they’re training. It just works!

Then… boom! Cut to Arrakis. Here, we see Duke Leto and Duncan Idaho for the first time as they are talking about the Fremen and their leader, a man named Liet. This is another thing the miniseries did so much better, the fact that they actually went into detail about him instead of glossing over his significance. We are told that he is the quasi-leader of the Fremen, and that Leto wants to find him so they can enlist the help of those Fremen who live in the deep desert. This too is something the miniseries does very well, showing how Leto is concerned with cultivating a relationship with the natives of the deep desert, as he is aware that their abilities and knowledge may be what they need to rule. Like in the novel, this was something that came up again and again, and it was hinted that the Emperor himself was worried over it. Basically, the Fremen of the deep desert are the toughest, meanest badasses in the universe. And while their technology might be limited, their skills are second to none. Therefore, whoever controls Arrakis, has access to what are potentially the best soldiers in the universe. But more on that later…

Several scenes follow, all true to the novel. Paul attends his father’s council meetings where he offers up effective suggestions of how they can run Arrakis and recruit the smugglers. Lady Jessica meets with the household staff, which includes the Shadout Mapes (the head servant) and they slowly learn that she may very well be the mother of their messiah. And of course, Jessica bans the water custom where servants scrounge and sell water and offers a free ration of it to everyone in the city, three times a day. Like everything in this miniseries, things are done slowly, the time being taken to develop things carefully and not drop too much info at once. There is no internal dialogue or characters constantly saying stuff like “oh, the legend, the legend!” when they see Paul or his mother. It is only after many scenes that the issue of Paul messiah-hood is brought up, when people in the streets start saying “Mahdi” in his direction, and Thufir is brought in to explain what the significance of this is to Paul’s father.

This is further exampled during the scenes where Dr. Kynes (who is also secretly Liet) is introduced and takes them out to observe a spice harvester at work. Again, these scene were faithful to the novel without being imitative. Whereas Herbert openly wrote what Kynes and Paul were thinking in the book, the miniseries manages to develop this without the need for internal monologues (even though that would a director’s first choice of how to convey thoughts). Instead, we see through a number of shots how Kynes and Paul they are becoming fascinated with one another. Kynes notices strange things about him, like how he knows how to wear a stillsuit** and understands Fremen ways, while Paul is picking up on the fact that Kynes is clearly a Fremen and is holding back information on Arrakis and the worms. All of this is made clear through simple direction, proper camera work, and dialogue, which makes it much more effective. Then, of course, the scene where the spice harvester is attacked! This, like most special effects in this series, was done through CGI, which was only a marginal improvement on the original.

What follows is a major scene, and one that didn’t make it into the original movie: The dinner banquet. Might not sound important, except that it’s a central part of Act I in the book and because its also the first time we see Princess Irulan in the series. Whereas in the original movie she was just voiceover and a background character, in the miniseries she played a central role and it begins here. Clearly, Harrison and his writers felt that the best way to resolve the ambiguity of her character was to write her in to several key scenes, where she is playing the role of the political pawn, but is actually executing an agenda of her own. This works, because it gives her character a sort of phantom presence, a behind-the-scenes quality that is consistent with her role in the novel. Her inclusion in this scene also works because, during the course of the banquet, she has a chance to talk to Paul. We see how they are similar, how they are both intelligent people who don’t like their worlds, and how this predicts their coming together in a political union by the end. Another thing that makes these scenes work is the skilled acting of Alec Newman (Paul) and Julie Cox (Irulan). You really get the feeling that these two will meet again, that they have a connection that supersedes their loyalty to their houses, and that they are likely to be friends and not lovers. Whereas Irulan is thin, fair and proper, Chani (whom Paul marries) is voluptuous, animated, and dark. Clear case of the platonic versus the sensual here!

While this is all taking place, we cut to the Harkonnen homeworld of Geidi Prime several times so that we can see how the Atreides’ arch-enemies are doing. Ian McNeice, who plays the role of the Baron, gives all of these scenes a dramatic flair that puts them light years ahead of what was done in the original movie. Instead of being revolting and loathsome, he’s graceful, animated, and even effeminate, not to mention entertaining! This is preferable is so many ways because ultimately that’s what makes for a good villain! He might be bad, but audiences will him all the more likeable, the guy they love to hate! There’s also a scene early in Act I where we cut to the royal palace. Here, the Emperor, played by Giancarlo Giannini, speaks about the Atreides and the plot against them, and yes, its not horribly expository either! Not once does he say that he’s sending his Sardaukar to help the Baron in the attack, nor that an attack is even taking place. Instead, he and Count Fenrig simply say that he needs to find a suitable husband for his daughter (Irulan), and that it’s “too bad that Atreides boy won’t be around”. See? Subtle!

Anyhoo, the attack takes place shortly thereafter. We see for the first time (unlike in the novel and movie where it was foretold) that Yueh is in fact the traitor. Here, and here alone, he reveals that he did it because the Baron has his wife and he must see her again, even if she’s already dead. More changes, Thufir is killed in the attack rather than taken prisoner. In the novel, he became the Baron’s new Mentat after Piter is killed by the Duke’s poison-gas tooth. By being his unwilling Mentat, Thufir was at the center of all the Baron’s machinations in the novel. But with him dead, his importance gets minimized. However, this did give the Baron and Feyd an expanded role by making them responsible for all the plotting that takes place between them, thus making them seem smarter and more villainous (more on that later). It is also here that we also see the Baron do some of the best acting in the whole series. We already get to see how his Shakespearean talents and flare steal the show, and how he ends every scene with a rhyming couplet. But here, it’s wonderfully over the top and just plain fun to hear! “I, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, am the instrument… of his families demise!” “What more proof do you need of what heaven’s intention is? Atreides dead, and Harkonnen lives!” Punctuated, of course, with tons of evil laughter. And best of all, no heart plugs and boys being molested to death! Classy!

Paul and his mother, of course, then make it to safety with the help of Duncan Idaho. And much like in the movie, it feels like he’s killed off way too fast. But at least he made it this far, whereas in the original movie he’s knocked off without ever making a difference. And in the ensuing chase, we also get to see a very important scene which was (you guessed it!) left out of the original. Dr. Kynes, who helps save them by suggesting they flee into the deep desert where the Fremen will protect them, is revealed to be Liet. Paul figures it out when they are in a seitch (a Fremen hideout) and he hears someone mention the name. He explains, intrinsic to the plot arc, that he is not the Fremen’s leader, but more of a guide, who is to stay around until “Mahdi comes”. This helps to illustrate a key element in the story: how the Fremen and the planet’s Imperial ecologists have been working together since the time of Kyne’s father. Ever since the elder Kynes was welcomed into a Fremen community, he busily taught them of how Arrakis’ ecology could be changed, how moisture dens could be created and used to fertilize plants once they had been strategically planted, thus giving rise to a lusher climate. Over time, this idea merged with the legends planted by the Bene Gesserit, of how a messiah would come and lead them to freedom. Paul, and hence the audience, is now beginning to see how these prophecies (self-fulfilling though they may be) are coming true thanks to his arrival. So you can see why this is important, right? Including it only makes sense!

Then, of course, Paul and his mother flee because the enemy is coming. They take to an ornithopter, and fly even deeper into the desert. In order to escape the pursuing Harkonnen planes, they are forced to fly into one of Arrakis’ massive storm. Now this scene I got a problem with, admittedly. “You’re not going in there are you?” “They’d be crazy to follow us!” Yeah, I know David Lynch ripped off the Star Wars franchise, but that doesn’t mean you have to! Okay, then Paul recites the litany against fear, and they go for it! And Part I ends with Irulan quoting from the book, and saying that the saga of Dune is far from over…

Thus ends Act I. And given the length of this review, I shan’t go on! Tune in again tomorrow for Act II, I promise it’ll be shorter!

Endnotes:
*This term is derived from “Kefitzat Haderech”, a Kabbalah term which means “The Way’s Jump”, apparently relating to teleportation. In this context, it means “Shortening of the Way”, referring to the bridging of past, present and future, i.e. prescience.
**A suit that allows the wearer to retain water lost through respiration and perspiration by catching it all in its skin, filtering and processing it, then depositing it in a series of bags the person can draw from.

Dune, the movie (and miniseries)!

Wow… when I first started doing these movie reviews, last week, I knew that at some point I’d have to cover the book-turned-movie that inspired me to write! And truth be told, I actually saw this movie before reading the book. Yes, Dune was just like Lord of the Rings for me, a film that I was drawn to because I knew it was based on a classic. And upon learning that the movie was significantly different from the book, I decided that at some point, I’d check the latter out. However, it was not until years later, with the production of Frank Herbert’s Dune (the six part miniseries that was much more faithful to the novel) that I finally put my money where my mouth was.

Well, you know the rest… sort of. Short version, it inspired me; long version, I read the first three books, had to return them, then read all six… twice over. Guess you could say I liked them, though I got to admit, not as much as some people! Since I first posted my thoughts about Dune and its Descendents, I’ve learned that their are Dune fansites out there where its all they talk about. And boy do they know their stuff! So let me take this opportunity to give a shout out to the good folks at Jacurutu and Hairy Ticks of Dune! Keep up the good work!

I think I also mentioned somewhere that movies based on books, especially where they differed, would get special attention. To make good on this drunken boast, here’s my review of Dune (1984, directed by David Lynch) and Frank Herbert’s Dune (the 2000 miniseries that premiered on the Sci-fi network). First up, Lynch’s adaptation of Herbert’s Magnum Opus!

(Background—>)
Since 1971, six years after Herbert wrote Dune, attempts were made to adapt the novel to film. Several directors tried and failed, among them Arthur P. Jacobs, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Ridley Scott. However, all came up short. Then, in 1981, the Italian film producer Dino De Laurentis decided to tackle it and brought in relative newcomer David Lynch to direct it. This did not mean that the two did not go through hell to create it though! The movie did not hit the screen until 1984, Lynch distanced himself from the work, saying he was denied final cut privileges, and several versions have been released over the years. The original was a two-hour movie that glossed over much that happened in the book and simplified the plot. A three hour version was also released, but this too was guilty of the same faults (i.e. glossing and simplifying). But then again, how do you do justice to a book that is as dense as Dune while still making it fit into a two hour format? Hell, even a three hour format is pretty damn tight, and Lynch cited pressure and deadlines as a reason for the disappointing final product. So really, its lack of commercial success and mixed reviews are entirely understandable. But, as Nietzsche said, “God is in the details”. So let’s get down to the particulars and see just what made the original flop and the miniseries work.

(Synopsis—>)
The original movie opens with an intro that parallels the novels, but which seems, in a movie format, to be both confusing and misleading. Princess Irulan (played by Virginia Madsen) gives us an overview of the known universe, set to a background of stars. She lets us know what year it is, how her father’s the Emperor of the known universe, and how the spice runs everything. She also introduces the namesake of the movie, the planet where all spice in the universe “flows” from – Arrakis, aka. Dune. Now here is why this is confusing. Aside from this intro, she has voice over lines for the rest of the movie, and one line of dialogue in the opening scene. But otherwise, we don’t hear or see from her until the very end, and even then she’s just a stand-in. A glorified prop. This is faithful to the novel, in which every chapter opens with a quote from her Histories of Muad’Dib and what not, but like I say, doesn’t work here. In a movie, if someone’s doing the intro, you’d expect them to have some kind of role throughout the movie.

Moving on, the original movie then introduces us to the Spacing Guild by having them confront the Emperor about a possible conspiracy they got wind of. They demand that the Emperor explain the key elements to them, which is really just an excuse for some exposition. I should mention that none of this takes place in the original novel, and it feels like a total info dump, especially if you’ve read said novel. There, Herbert took his time to build up the conspiratorial relationship that existed between House Harkonnen and the Emperor and used dialogue to put it into the background, which is something they should have done with the movie. Dropping it on the audience all at once just seems forced. Oh, and once the Emperor is done explaining his conspiracy, the Guild adds their two cents: if Duke Leto Atreides is to die, could he throw in the son as well? Why? They try to explain that later. In the meantime, we are left to wonder for ourselves, and the Emperor even asks this obvious question in an internal monologue. I should note that this ALSO did not happen in the original book. In fact, the Guild never made any demands at all and had nothing to do with the conspiracy that gets Act I rolling. So again, no real need for this, except to set up the truncated, simplified plot they went with. The scene did involve some cool costumes though, not to mention a big, animatronic navigator in a pressure tank; all of which was pretty original since the appearance of navigators was never described in any great detail. But for the most part, this scene is kinda useless. It also sets up the rather annoying and persistent habit this movie has of relying on internal monologues. I’m reminded of Blade Runner, where Scott felt that need to include narration in the theatrical version, something which was left out of the Director’s Cut. And as time has proven, the latter was better, relying on the actors and direction to establish things and convey information instead of just telling the audience what’s going on.

The movie then moves to planet Geidi Prime, the home of the Harkonnen’s. This scene I actually liked, at least until the dialogue really started to flow. The reason was because the sets were actually very cool. They create the kind of dark, fearful atmosphere that you would expect from a director like Lynch. But then, a big expository speech is made in which the Baron (Kenneth McMillan) and Mentat Piter De Vries (Brad Dourif) explain to Feyd (played by Sting!) and his brother “The Beast” Rabban, what their plan is, in painfully simple terms! “We got us a conspiracy here, and nobody can know about it, k?” I mean, c’mon people, a little subtlety! They go over the top just a little to make the Baron look evil here too, like how he’s got disease ridden flesh that a doctor has to lance constantly, or how he molests some boy to death, or how Rabban and Feyd enjoy the spectacle immensely. I mean, we get it, they’re evil. Move on!

Speaking of moving on, we are brought to Caladan next, home of the Atreides. We meet Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) as he’s brushing up on his planet studies from what appears to be an iPad/audiobook. And of course, more internal monologue is used to tell us what we need to know about these places. And it’s annoying as all hell! “Geidi Prime, home of our enemy…”, “Kaitain, where the Emperor lives…” “Arrakis… Dune… Desert planet…” Then, we get to meet Paul’s tutors, who stand still and stare at Paul long enough for the narration to introduce them all. Really? Why not just freeze frame it, or better yet, NOT have Irulan introduce them? Seriously, it looks like they’re in a stage play and are waiting for the damn chorus to stop talking so they can say their lines. Okay, so there’s Gurney Halleck (Patrick Stewart, aka. Captain Picard), Thufir Hawat (Freddie Jones) and Doctor Yueh (Dean Stockwell, aka. Al from Quantum Leap). More expository dialogue follows as they dump info on Arrakis, the Fremen, the giant Sandworms, the spice, their enemies the Harkonnens, and how they suspect the Emperor’s in league with them. Then we get a quasi-action scene as Paul takes down a robot using a Weirding Module (a gun that relies on sound, already mentioned in the movie). Do I even need to mention that these things were never in the original book? In truth, they are kind of neat, and the settings used for this scene are also lavish, just like the ones used to reconstruct the emperor’s palace and Geidi Prime. But, you kind of get the feeling that they are setting the tone for the rest of the movie at this point, like all the money went into wardrobe and sets and none was left over for decent writers!

After beating up the robot with his Weirding gun, Paul meets up with Duke Leto (Jürgen Prochnow), who tells Paul he’s proud of him and explains how their move will do them good in spite of the danger. Why? Some stuff about how the “sleeper must awaken”. Now of course this is a case of foreshadowing, but even with all the info dumping and internal monologues, its never quite clear what this means, even by the end of the movie. The Lady Jessica is then introduced, Paul gets to meet the Revered Mother, and she tests him with that funky black box that induces pain. This is also in keeping with the novel, as it establishes that Paul might be the Kwisatz Haderach*, and that there is a conspiracy in the works against Paul’s father. Unlike the previous scenes, this one doesn’t feel so info-dumpish. Maybe that’s because its actually pretty close to what was in the novel, so the writers didn’t feel the need to be so expository. But alas, this good scene is followed by a pretty stupid one in which Duncan Idaho (Richard Jordan) is intro’d and Paul says good-bye to him, since he will be going to Arrakis with an advance party to check the place out. What makes this scene stupid? Two lines of dialogue: “May the hand of God be with you,” says Paul. “May the hand of God be with us all,” replies Duncan. Just substitute the word Force and you’ve got a lawsuit on your hands. What the hell! That wasn’t even a subtle attempt at ripping off Star Wars, which was by 1984, the most popular sci-fi franchise of all time! What were they trying to do, cash in on one-liner recognition?

We then cut to the Guild transport ship where we get a special effects montage that is meant to illustrate the mysterious process of how a navigator “folds space”. This, as the novel explains, is an instantaneous form of space travel, which is dependent on navigators who have heightened, spice-induced mental abilities to merge time and space. Whoa! Okay, while the special effects in this scene are not up to current standards, it was still pretty cool. And I did love the models used to create the scene, mainly because you get a real sense of grandeur from them which is what Lynch was clearly going for. In the novel, Herbert emphasized that the Guild ships were really, really big! So kudos for more good set work, David. That’s one thing this movie keeps doing well. Then, cut to Arrakis, where the ship has deposited them safely.

What follows is several scenes in which we see the Duke’s men deploying and settling in. Lady Jessica also meets the Fremen and we find out that they also have legends that involve a Messianic figure that parallel the Bene Gesserit’s. We also get a good long scene where Doctor Kynes (Max Von Sydow), the planetary ecologist, takes them to the desert in an ornithopter and we get to see a worm attack a harvester. Again, kind of cheesy by current standards, but the scene is quite well done and does a pretty good job of conveying Paul’s wonder and the obvious tension over being attacked by a gigantic beast. Then, an attempt is made on Paul’s life, they find booby traps, yadda yadda, yadda. And all the while, Paul becomes more and more entranced with Arrakis, the spice, and his own fate. Then, after ALL that build-up, the Harkonnens and the Emperor finally attack! The combat scene is short, people die, Doctor Yueh betrays the Duke, and Paul and his mother are ushered to safety. Duncan also dies way too soon, having lost the better part of his page time and any involvement he had in making sure Paul and his mother survived. But this was obviously done in order to speed along the movie, which was already going long and had lots to cover still.

Speaking of which, Paul and his mother then find themselves in the desert where they narrowly escape a worm and the Fremen find them. Now this part, mainly the scene where they see the desert Fremen for the first time, I got a problem with for three reasons. First of all, they totally change the reason why Paul takes the name Muad’Dib. Its the name of a desert mouse, not the damn “mouse shadow” that’s on the planet’s second moon! Why’d the movie writers change that anyway? Was the book’s version not messianic enough for ya? The nerve! Second, the acting is wooden, from Stilgar (Everett McGill) to Chani (Sean Young), and just about everyone else in this scene! Everything they say just sounds laughable and cheesy. Third, they speed through it like they’re in a huge rush, which is precisely what the movie does from this point onward! Like I said, its as if they acknowledged that they’ve already spent half the movie on Act I and need to rush through Acts II and III. So from this initial encounter where Paul and his mother are welcome into the tribe, we are rushed to the Fremen’s hideout where they show Paul and his mother one of their moisture traps, the Reverend Mother dies and Jessica take her place (in the process drinking the “Water of Life”** and altering her unborn daughter, Alia), Paul begins teaching the Fremen the “Weirding Way” (still sounds weird!) and they begin their campaign against the Harkonnens, and Paul and Jessica fall in love. Totally, totally rushed! Scene by scene, minimal time is given to establishing the significance of these events, Lynch relying on internal dialogue and narration to relate what the audience needs to know. Even the scene where Paul rides the worm feels rushed, and its got the epic music and a freaking Sandworm!

To make matters even worse, Irulan’s voiceover is cued again and we’re told that Paul then spent the next two years waging war against the Baron’s spice production, Alia grew up way faster than any normal child, and Paul and Chani fell in love. Really? All that just happened, huh? And we’re only an hour and fifteen minutes in? Wow, were making great time! Naturally, the book did this too, but it dedicated plenty of page time filling in those gaps. They didn’t just phone it in! I know, I know, time constraints, but even in the long version, it’s the same. Just a montage of shit blowing up, then we come to the scene where Paul meets Gurney again – whose taken up with some smugglers since the attack – and they join forces. I should also mention that the movie then skips a whole bunch of scenes that took place in the novel and moves right to the part where the Emperor comes to Arrakis to demand answers. He does this, in the movie, because the Guild demanded it of him. Again, not in the damn book! In the book, the Emperor intervenes because the Baron’s incompetence in suppressing the rebellion demanded it, not because the Guild is pissed. Then, we learn why the Guild wants him dead. They say so, and Paul sees it in his dream. They are afraid he’ll drink the “Water of Life”, apparently, because… Well, we’re not sure why at this point. And we’re not even sure why Paul will do it, aside from the fact that we’re told, point blank, that he HAS to. His visions are interrupted, you see, and he needs to take the water of life to regain it and “become what he is meant to be”, or some such prophetic shit!

Anyway, Paul achieves a higher state of awareness after surviving the ordeal, as is demonstrated by a series of watery images and more internal monologue. The truth, he realizes, is that the worms create the spice and the two are interrelated. Duh! But apparently, drinking the water has not just restored his visions but given him control over the worms too. Oh boy! Do I even need to say it? NOT IN THE BOOK! In the original story, Paul drank the water to gain full awareness, which is something every Bene Gesserit sister does and Paul knew he’d have to do sooner or later to see if he was the Kwisatz Hadderach. And he didn’t gain control over the damn worms in the process! What’s more, the Guild didn’t give a shit about any of this, nor did it ever even come up, mainly because they didn’t suspect he would take control over the spice-producing worms in the process. That was all invented by the movie’s writers, and it was pretty damn flaccid, you ask me! It was the simplification I mentioned, and for any fan of the novel (or anyone with half a brain, for that matter) it was a letdown. This, apparently, was what his father was talking about when he said those prophetic words: “The Sleeper must awaken.” Well, seems it has. Makes no sense, but whatever…

So, Paul and the Fremen get a hold of a whole lot of Sandworms and decide to attack the Emperor, who’s arrived on Arrakis in his Imperial fortress. And this climactic action scene is, once again, rushed and pretty sloppy. Lots of tracers and lots of things blowing up, but hardly a satisfying fight scene with the kind of urgency or desperation you’d expect. I mean, I know Paul’s prescient and has already foreseen victory, but that doesn’t mean it should be all one-sided. Then comes the final scene where Paul is dictating terms to the Emperor, a scene which is truncated and underdeveloped by any standard. Yes, he does order the Emperor to abdicate and give him power, which involves marriage to Irulan (who appears in this scene, but says nothing), and yes, he tells off the Mother Superior; all of which is in keeping with the original novel. But nothing is mentioned as to how Paul plans to back up these demands. In the novel, his victory is not complete since the Emperor still has the armies of every noble house sitting in orbit, just waiting for him to say “attack!”. He cannot bring the Emperor and the entire universe to heel until he threatens to destroy the spice, which he knows about because he’s stumbled onto the secret of how water is lethal to the worms. “He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing”, as the novel put it. But in the movie, the Emperor is about to protest until the Guild simply tells him to shut up, because apparently, they “know what he can do”. Uh, mind telling the rest of us? Paul controls the worms, so does that mean he can shut off spice production? Tell the worms to simply stop making it? What?

But all that gets pushed aside so Paul and Feyd (aka. Sting) can have their final knife fight scene. Of course, Paul kills him, and makes his proclamation, also from the novel. “We Fremen have a saying. ‘God created Arrakis to train the faithful’. One cannot go against the word of God’. Then comes the two stupidest parts of the movie, nice that they saved them for last! First, Irulan’s final voiceover of the movie explains that Paul ushered in some kind of golden age. “Where there was war, Paul would bring peace. Where there was hate, he would bring love.” Are you freaking kidding me? I could mention that this is a total perversion of what happened in the novels, where in fact Paul’s reign brought in successive Crusades against the world’s that resisted him, killing billions, but I think I’ll just point out how this makes no sense. For starters, this bringer of peace and love, is this the same guy who just waged a war against the Harkonnens for two years, a war that was based on tons of guerrilla/terrorist-style attacks? The same guy who brought down the Emperor’s army by using a tactical nuke, followed by a full-frontal assault that involved monster-like creatures? Second, just how is this messianic emperor (who happens to have an army of skilled religious zealots at his disposal that see him as a living god and obey his every comomand) going to spread peace and love? Boxes of candy and flowers? Get real! It’s “Do as I say, or freaking die like these other bastards!” Why the hell they even threw this line in in the first place is beyond me! It totally goes against everything the book stood for, which was a sense of historic and humanistic realism. Paul wasn’t no Gandhiesque Jesus figure who loved his enemies and fell on their swords. He was a bass-ass prophet with the toughest army on the block, who smote his enemies hard, fast, and where it hurt! Second, its just plain stupid!

Oh, but I’m forgetting the other stupid thing. Paul makes it rain. Yeah, that’s right. As a demonstration of his powers after he’s killed Feyd and brought everyone to heel, he uses his mind and makes the skies open with tears. Um… what??? What the hell is this, more totally over the top messianic crap? The man is NOT God, in spite of his freaky powers or what his followers think of him. Furthermore, as the extended movie already established (not to mention the novel, many times over), water is poisonous to the worms! This is why Arrakis is a desert planet, for chrissakes! The worms altered the ecology so they could survive. So making it rain would automatically kill all of them and shut down spice production forever! And, as the novel and movie both mentioned, spice is the life blood of EVERYTHING! Without it, people die, and I don’t just mean from the total breakdown of trade, commerce and transport. I mean they start Jonesin’ and freaking die! True, the book did dedicate vast amounts of page time explaining how the Fremen want to alter Arrakis’ ecology so it will be lusher and more hospitable, hence all the moisture traps, but this plan involved centuries of ecological engineering, with great care being given to ensure that some patches of desert would remain so the worse could survive. So not only was it a completely over the top, Ten Commandments-style trick, it also contradicted everything established in the movie – and more importantly, the novel – up until this point.

Ah, screw this! Roll credits!

(Synopsis—>)
Okay, no two ways about it, I didn’t like this movie. Obviously, my love of the original book has much to do with that, but so does my commitment to a well-drawn out, well-written story! And while I liked the sets, the costumes, and felt they did a good job of casting, that’s about as far as my love went. The dialogue moves between wooden and preachy, their are far too many expositions being made, the internal monologues are as annoying as they are persistent, the pace is rushed, and the plot feels like a cut and paste job. Once again, I must acknowledge that time constraints and production difficulties were responsible, but that doesn’t change the fact that it feels like they cut a whole lot of corners in this movie, then pasted on some half-assed plot lines in their place to make it fit and still make sense. Well… not exactly make sense, but you get the point. And I’d be one of the first people to admit that this was inevitable since Dune really can’t be made into a two or even three hour movie, but that doesn’t change the fact that the end result was still pretty bad. Not all bad, mind you. In fact, the first hour or so is actually pretty enjoyable if you don’t know what to expect. But then, it all kind of goes to hell and by the end, you get the feeling even David Lynch was saying it “screw it, roll credits.”

And as was to be expected, the movie was panned by critics and did poorly at the box office. A cult classic like Dune you’d expect to not garner a lot of attention at first, but at least you’d hope it would get the attention of critics and command a cult following. Alas, this movie did neither, and it was for this reason that the miniseries was made some sixteen years later. Essentially, many felt that the Dune franchise, with all its adherents and devoted fans, deserved a second shot at a worthy adaptation. And by opting for a miniseries format – three episodes, two hours each with commercials – they would be able to do it justice. And you know what, they did! But more on that in my next installment…

Dune:
Entertainment Value: 6/10 (good for the first hour, then not so much)
Plot: 3/10 (weaaaaak!)
Direction: 8/10 (nothing wrong with how Lynch shot it!)
Total: 6/10

Endnotes:(your welcome!)
* A superbeing the Bene Gesserit were conspiring to develop through selective breeding. A male that would combine all their powers of genetic memory, prescience, and super-human kills.
** The liquid exhalation of a sandworm that is excreted in the course of their dying, which the Bene Gesserit rely on to achieve higher awareness. The “trial” involves drinking the poisonous water and converting it by using their mental acuity. Those who survive achieve higher awareness, those who fail die.