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Dune: Two Versions!

"Dune" is probably one of the most intricate, involved, and fascinating science fiction series ever written. In many ways, Herbert’s lavish descriptions of the various places in the Dune universe were cut out for the screen, and the characters, plot, and warfare added spice (pardon the pun) to the entire opus. Unfortunately, the Byzantine machinations of the various factions made getting a coherent story onto film a difficult challenge.

The first Dune film tried to go around these problems by using a narrator to give a much-reduced overview of what was going on, and who was doing what to whom. This both helped and distracted from the cinematically stunning first film. One could see every dollar spent on the screen- with its lavish sets and incredible costumes, and the dialogue was not too bad, if a little stilted.

But a two-hour movie was still way too short to give Dune’s wonderful story a proper airing. Fifteen years later, another team of people with a lot of money to burn decided that resistance was futile, and created another Dune for the SciFi Channel. This one was four hours long.

Again, I could see that most of the budget was on the screen. The costumes were lavish- although some of them were a little on the silly side (those butterfly wings on the Bene Gesserits’ heads and the Mentats’ court-jester getup), but there was the Flying Baron Harkonnen, slinky Feyd, and his brute brother, all carrot-topped and nasty as all get out. And the Fremen, with some interesting glowing contact lenses.

This version adds another vital character that the first film left out- the Emperor’s daughter, who although she narrated both the book and some of the original movie, was merely a set-dressing in the first. In the expanded Dune, she is a player of her own, and in some ways, more meddling and intriguing than the Emperor himself.

The longer film’s special effects are somewhat uneven- it was obvious that they lavished a lot of care on some scenes- like the Navigator taking the Atredes’ family away to Arrakis- but unfinished in others. The scene with the jumping mouse is jarringly primitive, as are some of the spice miner scenes, and matte lines are obvious around people in other scenes. The sandworms were well done, and the scene with the baby worm making the Water of Life was a welcome addition.

But for the most part, they finally did Dune right, and flaws aside, I’d recommend the longer movie for the purists. Yes, you’ll still want to throw the TV Brick at the screen a time or three, but hey- at least they did it mostly right this time.

I am looking forward to seeing how Artisan treats Mists of Avalon, and how the Tolkien movies will be. Talk about rabid purists…

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