Frank Herberts Dune (2000)
Baron Harkonnen: And so it begins. The trap is set. The prey approaches. A glorious winter is about to descend on House Atreides and all its heirs, and very soon, the years of humiliation visited upon my family will finally be avenged.
Dune is a heavy space epic written by Frank Herbert. Set in the far future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which noble houses, in control of individual planets, owe allegiance to the imperial House Corrino. Dune is the story of young Paul Atreides, the heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides as his family accepts control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the "spice". Spice is the most important and valuable substance in the universe, increasing Arrakis's value as a fief. The story explores the multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, as the forces of the empire confront each other in a struggle for the control of Arrakis and its "spice", because "he who controls the spice controls the universe".
The series opens with a interesting title card morphing into a planet. There is a voice-over from a women that we find out later is Princess Irulan (Julie Cox), basically setting the stage and tone for the series. There is some flashes of action after the voice over, which we realize is Paul's prescience dreaming as he wakes up on the Atreides heighliner (spaceship). Now, the geek in me is a little torn. In the book and the 1984 movie, all of the opening scenes about to happen take place on Caladan, the Atreides home-world. While the conversations do not really have to take place on Caladan, it does give the viewers a nice comparison of what they are leaving behind. The House Atreides is leaving a water paradise for the desert planet Arrakis. There may have been many reasons, budget reasons most likely, but it just seems strange to me. Nothing other than the Arrakis/Caladan comparison is lost, and all required information and scenes are still there on the heighliner, so can I really complain about it?
Duke Leto Atreides is commanded by the Emperor to take control of Arrakis and stabilize production of the spice, which makes this universe spin. The Spacing Guilds Navigators use it to pilot star ships and the Bene Gesserit priest use it to make their prescience powers work. Even the ruling nobles use spice, and of course it is only found on Arrakis. Secretly the Emperor fears Leto who has gotten popular in the noble families and the Emperor see's this as a threat. Working with the Baron Harkonnen, Leto's biggest rival for a slight that happened a thousand years ago (get over it) , the Emperor devises a dastardly scheme to wipe out Duke Leto and his family.
The preliminary introductions take place, and Dune does have quite a bit to cover. The series does a great job of introducing everyone and giving their information without turning into a text book reading. The setup takes about 18 minutes and then we are on Dune.
The second act starts with Paul and Jessica finding sanctuary with the Freman after escaping from the Harkonnens. After searching for the bodies the Harkonnens figure they have to be dead. Paul starts the slow process of getting revenge. Durning this he basically becomes the messiah of Freman legend, while realizing he is the demi-god the Bene Gesserit have been trying to create. He also uses the idea his father had about "desert power" and rolls with it, basically creating an unstoppable army that would rival the Emperor's famed undefeatable Sardaukar. Between the Bene Gesserit Weirding Way and the Freman's Knife fighting skills, they create chaos for the Harkonnen force on Arrakis. Paul also falls in love with Chani and has a son. A period of two years takes place during the this act. This series does a good job of keeping the pace steady, cutting between the three players (Harkonnens, Paul, Emperor) nicely. For the action guys out there, it even has a few fight scenes sprinkled throughout to quench your blood lust.
As the third act starts up, so does the mood. One thing that I love about the book and this movie is that Paul knows what's coming, tries to find a way to stop it and cannot. The movie doesn't get into all the possible visions he had, most of them ended with death. To get revenge on everyone who wronged his family he drinks the "water of life" which is poisonous. This is what the Freman Reverend Mothers do to get their fortune telling powers. Doing this makes him the Kwisatz Haderach, the demi-god the Bene Gesserit are trying to create. He see's the past, present and future when he meditates. He declares all-out war on the Harkonnens, at the same time the Emperor, the Harkonnens, and the major house Representatives are coming to Arrakis to figure out the Freman problem. The Emperor orders the ritual genocide of the Freman, and one of the attacks claims the life of Paul's son. This just pisses him off and he storms the Emperor's ship, where a bloody but one way battle ensues. Paul then calls for a meeting where he basically tells the Emperor and noble houses to submit or die. He controls the spice, therefore the universe. Of course Fayd, the Barons nephew, calls for a duel. Now in the book, it was Paul being stubborn. He waited for the right moment and then goaded Fayd into it. Just wanted to point that out. In the series it was a complete reversal. Obviously, Paul wins. Enter Irulan. Paul is about to ruin her father. She offers up herself for marriage, allowing her father to save a little face and bow out legitimately because "the spice must flow". Knowing full well that it is a loveless marriage and she will most likely be miserable. The book and series both point this out at the end. I truly feel sorry for her. End series.
Lets get down to the nuts and bolts of this. A good way of describing this series would be beautiful A lot of detail was put into everything. The backgrounds are matte paintings that look better then some CGI from 2012 - granted, you can complain that it is a matte painting, I don't care. It looked good, was well done, and most of the movie is shot in daylight like it should be. One of my biggest complaints about David Lynch's Dune was that it seemed like every desert scene was at night. Complete reverse here. The Fremans glowing blue eyes are also well done, achieved with special contacts and a filter on the lens, and I cannot notice any instance when they are not there. The CGI is top-notch for 2000, I would say it holds up pretty well to today's standards. Would I refuse a remaster, no. Is it needed, not at all.
The cast is great, nice blend of well-known and just-starting. William Hurt is Duke Leto, Saskia Reeves plays Lady Jessica, P.H. Moriarty is the reliable Gurney Halleck, Ian McNeice plays the cunning Baron Harkonnen, Giancarlo Giannini as the Emperor, Alec Newman is Paul Atreides and Barbora Kodetova is Chani. All actors give a stellar performance, especially Ian McNeice as the Baron. Not sure what it is, he just stands out and makes every scene he is in his.
During the build up there are a few major changes from the book - the biggest being Princess Irulan. In the book she only appears a few times, mostly at the end. In this adaptation she makes appearances throughout. She does the narrations and in a few cases taking someone else's place. I really don't mind this because the changes were done well and she does need a little build up for her character. Otherwise, why do we care about her? She is a pivot point at the end, so we should make an effort to understand who she is. Granted, some of you may not care about her, but those of us that do like the expanded story. It also provides us with window to the Emperor and why he started all of this.
I believe the biggest thing for me with this series is that it felt like it had the heart of the book behind it. David Lynch's version just felt flat, where this one was vibrant. The writer/director John Harrison said he thought of it as a "faithful adaption". I would agree with that. The characters went through an arch, no of them resembled the person they were at the beginning. Out of the three versions (regular, Special Edition, Directors Cut), I feel the Directors Cut is the best. Scenes flow better, some nudity for those that care, and longer conversations means better understanding. But all are just as good. So for those that want want the story of Dune without reading it, watch this. Hopefully soon I will get to the review for the sequel Children of Dune done (need to read Children of Dune first).