Worlds of Dune

Hello all and welcome back. Starting today, I thought I’d get into a cheerier aspect of science fiction. Not that I don’t looooove dystopian stuff, but after days and days of romping through endless examples of totalitarian, cyberpunk and just generally dark futures, I thought it might be time for a break. And it just so happened that I had an idea the other day which seemed like the perfect diversion. For those who read my site regularly, you might have noticed I did a long list of conceptual sci-fi posts. Well, today I thought I’d get back into that some.

To break it down, I wanted to do a piece that was dedicated entirely to “Cool Worlds”, an exploration of the various planets, cultures and civilizations science fiction has given us over the years. However, after coming up with just a few candidates, I quickly realized my mistake. There was no way I could possibly list all the best examples in just one post. And if I settled on just a few, then people might start writing in and saying “what about this one? what about that one?”

So rather than do all that, I decided instead to tackle specific franchises, particularly ones that made it into my Galactic Empires post, and address some of the cool worlds that existed within.And what better place to start than with my favorite galactic franchise, one of the most detailed franchises ever to be dreamed up: the venerable Dune!

Anyone who is familiar with Frank Herbert’s six volume series knows that he was pretty damn good at weaving an intricate and finely layered tale. One aspect where this was particularly evident was in his descriptions of the Imperium’s planets. Not only would Frank dedicate a great deal of time and effort to describing what a place was and what significance it held, he would also get into the lesser explored areas of ecology and what impact that had on a planet’s culture. Here are some of the best examples that I could think of, all from his original books:

Arrakis:
The focal point of the Dune universe, and the most important planet in the entire franchise. It was here that the spice was manufactured, where Paul Mua’dib came face to face with his destiny, and “The Tyrant” Leto II was born and ruled for three and a half millenia. It was also eradicated when the Honored Matres attacked the Old Imperium, triggering a full-scale war which would lead humanity along the final steps of the “Golden Path”. In short, it was the backdrop for most of the story, and from a storytelling point of view, a very richly detailed place!

Much of what is known about Arrakis’ culture and ecology comes from the appendixes of the first novel where Herbert wrote about the fictitious exploits of Dr. Pardot Kynes, planetary ecologist to the Imperium. However, a great deal more came through in the course of the story once Paul and Jessica find refuge amongst the Fremen and had to learn their ways and secrets in order to survive. Much of this has to do with the spice, the Sandworms of Arrakis, and how the production of the former depended on the life cycle of the latter. They also came to learn about the Fremen’s plans to alter the planet’s ecology using moisture traps and water caches, as well as the careful introduction of plants and grasses to anchor the dunes.

Basically, Arrakis was a desert planet where moisture was the most precious commodity in existence. A fitting paradox, seeing as how the planet’s desert environment was essential to the production of spice – the most precious resource in the known universe. Two things permeated this environment, both of which kept outsiders away and ensured the security of the Fremen who lived in the deep desert. The first were the Sandworms themselves, the predominant life form on the planet. The second, though no less dangerous, were Arrakis’ famous sandstorms.

According to Dr. Yueh, worms measuring up to 450 meters had been captured and studied, but that ones which were larger still had been seen in the deep desert where no citizen of the Imperium had ever ventured. Living beneath the sand, the sandworms would be attracted to rhythmic vibrations coming from the surface. Knowing this, the Fremen were forced to develop a way of walking arrhythmical when forced to do “dune-crossings”. At other times, when they sought to ride the worms, they would plant “thumpers” to draw their attention, and then mount the worms once they came to the surface.

The worms were also the producers of the spice, which they used to fabricate nest for their young (“sand trout”), which would then leave before the nest underwent a chemical reaction, triggering a “spice blow”. Because of their central role in the life cycle of Arrakis, and the fearsome and awesome nature of the creature itself, the Fremen regarded them as godlike creatures. Shai-Hulud, “the old man of the desert”, was the name given to mature worms while “the Maker” referred to the worms role in the production of spice and the life cycle of the planet. Though Zensunni’s by descent, believing in a God that was transcendent, the Fremen still seemed to attribute some degree of divinity to the worms themselves.

Similarly, sandstorms were common to the Deep Desert, and also the reason why the capital city of Arrakeen was built within a protective outcropping of rock known as the “Shield Wall”. According to the expanded universe, sandstorms on Arrakis were electrically charged and could reach up to 500 km/h, powerful enough to destroy vehicles, equipment and strip anyone unlucky enough to be caught outside in one down to their bones! Due to the havoc they played with navigation and harvesting, all activity beyond the Shield Wall had to be timed to ensure that it happened between storms, otherwise harvesters could wind up buried beneath tons of sand.

As expected, the harsh and unforgiving conditions of this planet did much to shape its inhabitants. The “Fremen” as they are called (play on the word Free Men) were what could be expected from a nomadic desert people who were used to oppression. Recluse, mysterious, pragmatic and extremely tough, they were both feared and loathed by an Imperium that knew little about them and could not control them. However, once Paul and Jessica managed to penetrate the Fremen society by proving their worth to them, they began to see that the Fremen were also capable of extreme hospitality, fierce loyalty, great patience and uncompromisingly dedication.

Over the course of the six original novels, Arrakis was transformed from a desert planet into a lush green world, only to then be transformed back again. This had much to do with the plans of the Fremen, but also to Leto II’s “Golden Path”. In the end, it was realized that the spice-producing worms, and even the Fremen themselves, would not survive the ecological transformation, but once Leto died and the worms were reintroduced to the planet, spice production and desertification once again resumed. Knowing that worms were responsible for removing all traces of poisonous water form the planet, the Sisterhood began using some to conduct their own ecological transformations on Chapterhouse after Arrakis was destroyed.

The Fremen themselves had a saying which pretty much encapsulated their world and themselves: “God created Arrakis to train the faithful”.

Caladan:
Although comparatively little time was spent detailing this planet, Caladan was nevertheless an important planet in the Dune universe. It was the ancestral home of House Atreides, Paul’s birthplace, and would eventually become the sole property of Jessica after Paul became Emperor and moved his seat to Arrakis.

Based on various descriptions from the original novels and expanded universe, Caladan was an ocean planet with few landmasses to speak of.  Because of its relatively mild and agreeable climate, House Atreides was spared the expense of weather control measures. It’s primary exports consisted of biomass, plus the important agricultural produce known as pundi rice. In addition, it also traded in whale fur, gemstones, wine, corals and livestock.

According to Paul’s father, Duke Leto, House Atreides ruled this planet through air and sea power, for obvious reasons. When describing his world to Chani and the Fremen, they were incredulous to know that on some worlds, water was so commonplace that it formed oceans as big as the desert, or that plants could grow so thick that they were impassable.

Clearly, Caladan was meant to serve as a sort of Edenic setting compared to the hostile and rugged landscape of Arrakis. In addition, Paul’s exile into this harsh wilderness after the death of his father could be interpreted as a fall from grace, which he then reconciled when he became the prophet and religious leader of the Fremen and returned in the end to claim the throne. If there’s one thing Dune was known for, its religious allegories!

Chapterhouse:
The home of the vaunted Bene Gesserit training facility in the later books of the series. In the original Dune, this facility was located on Wallach IX and had been for some time. However, five thousands years later in Heretics of Dune, the location had been changed to Chapterhouse. In the following and final novel, Chapterhouse: Dune when the Honored Matres began there assault, it was noted that Wallach had fallen to their advance.

According to the descriptions from Heretics and Chapterhouse, this planet was a green and fertile world. However, with the destruction of Rakis (Arrakis in the later novels) and the death of nearly every sandworm in the known universe, the Bene Gesserit began the process of terraforming it into another desert planet where the worms would be able to thrive, thus giving them control over the only source of spice in the universe.

Throughout the latter books in the series, the Bene Gesserit kept the location of this world a secret to protect it from the Honored Matres. They even went so far as to station a fleet of no-ships around the planet to ensure that no one would be able to locate them with prescient ability.

Geidi Prime:
The homeworld of House Harkonnen. And if the religious metaphor which I alluded to earlier is to be believed – where Caladan is Eden and Arrakis is the real world- then this place would definitely be hell. In fact, judging by the many descriptions made of this planet and its rulers in the original series, the hellish metaphor is so thick you could cut it with a knife!

In the original Dune, we are given descriptions that emphasize the planet’s industrial nature. Hints are also given that the planet was highly volcanic and covered in wastelands. In addition to its many factories, large arenas were also built in most cities, where gladiator duels were held to entertain the populace. The Baron’s nephew, Feyd-Rathau, would often compete as a way of gaining popularity amongst the people and demonstrating his skill.

Also, in the original and subsequent novels, much is made of the Harkonnen’s sense of brutality and perversion. Whereas the Baron delighted in little boys, whom he would often kill in the course of molesting them, the planet’s artwork and decor often emphasized sex and violence.The Baron’s appearance, which is described as being so “grossly and immensely fat” that he requires an anti-gravity device just to get around. In addition, he described himself as “always hungry”.

In Heretics of Dune, when Miles Teg and the ghola of Duncan Idaho are hiding in an abandoned Harkonnen chamber, they notice an old clock where the hands are figured of a man and woman with over-sized genitalia (when the two hands line up, it looks as though a gruesome sex act is occurring!). When describing the Harkonnen’s, Leto II claimed they were “lovers of sensation”, people who were obsessed with pleasures of the body.

Hmmm, factories, volcanoes, gladiator rings and bodily pleasures? Sounds like something right out of Dante’s Inferno! In the course of adapting the novel to the big screen, David Lynch went to town on this, showing the planet to be dark, polluted and filled with terrifyingly decrepit people, many of whom had undergone hideous types of surgery (i.e. heartplugs). In the miniseries version, similar attempts were made to capture the hellish nature of the place. Here, every set was done in the colors red and black and camera angles were always askew, capturing the dark and twisted nature of the Baron and his family.

Ix:
The ninth planet in the star system of Alkalurops, Ix is the home of the technocracy that is responsible for producing the vast majority of the Imperium’s machinery. The name of the planet stems from the misinterpretation of the planet’s designation in Roman numerals.

In the original six novels, we never did get a description of what Ix looks like or what really went on there. For reasons which may have a lot to do with the fact that they are technologists in a universe where technology is morally proscribed, the Ixians appear to be somewhat recluse. However, it was clear that they were responsible for creating the various technologies that were central to the plot.

In God Emperor of Dune, Leto II is found to be recording his thoughts using an illegal device that was manufactured by on Ix. It was also the Ixians who were responsible for breeding Malky, a man who’s purpose was to influence Leto into doubting his own path and purpose. Hwi Noree, who was a sort of polar opposite to Malky, was also created to lure him with her charms. Both individuals were bred inside a “no-chamber”, a special cell that hide what is within from prescient detection. This same technology would later go into created “no-ships” and even larger “no-fields” which could shield entire planets.

Another revelation which came in God Emperor of Dune was the fact that Leto, through his Golden Path, had apparently prevented the Ixians from developing a breed of hunter-seekers which would have completely destroyed humanity. Ultimately, part of his plan was to encourage the development of certain technologies while preventing others. Whereas the hunter-seekers fell into the latter category, machines that could block prescience or replace it (i.e. the machine that could do the job of a navigator) fell into the former.

Kaitain:
In the original Dune novel, Kaitain was the seat of power for the Padishah Emperor and the location of the Imperial Court. It was also the homeworld of House Corrino after events on Selusa Secundus forced them to move. All of the guilds, major houses and interests in the known universe maintained a presence here, including the Spacing Guild, the Bene Gesserit, the Ixians, the Tleilaxu, the Landsraad, CHOAM, etc.

After events on Arrakis forced him to intervene, Emperor Shaddam IV relocated the royal palace to Arrakis so that he could oversee the deployment of his armies and ensure the Baron’s cooperation.

Aside from that, not much is mentioned of Kaitain, except for a description of the Golden Lion throne in the original novel’s appendices. Here, it is described as an opulent throne that had been “carved from a single piece of Hagal quartz — blue-green translucency shot through with streaks of yellow fire.”

Selusa Secundus:
Once the seat of House Corrino and the Royal Court, this planet became a prison world after it was devastated in a nuclear attack. As a result, the planet’s climate is incredibly harsh and inhospitable, making it the perfect world for the condemned of society. Radiation from the attack still permeates the planet’s climate, and mortality rates amongst prisoners are apparently as high as 60 percent.

However, as is quickly made clear in the first novel and throughout the series, Selusa Secundus also serves as the training grounds for the Emperor’s dreaded Sardaukar army. This is done in secret, though most Houses within the Imperium apparently suspect it. In fact, in the first novel, the Emperor apparently became suspicious when Baron Harkonnen remarked to Count Fenrig that he would use Arrakis to conduct a similar experiment with his own armies. This was meant only in jest, but it did speak to suspicions the Emperor had.

One other person who understood this was Paul. After becoming an exile on Arrakis, he began to learn that his father had similar plans with the Fremen. By making an alliance with the Fremen, people who had been toughened by conditions worse than that on Selusa Secundus, his father would eventually be able to raise an army army that could rival the Sardaukar. Convinced that Paul was their messiah, he put this plan into action and was able to defeat the Emperor’s armies outside of Arrakeen.

After seizing control of the Golden Lion Throne, Paul exiled House Corrino to Selusa Secundus where they remained until events in Children of Dune. It was here that Shaddam’s third daughter, Princess Wensicia, began plotting the assassinate Paul’s twin children and place her own son Farad’n on the throne. When Jessica is forced to flee Arrakis with Duncan, they found shelter here and made their deal with Winsicia. In exchange for marriage between Ghanima and Farad’n, she agreed to teach him in the Bene Gesserit ways.

Beyond that, no mention is made of Selusa Secundus. Much like House Corrino, it seemed this planet was destined to fade into obscurity.

Tleilax:
Yet another obscure world to come out of the Dune universe. And much like Ix, very little was said about this planet until late in the series. Nevertheless, it too played a very important role in the Dune universe and a number of key developments and inventions were apparently born here.

The sole planet in the Thalim star system, this world is also the home of the mysterious Bene Tleilax. In addition to being the training ground for “twisted Mentats”, Tleilax is also the home of the elusive axlotl tanks, which are used in the production of gholas. Though most within the Imperium frowned upon these devices, as they did all Tleilaxu inventions, the tanks and gholas in particular were used by just about all factions for the sake of their plotting and machinations.

In Dune Messiah, much is told about the Tleilaxu due to their involvement in a plot to unseat Paul Mua’dib from the Imperial Throne. This included the creation of a Duncan Idaho ghola, which had been programmed to kill Paul once he uttered the key phrase “she’s gone” in reference to his beloved Chani. However, this was soon revealed to be a plot within a plot, where the real intent was to show how the original memories of a ghola could be recovered by forcing them into a situation where their original self would reassert itself in order to fight against operate conditioning.

In God Emperor of Dune, Leto II is shown to be reliant on the Tleilaxu’s axlotl technology because he keeps demanding gholas of Duncan Idaho. For reasons unknown, he insists on having the original Duncan in his court, with his full memory restored. It is later suggested that this was an important part of his breeding program, that Duncan contained a special gene which he needed to bread into his descendents. But whatever his reasons, the Bene Gesserit continued his program and maintained an alliance with the Tleilaxu whereby they would receive gholas of Duncan Idaho so they could try to ascertain his true purpose.

In Heretics of Dune, the sixth incarnation of the Sisterhood’s Duncan Idaho is revealed to be special. Unlike the other incarnations, he has access to the memories of all other Idaho gholas, dating back to the very first who served Pual Mua’dib and all those who served and died at the hands of Leto II. In addition, the Tleilaxu clearly equipped him with the sex techniques of the Honored Matres so that he would be able to turn the tables on them when the time came, resisting their attempts to “imprint him” and imprint himself onto one of them. All of this leads Duncan to the conclusion that he now possesses Kwisatz Haderach-like abilities, which is confirmed in Chapterhouse: Dune when he begins to experience visions of the old man and lady (see below).

Also, in was in Heretics of Dune that readers got their first glimpse of the Tleilaxu homeworld and their society. Prior to this, it was understood that Tleilaxu was master geneticists who had engineered their own version of the Kwisatz Hadderach, but which had apparently committed suicide. It was also shown that they were ruled by a series of “masters”; Master Scytale being the one who participated in the plot in Dune Messiah.

However, what was not revealed was that the Tleilaxu were actually secret Zensunni’s and Sufi’s who maintained strict religious secrecy so as to keep their plans hidden from “powindah” (aka. outsiders). In addition, all masters were clones (not gholas) of their original selves and achieved a sort of immortality this way. This was apparently part of their long-term plan to assert their dominance over the known universe, a plan which was finally hatched in Heretics of Dune and involved the specially-programmed Duncan Idaho ghola.

Also central to the plot of several novels in the original series was the Face Dancer, another invention unique to the Tleilaxu. These were people specially bred to be able to take on the likeness and even the memories of people they were charged with killing and impersonating. Bred to be eunuchs and completely loyal, they were human only in the strictest sense of the word and possessed no identity of their own. However, this changed as the series progressed and it became clear that after millenia of adopting the personas of others, Face Dancers were beginning to develop personalities of their own.

This was apparently the threat the Honored Matres were themselves fleeing and which had forced them back into the universe of the Old Imperium. Throughout Chapterhouse: Dune, Duncan Idaho is haunted by visions of an old man and a woman whom he identifies as free Face Dancers. It is these people who he concludes are responsible for the greater threat they face, and who appear to want to capture him because of his special abilities as well.

Another interesting invention to come out Tleilax was the “slig”, a genetically engineered hybrid which crossed the DNA of a pig with a slug to produce a large, fleshy and slothful creature that is easily harvested for its meat. As was remarked in one of the later books in the series, this animal was considered ugly, even disgusting, due to its multiple mouths and skin that excreted a slimy and noxious residue. However, due to its sweet and terder meat, there were few in the Imperium who did not enjoy having “slig medallions” on their tables.

Final Thoughts:
Before I get into talk of patterns and conclusions, a little disclaimer first. First, there are plenty more worlds in Dune universe that are probably worth mentioning. However, there was no way to include them all without making either breaking this post in two or making it run on forever. Second, I deliberately left out information that did not come from the original six novels. True, there’s plenty more mentioned in the expanded franchise of these and other worlds in the Dune universe, but I wanted to stick to material that Frank himself was known to have written. Anything that comes from the expanded universe is likely to suffer from original though. Funny way of putting I know, but it can be known to dilute or undercut anything the original author themselves established.

Okay! Now that I’ve covered my ass, let me get to what I think about these cool worlds! Well, a few things jumped out at me after I was finished researching this list and gave it a final glance:

1. Frank loved secret societies!: Whether it was the Fremen, the Bene Gesserit, the Bene Tleilax, the Ixians, or the Emperor, the concept of recluse worlds and secrets ran through Frank’s original works like a vein. Clearly, he was a big (and I mean big, big, BIG!) fan of intrigue, secrecy, and societies that were founded on them. This is one of the things that I think made the Dune universe so readable and realistic in tone.

Regardless of their house or faction, it seemed that everybody was looking to get a leg up on someone else and found that the best way to do that was to conduct themselves in secret. Was this a commentary on humanity, the result of living under imperial rule, or the result of the complacency Paul and Leto hoped to rescue humanity from? Who knows, point is, he loved em! I think I smell another post in the wind…

2. Ecology effects people: As already mentioned, Frank paid a great of attention to the link between environments and culture. Whereas the Fremen and their values were clearly the result of their hostile and sparse world, the Atreides had apparently been rendered soft by generations of living on Caladan. House Harkonnen, with all their ugly desires and habits, boasted a world to match. And of course Selusa Secundus and Arrakis both served as the ideal training grounds for elite soldiers because life on both was just so freaking hard!

Well that’s all for now. Stay tuned, I plan to tackle the Star Wars universe next! And more chapters for Data Miners are still on the way…

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!

Dune Miniseries (best lines, revisited)

dune_miniseriesYesterday, more lines were coming to me as I busted my butt to get through Taekwon-Do class. I don’t know, it seems plyometric exercises are all the rage these days. Did I mention I hate them? I hate em, I HATE EM! But my aching shins and stiff muscles aside, it was good in that it shook some things loose from my mind. Basically, I realized that there were several more lines I didn’t post, and with something like Dune, you got to give it its due. That kind of sounded like a play on words, doesn’t it? Dune, due, no? Whatever, just read the damn list!

So, here are some of the ones I forgot the first time around…

Paul: What did you do to me?
Jessica: I gave birth to you!
Paul: A freak!
Jessica: No!
Paul: Then what?
(Of course, she has no answer for that one!)

Paul: Submit Captain! (Using the Voice) Submit Captain…

Guild Agent: We have surrendered without resistance, we have put ourselves at your mercy.
Paul: Mercy is a word I no longer understand.
-extended scene in which Paul and the Fremen take a Harkonnen stronghold and capture a Guild agent

Paul: Othyem, get Stilgar. Tell him to summon a Maker.
Chani: You know what this will mean. Between you and Stil… the man who wants you to call him out.
Paul: Only if I survive the Maker.

Fenrig: Her majesty has a perceptive mind.
Irulan: Should I take that as compliment or a threat, Fenrig?
Fenrig: I meant it only as a sign of my respect. I share your fear of the Baron’s schemes.
Irulan: My father can handle the Baron, Fenrig. It is this Muad’Dib that I’m curious about.

Baron: Your majesty, these people are mad! The women hurl 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, your majesty, but then who would mine the spice? It’s a terrible dilemma.
Emperor: Do you have any idea where this Muad’Dib character came from? What he wants? What his price is?
Baron: He’s a Fremen fanatic, a religious adventurer. They crop up regularly from the fringes of civilization. You’re majesty knows this. Most seem to be simply bent on suicide.
Emperor: Have you ever stared into the eyes of a religious fanatic, Baron? Suicide and martyrdom are often the same thing.

Chani: This can’t go on. You are asking too much of yourself!
Paul: I want you to take Leto and return to the southern sietch. I want you safe.
Chani: I’m safest when we are together!
Paul: But I’m not.

Baron: You’re good material, Feyd, and I hate to waste good material (Slaps him). Now give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you right here.
Feyd: My brother…
Baron: Yes! That’s right, you’re dim brother. If I kill you, then he would be my only heir, and he can’t even put down a dirty mob of religious lunatics. Yes, you’re clever Feyd… but not that clever.

Irulan: History will say that the Fremen were about to find their Messiah, that Paul Atreides would find his revenge, and the world we knew it would change… forever.

Chani: Your visions frighten me, Muad’Dib
Paul: There are things still hidden from me. Places I can’t go, things I can’t see.
Chani: Do you ever worry that just trying to see the future changes it?
Paul: We’re speeding towards the abyss, Chani. I have to see a way around it.

Chani: Will we ever have peace Muad’Dib?
Paul: We’ll have victory…

Jessica: We thought you were dead…
Paul: You have no idea! (Takes her hands, shows her his vision) I’ve seen things for which there are not words to describe.
Jessica: You’ve seen the future?
Paul: The NOW mother! The future and the past! All at once, all the same… I am the whirlwind!

Jessica: You Are the Kwisatz Hadderach!
Paul: No, mother! I am something more… I’m something unexpected. I am the fulcrum, the giver and the taker. I am the one who can be many places at once. I am the master of FATE! I am the tool of that fate…

Paul: A terrible purpose awaits us mother. This vast organism we call humanity is about to reinvent itself from the ashes of its own complacency. The Sleeper has awakened… anything that tries to stop it will be crushed.
Jessica: Even the innocent?
Paul: There aren’t any innocents anymore!

Paul: Take a good look at me, mother. See something I learned after I took the Water of Life. Look into my eyes. Look back through them into my blood… Harkonnen blood, flowing in mine. It flows from you…
Jessica: (scoffs) No… I won’t believe it.
Paul: Who was your father?
Jessica: You know I can’t answer that.
Paul: Who?
Jessica: I don’t know. I don’t know, I’ve never known!
Paul: Because they hid it from you!
Jessica: Because they took me when I was an infant, and raised me in the Bene Gesserit ways. Like all the others before and since. None know their mothers… or their fathers.
Paul: THE BARON HARKONNEN MOTHER, YOU’RE HIS DAUGHTER! … The product of a clever seduction. The handiwork of your precious Bene Gesserit breeding programmers. I’m his grandson… They wanted to control things, but they couldn’t control you. You changed everything. You had a son, and now I’m here… the one they were seeking. But I’ve arrived before my time. And they’re just beginning to realize it.

Yep, amazing how many lines I forgot. I’ll admit, some of them are a little B-list, but they’re still gold in my opinion. Amazing, most of them I made a point of mentioning in the course of my review, not just because they were significant but because they were damn good bits of dialogue! And yet, somehow I forgot about them when it came time to list the most memorable lines… But I can see why, list one was dominated by the Baron’s gems, whereas this particular one seems to be all about Paul and the women in his life. I guess that’s to be expected, main characters do tend to be show-stealers!

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! 😉

Dune, the miniseries (Part II)

Okay, in my last post, I tried to cover Dune the miniseries and everything that made it work. I tried to do this in one post… and failed! Going over that six hour beast is like trying to devour an elephant. You can’t do it all at once, no matter how hard you try. I’m beginning to think this is how Lynch felt when he tried to go about condensing Dune into one movie… interesting!

So, with all that in mind, I’ve decided to divide my review into sections. And for simplification, I’ve renamed them so the first post covers the movie, and the three subsequent ones will address the miniseries. And since I covered all the background to the miniseries in the last post, we can jump right into the content itself! Okay Irulan, take us away!

(Content—>)
Part II opens with Irulan doing a quick intro and a recap, as is her function. We then get into the thick of things, the Harkonnen’s assessing their victory, and Paul and Jessica out in the desert taking stock of things. In the former case, the Baron talks with Kynes who was taken prisoner when they attacked the Fremen sietch. He decides to send him into the desert to die, because of course he suspects collusion. In the latter, we get a series of scenes where Paul and his mother are struggling to find their way to safety, and Paul begins to realize certain things. This section was of great importance in the novel, and it was interesting to see how Harrison would handle it. You see, Paul’s exposure to the open desert means he’s becoming even more exposed to spice. Throughout Act I he was beginning to realize how it was changing him, now he sees those changes plain as day. He recognizes that his mother is pregnant with his little sister, even though there’s no way he could have known this. He realizes that he is the result of the Bene Gesserit breeding program, but that his mother disrupted the processes, thus creating the anomaly that is him. In the novel, he also figures out just by looking at his mother that she is the Baron’s daughter, that she was the product of Bene Gesserit seduction and handiwork, something she herself never knew. But in the miniseries, we are blessedly spared this knowledge til later. Like other revelations, he clearly felt that this was something best reserved for the third act. A good idea, since pacing is important when it comes to revelations!

In the ensuing scenes, we see Paul and his mother out in the desert searching for the Fremen. We are spared some of the events from the book, thankfully, which otherwise would have made this section run long. In the end, the miniseries chooses to move us ahead to the point where, in the course of fleeing from a worm, Paul and Jessica stumble into a sietch and meet up with Stilgar and his tribe. Here, Jessica demonstrates her Weirding skills (which in the novel, as here, are hand to hand fighting skills, not some weird-ass sonic guns!) and takes Stilgar hostage. Stilgar agrees to take them in, mainly because he thinks these skills would be useful to them. Paul also meets Chani for the first time, and immediately recognizes her from his dreams. In between all this, Irulan goes home and confronts her father because she suspects he had something to do with the attack and was using her. He pleads his innocence, but not without telling her that she’s naive to the ways of the universe. This underestimation of his daughter, we shall see, will come back to hurt him later. This scene, I should note, was one more case of something that was mentioned in the novel, but only in passing. By illustrating it, the characters of the Emperor and Irulan, as well as their troubled relationship, get more fleshed out. It also helps to set up future scenes in which she had a role.

The story proceeds apace as Paul and Jessica are introduced into Fremen society. After moving with them to another sietch, everybody gets naked and Paul gets an eyefull of the beautiful Chani (his interest appears to be more prescient than primal though, which is more than I can say for the men in the audience!). His mother also takes this opportunity to speaks to him about how they should consider using the Fremen’s legends to their advantage. Paul is then challenged to a knife fight by one of the tribe, a young man named Jamis that he managed to best in a scuffle when they first met. This scene, which was left out of Lynch’s original but included in the director’s cut, is pretty damn central. It’s the first time Paul has ever killed anyone (did I forget to mention he won? Well… of course he did, he’s the main character!) It made it into Lynch’s Director’s Cut, but like every scene in the movie at that point, it was horribly rushed. In the miniseries, this scene takes its time. Paul is not challenged until after the Fremen leave the last sietch and they are settled into their new haunts, after Jamis has had some time to stew over his humiliation. In the course of the fight scene, much time is also dedicated to showing how Paul is unfamiliar with their customs and is afraid to kill. One of the best scenes of the series is when Paul drops Jamis with a kick and says “Do you yield?” Jamis is furious, and Stilgar angrily informs him: “Never yielding! It’s to the death, boy!” Naturally, his mother tells Stilgar that Paul’s never had to kill before. Stilgar is surprised, but simply replies, “He better learn…” So much is learned about Fremen culture in this one exchange! For one, we learn that life and death are interchangeable in their world, that honor matters more than staying alive, and that by the time they are teens, every Fremen has had to kill someone.

Naturally, Paul does win, and then witnesses the Fremen funeral custom firsthand. Jamis’ body is rendered for its water in a “death still”, and the tribe all gets a share. This process is a very important aspect of the Fremen culture, and – do I really need to say it? – it was left out of the original movie! Yep, not even a mention, all skipped in order to get to the next important thing. I should also mention that one of the reasons this part is so important is because that it is after Jamis’ water is rendered and distributed that Paul and Jessica are officially welcomed into the tribe, and he must choose a Fremen name. It is here that he chooses the name Muad’Dib, mainly because he had a run in with a desert mouse earlier and felt it was significant. Once Stilgar tells him what the mouse is called, Paul immediately recognizes it from his visions. It’s the name he hears the masses of Fremen calling… his vision is now unfolding! Speaking of visions, Jessica also speaks to Stilgar about the spectacle she just witnessed. He confides to her that someday, Paul may have to call him out too. Nobody recognizes leadership in Fremen society without the challenge of combat, and Stilgar feels that Paul may very well be the savior they’ve been told to expect. Therefore, the only way he can lead them, is literally over Stilgar’s dead body!

Anyhoo, Act II then moves about detailing the various aspects of Fremen society. We see how Kynes ecological plans for the planet were being carried out at every sietch. Each one has its own moisture traps for accumulating water, each one is busy growing species of plants and grass which they will use to turn the desert into savannahs and grasslands soon. Paul also learns that Kynes (Liet) was Chani’s father, and the two begin to bond over their shared losses. Again, because there were no time constraints, Harris was able to cover everything that happened in the book, and does so in a way that is well-paced and subtle, never telling the audience too much or how the characters are feeling. We can tell how just by watching them! Incidentally, Paul is also plagued by more visions, which are becoming more vivid and intense with each passing day. But in the meantime, he and his mother begin to exploit the Fremen legends, with Paul proposing to the naibs (leaders) of every sietch that they send him their warriors so he and his mother can train them in the Weirding Way. This way, they can form an elite fighting force – the Fedaykin – that will destroy the Harkonnens and usher in the golden age Liet foresaw. A force that will rival even the dreaded Imperial Sardaukar! Naturally, the naibs are intrigued, and recruits begin to pour in!

Meanwhile, Irulan and the Baron are conducting schemes of their own. Irulan is busy trying to find out exactly what happened the night of the attack on Arrakis, specifically if her father happened to be involved, and whether or not Paul and his mother were truly killed. Stories are beginning to circulate from Arrakis of a new person, a Muad’Dib who is turning the Fremen of the deep desert into a force to be reckoned with. We can see the writing on the wall here, how her fascination is actually a growing suspicion that Paul and his mother are alive. She is also made privy to a private discussion that takes place in the royal place between one of the Guild representatives and the Reverend Mother. It seems the Navigators are also concerned about Arrakis, because their visions are all centered on that place. It has become a nexus in their limited prescience, but beyond this nexus, they cannot see. The future is unclear… Wooooo! More intrigue, and more indications that some serious shit is about to go down on the desert planet and someone or some thing very powerful is behind it. And of course, both parties conspire to do what they can to deal with this problem. “The spice must flow”, “The balance of power must be maintained”, as they say.

And the Baron, back on Geidi Prime, confides in Feyd that he left Raban (the brutal idiot of his two nephews) to run the planet because he knows he will make a mess of it and Feyd will have to come in and clean it up. In the process, Feyd will look like the hero and the population will be more compliant. He is then forced to divulge his full plot after Feyd tries to assassinate him using one the Barons boys as a Trojan horse (poison needle on the inside of his leg, very scheming!) The Baron, of course, survives the attempt and tells Feyd that he should kill him as punishment, but can’t because he needs at least one heir who’s not a sadistic moron. Basically, he doesn’t intend to let Feyd take over Arrakis anytime soon. Instead, he wants Raban to keep screwing up so the Emperor will have to intervene, in the process being forced to travel away from the royal palace to the fringes of civilization, where he can be reached! So, Feyd concludes, the move against Duke Leto was just a prelude to moving in on the royal throne itself, and since he wants in, he promises to behave himself. The Baron is pleased, and finishes the scene with a rhyming couplet: “Let the Emperor mock House Harkonnen and call us swine. For the in the end, his throne will be mine!” All class!

As I think I already mentioned, in the novel this conflict between the Baron and Feyd were being fueled by Thufir, as was the Baron’s plotting against the Emperor. This was his revenge for what they did to Leto, his friend and master. However, in the miniseries, the Baron and Feyd are doing this of their own accord, plotting and scheming without the need for outside help. While I did not like the way Thufir was minimized at first, I could see the wisdom in how Harrison chose to do it. By minimizing Thufir, he gave more credit to the Baron, Feyd, and even Irulan as players in the all the schemes. And right or wrong, this worked pretty well. For one, it made the Baron more credible and made the conflict between Feyd and him more real (chip off the old block, trying to kill his own uncle!). It also gave Irulan some credit for uncovering it bit by bit.

Alas, part II concludes with some very important, and poignant, scenes. The first involves the local Reverend Mother, a Bene Gesserit missionary who’s joined the Fremen, who comes to see Jessica and warn her of the troubles that are coming. Like all Bene Gesserit, she knows what the Fremen legends are and how she and her son have been exploiting them, and lets her know that in so doing, things could backfire horribly. More foreshadowing for the audience to munch on! Then we get Paul and Chani going out into the desert where she tutors him on the subject of the worms and the spice, another nice, paced piece of expository info, right before they duck into a private tent to consummate their budding romance! Hot! But more significance follows when Paul has a dream where the Reverend Mother comes to him and leaves him with a cryptic message. “When religion and politics ride in the same cart, the whirlwind follows not far behind. You are the Kwisatz Hadderach, boy. The one who can be many places at once. You are the whirlwind…” This line is paraphrased from the novel, which in its original form was much more verbose (like the litany against fear). Like many other elements in this installment, it establishes a great deal of suspense for the final act. What’s more, it is the first time the term has been used in the series. More evidence of slow pacing and gradual revelation.

To clinch things off, we see Irulan go to Geidi Prime for Feyd’s birthday, where she seduces him and pumps him for information. In the course of boasting about their victory, he confirms that the Harkonnen’s never saw the bodies of Paul or his mother, thus adding weight to her suspicions. What is missing from this scene, at least when compared to the original novel, is where the Baron and Fenrig begin talking about the Harkonnen’s rule of Arrakis and what the Baron intends to do there. In the novel, the Baron accidentally slips that he intends to follow the Emperor’s example and use the planet as a prison/training grounds for his troops. Fenrig is visibly disturbed by this, because its something the Emperor was worried about (remember the various hints?) But in the miniseries, they leave this out at this point, leaving it to Irulan to mention later as a reason for why the Baron is letting the planet go to hell. Not sure why they did it this way, possibly because they chose not to go with the “Thufir playing the Baron” plot arc, possibly to make the Baron seem more cunning, or maybe just as part of their attempts to pad Irulan’s role. Either way, it was a change, but it still worked without disrupting the flow of the story. And finally, there’s the final scene of Act II where the Reverend Mother knows she near death and passes on her title to Jessica. She in turn, takes the water of life in the big ritual, becomes a true Reverend Mother, and her unborn daughter Alia becomes “preborn” in the process. To celebrate, the entire seitch engages in a big orgy, as is their custom. During this spice-induced ritual, Paul also experiences a terrible vision where he sees fields of dead people and his hands covered in their blood. A fitting end for the second act because it ties in with all the other bits of foreshadowing we’ve been fed up until this point. We now know that Paul’s fate is to be a great leader, but that it will come with a great cost, mainly in terms of lives.

Thus ends Act II. Tune in again for the final installment on the Dune miniseries!

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.