Frank Herbert's Dune (Sci-Fi TV Miniseries)
It's a mixed blessing, but Frank Herbert's Dune goes a long way toward satisfying science fiction purists who scoffed at David Lynch's previous attempt to adapt Herbert's epic narrative. Ironically, director John Harrison's 288-minute TV miniseries (broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel in December 2000) offers its own share of strengths and weaknesses, which, in retrospect, emphasize the quality of Lynch's film while treating Herbert's novel with more comprehensive authority.
Debate will continue as to which film is better; Lynch's extensive use of internal monologue now seems like a challenge well met, and Harrison's more conventional approach is better equipped to convey the epic scope of Herbert's interplanetary political intrigue. This much is certain: this Dune is a sumptuous treat for the eyes, with sets and costumes that were conceived with no apparent limits of budget or creativity.
In terms of architecture alone, this is one of the most impressive films in science fiction history. And although the special effects fall short of feature-film quality, writer-director Harrison (who rose from an extensive background in TV) admirably tames the sprawling narrative that pits the opposing houses of Atreides and Harkonnen in a struggle to control the lucrative market for the spice melange.
This is as accurate as any Dune adaptation is likely to get (i.e., there's no need for another attempt), and even then, it can be tricky to keep track of who's doing what to whom. Unfortunately, the film's biggest flaws are the casting of a nearly comatose William Hurt as Duke Leto, and a wooden Alec Newman as the messiah-to-be, Paul Atreides. These are regrettable shortcomings, but this Dune remains altogether respectable. That Frank Herbert would be impressed is perhaps the biggest compliment one can pay.
While many book fans consider the 1984 movie adaptation of Dune an unfaithful adaptation, fans have heatedly debated whether the miniseries more truly reflects the philosophical and thematic point of view of the original. Those who consider it to be a more accurate adaptation of the saga than the 1984 movie are probably in the majority; however, dissenters contend that the miniseries' deviations from the book are at least as major as those of Lynch's film, and that the latter better conveys the subtleties and nuances of Herbert's novel.
Director John Harrison has described his film adaptation as a "faithful interpretation" in which any changes he made served to suggest what Herbert had explained subtly or not at all. The miniseries introduces elements not found in Herbert's novel, but according to the director, these serve to elaborate rather than to edit. Herbert's novel begins with lead character Paul Atreides being 15 years old and aging to 18 over the course of the story.
Harrison aged the character to adulthood in order to increase the quality of the acting for this crucial role. Some have taken issue with Alec Newman's portrayal of the Paul Atreides character (particularly in the first part of the film), as an angst-filled, rebellious, petulant teenager, which they consider a contradiction with his portrayal as a mature-beyond-his-years protagonist in Herbert's novel.
However, others believe that in the miniseries, Newman's conflicted portrayal is more realistic. Paul would also rub his right temple when frustrated, a trait shared by the Baron Harkonnen, a subtle but effective foreshadowing to their relation. The miniseries also boasted some stylistic changes. For example, whereas Herbert's ornithopters were described as truly birdlike in their flight, the miniseries' ornithopters more closely resembled insects.
Contention surrounding the 'correct' pronunciation of Herbert's "Fedaykin" aside, the miniseries opted for a Western pronunciation ("Fed-die-kin") as opposed to the Arabic-sounding one used in Lynch's film (which would seem appropriate given the extensive, Arabic-themed terminology in the novel). Some fans were upset by the look of the spice-addicted characters' eyes, believing that the phosphorescent light blue coloring was not consistent with Herbert's description, "blue within blue".
The miniseries invents an extensive subplot for Irulan Corrino, a character who plays little part in the plot of the first novel. Harrison felt the need to expand Irulan's role because she played such an important part in later books, and epigraphs from her later writings opened each chapter of Dune. Additionally, the character gave him a window into House Corrino.
Besides the final scene, the only one of Irulan's appearances based on an actual excerpt from the novel is her visit to Feyd-Rautha. However, in the book it is a different Bene Gesserit, Margot Fenring, who visits the Harkonnen heir, on assignment from the Bene Gesserit to "preserve the bloodline" by retrieving his genetic material (through conception) for their breeding program. The miniseries does not suggest this as Irulan's motive.
In the 11th millennium, Shaddam IV, ruler of the Galactic Empire, rids himself of his competitor Duke Leto Atreides by giving him control of the inhospitable desert planet Dune also called Arrakis (known as Dune), the only melange-producing world in the Imperium; fully aware that its present owner, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, will not give it up without a fight.
The reason is that Arrakis is the source of the valuable spice, a substance produced by enormous and dangerous sandworms, which bestows special mental qualities on anyone who consumes it. Leto is in full knowledge that the Emperor is colluding with House Harkonnen of Giedi Prime to destroy the honorable House Atreides of Caladan as a perceived threat to the throne.
Duke Leto accepts his new fiefdom so that he might form an alliance with the Fremen and end the plots against him and his House. Leto's plan to forge a formidable army, by unleashing what he termed Arrakis' "Desert Power". Leto's concubine, Jessica, is a Bene Gesserit and an important key in the Bene Gesserit breeding program.
According to the breeding program, she was to produce a daughter, who would marry Feyd-Rautha, a nephew of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. However, Jessica falls in love with Leto and grants him a son. Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Jessica's former instructor) is still furious over Jessica's insubordination, but is somewhat intrigued by the potential she sees in.
Count Hasimir Fenring serves as Governor of Arrakis during the handover period between House Harkonnen and House Atreides (he previously had been the Imperial Agent on Arrakis during the Harkonnen regime). As Padishah Emperor Shaddam's chief counsellor, Fenring is frequently described as "the Emperor's errand boy". Baron Harkonnen refers to Fenring as "Ambassador to the Smugglers", indicating Shaddam IV's interest in spice smuggling operations on Arrakis.
Duncan Idaho becomes Leto's ambassador to the Fremen, the desert people of Dune that Leto hopes will ally with him in the coming war against the Emperor and the Harkonnens. Idaho goes to live with the Fremen, serving both Leto and Fremen leader Stilgar. On Dune, the family is betrayed by their Suk doctor (family physician), Wellington Yueh.
He disables the defensive shields around the Atreides palace, allowing the Imperial Sardaukar troops, dressed in Harkonnen uniforms, to capture Duke Leto and Hawat and to kill most of the Atreides army. Yueh's betrayal motivated by the Baron's capture and death of his wife, Yueh implants a poisonous gas capsule concealed within a false tooth on Duke Leto after his capture and instructs Leto to use it to kill the Baron.