Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Movie Index

DUNE -THE MINISERIES

Directed by John Harrison (2000, Sci-Fi Channel)
Starring Alec Newman, Saskia Reeves, Ian McNeice, P.H. Moriarty, Barbora Kodetova, and William Hurt

A young man braves the deserts of Arrakis while continuing his family's feud against a political enemy.

 

 

+

April 18th to 19th, 2017 on DVD for the 5th time  
   

Maybe I wasn't quite in the mood for the story as it's told here, but I found the poor special effects to be more distracting, even as I understand the need for a limited budget. I liked the acting and the story, of course, as it's one of the best- and told in full here. I enjoyed it, but wish they could have done a better job with some aspects.

 

 

4 stars

August 12th to 14th, 2008 on DVD for the 4th time  
   

I have enjoyed this mini-series ever since I reread the Dune novel. All of my comments below still stand, as far as I'm concerned. My favorite parts, and least favorite parts. Still, I think it is best in the way it moves steadily along, telling the story as it should be told, rather than abridging so many parts, or reinventing it. I just loved the way Stilgar's face lit up when he found the shotgun, and decided to abandon his knife. I also could have done with fewer dream sequences.

 

 

4 stars

September 15th to 16th, 2004 on DVD for the 3rd time  
   

I agree with both my posts, below, if that is possible. The two reviews I've made of this mini-series seem to be at odds, but I can see it both ways.

My third viewing of this show leaves me wanting more. Although the story is very strong, and I liked the development of the characters and techniques, the stuff that was added in post-production needed a lot more work. The matte lines were clearly visible, when a person was cut out of a scene and pasted into a background, for example. I was also not entirely fond of the actor who played Paul. He didn't show the maturity that Paul should have had. He played the young man like a spoiled boy.

The dialog was mixed. Some of it was very powerful, but at other times, it felt a little clichéd, or immature. My favorite dialog this time around came from the Baron Harkonnen. I loved his tone of voice and the facial expressions, as well. Together with Gurney and Stilgar (mentioned below), he was one of my favorite characters. I loved the way he spoke in rhymes much of the time!

I found that the screenwriter could have taken more time to explain certain aspects of the Dune culture and their ways if he had removed all of the strange and stylistic dream sequences. I only think a couple of them were necessary, introducing Chani, and showing Jessica the future through Paul's eyes. The others seemed very strange and took away from the rest of the movie.

The story, however, was really well told, and I enjoyed it immensely. The long time-span of the mini-series allowed it to develop the characters of Paul, Jessica, and Chani until we believed in them. The politics, and the way the players played at it, including revenge, justice, and just plain sneaking around, made it very interesting to watch.

 

 

5 stars

June 29th to July 2nd, 2002 on DVD for the 2nd time  
   

Fantastic, from beginning to end.

It's amazing how time dulls the memory. Reading back over the review I wrote for this miniseries 18 months ago, I have trouble believing that I was watching the the same show. Almost all of the problems that I had with the mini-series, listed below, have disappeared!

Back when this mini-series came out on TV, I had not read the novel Dune in over ten years. Plus, I had just seen the movie version, which is not very faithful to the book, but is visually spectacular and exceptionally acted, a month earlier. The comparison was not favorable.

I read the novel less than a year ago, and the movie is now but a distant memory. But I wonder if any of this mini-series was remixed, or if deleted scenes were added especially for the DVD. Because the scenes with Yueh seemed a little expanded, and I do not remember so much nudity, especially with Feyd's baths. The acting, for the most part, was wonderful, the backgrounds, sets and the worms were really impressive -all contrary to what I say below!

I still don't really like the stilsuits -they don't look like they would do any sort of pumping, as described in the book. And riding the back of a worm didn't look like it was happening, either. The blue eyes, as I understand it, were tacked on afterwards by computer, and look like it. Several scenes don't even have the blue eyes. The hardest part of that is when the person is not looking straight at the camera, because the intensity has to be different, and I don't think they got that right. I also found the dream sequences to be too strange, and probably could have been done without.

My biggest complaint about viewing it this time around was the numerous gaps in time, especially between parts two and three. Suddenly Paul and Chani have a son, and Alia is many years old. Even a series of shots, like when the Fremen attack Harkonnen patrols, would have nicely conveyed this missing gap.

Aside from that, I was extremely impressed. The mini-series follows the book almost exactly. It drew me in from the first moment, and didn't let go. Paul looked a little obsessed in part three, a little too "mad" for his character. But I suppose knowing the future, even partially, will do that to a person, and that is probably what the producers wanted to show.

I still love the way the different characters sounded exotic, no matter where you come from! Some had American accents, others British, as usual, but many others had accents from different parts of the Middle-East and Europe. It was wonderful, and evoked a sense that there really was a galactic culture, and that every planet, and the places on that planet, had differences in culture. I loved Chani's accent. (But doesn't Jessica look and sound like Deanna Troi?)

Another very impressive feature was the use of the weirding way, in which Paul and Jessica move suddenly and silently out of the way, seeming to shift so fast as to nearly disappear from view while they are in motion. Paul is all things. As he is fighting this way, we can see his mind going, in the ways of a Mentat, calculating -obviously, to those of us who have read the books, trying to choose the right future from among myriad choices.

Princess Irulan showed her sneaky and politically savvy ways here, like she will be called upon to do in the sequel. Not having remembered her part in Dune Messiah or Children of Dune previously, I didn't appreciate her role here. Now I see where it is going.

The spacecraft, the ground vehicles, and the weapons were also very nicely designed. Like the sets, they seemed as if all the small details were taken care of, even if they were barely noticeable. The crysknives looked like they could have actually come from the tooth of a worm. The spacecraft really looked agile and maneuverable. And I loved the look on Stilgar's face when he discovered how much he likes a shotgun!

The DVD provided crisp picture, though the sound seemed a little off-balance, with very soft dialog and very loud effects. The images were very colorful, and were able to show all the great detail. I wonder about the menu design, however, which abbreviates Play Movie with "PM", Special Features with "SF", and so on. It took a minute to figure them out, and they seem a little cumbersome that way.

The special features are a strange lot. The behind-the-scenes feature looked like a cheap cable special, which didn't have much behind the scenes shots -only short interviews with many cast members. Then there were interviews with several people, which were poorly produced, even if some of what they had to say was interesting. I can't figure out the terribly produced "walking and talking" with the director -the camera keeps moving all over the place! But the panel discussion about science fiction and future was quite interesting. The discussion about what makes a Messiah was mildly interesting, but also had some weird cuts across scenes.

There were many stills from production, sketches, including the future mini-series, none of which I am particularly interested in. And there was way too much text on this DVD. If I wanted to read so much, I would buy a book on the production. And every special feature had stock footage from the movie, instead of something different, like behind-the-scenes stuff. I was not very impressed.

So the special features were quite disappointing. Some might be interesting, like the excerpt from the soundtrack CD, but most were so poorly produced that I have no interest in watching them again. I have not listened to the director's commentary -that will have to wait a while.

For all fans of the Dune books, this is a must-see and a keeper, but buy it only for the movie!

 

 

B++

December 26th to 27th, 2000 on TV  
   

Very well done, although there were numerous things that I disliked, just about as many that I loved, and it invited obvious comparisons to the movie that preceded it by a decade and a half. 

Starting with the things that I disliked, getting them out of the way, the actors seemed to sleepwalk through their roles, with the exception of Dr. Kynes and Stilgar. Duke Atreides has absolutely no passion about his role, his wife, or his situation. Jessica seemed quite Vulcan in that she possessed virtually no emotions at all. Paul fared a little better, but he was still not the type of person destined to lead the Fremen to victory. 

The other actors were merely "there", with no actual screen presence. But strangely enough, the person who should have had at least a little screen time was only shown twice: Dr. Yueh only appeared when he betrays Leto, and when he was killed by Baron Harkonnen. The betrayal is supposed to make us feel strong emotions, questioning how he could have done such a thing, because he was such a close friend. But because we never see him interacting with his "family" there is nothing to feel.

It basically comes down to the acting, but the sets, costumes and effects didn't help, most of the time, either.  Most of the sets were uninspiring. Even for a desert planet. Most of them seemed way too open, so that they would be very expensive to operate. This may be alright in the Harkonnen's palace because of their wealth, and their tendency to waste, but is not okay in the Fremen lairs, where water is precious and could be lost to the air. Most of the Fremen did not bundle up in their cities. If water was so precious, they would wear their stilsuits all the time. 

Perhaps they did that because everybody would look alike in their suits. I did have trouble identifying some of the people before they took their masks off. But even with their heads uncovered, I had trouble identifying Paul as opposed to Feyd -the actors looked way too much alike! Never mind that they were cousins. Dramatically it is not good to have the protagonist and his opponent looking so closely alike. 

I did not like the stilsuit design, nor did I like the uniforms of most of the main characters. The effects of the worm, many backgrounds, and the mountains looked way too fake. They looked like they were made with computer effects of a decade ago. The moon never moved, all throughout the party, and the most of the backgrounds were obviously painted. 

I think that's enough with the bad. What did I like? Lots of it. The story was so great that it would have been difficult to ruin it. I really liked Dr. Kynes and Stilgar. The actors were terrific. And when Paul starts gaining power, the unease is obvious in Stilgar's face, as he knows that the Fremen ways require Paul to kill him to take the leadership. 

Although I did not like the Bene Gesserit costumes, I loved the head piece worn by the Reverend Mother. I didn't like the braided pig-tails worn by her acolytes, but a similar headpiece was worn by the princess that was stunning.  And speaking of the princess, she was absolutely beautiful, and she played her character wonderfully naïve. She had more of a part here than I remember from the book, but I remember very little from the book. Chani was also beautiful, though her acting was hit and miss, getting better near the end. 

The best effect has to be the ending, showing the attack on the palace, but my favourite is still the 'thopter ride through a canyon and into the storm, at the end of part one. I don't know where those rocks came from, but it doesn't matter. It was terrific. I loved the design of the 'thopter itself, too, especially in the moving wings that acted like a rudder. 

One of the best things in the whole mini-series was the way it depicted the Fremen as people from the Middle-East. When we think of desert dwellers, with think Egypt or Saudi Arabia. And the whole Empire was made up of people of various nationalities, especially in positions of power -like the Emperor. I always like British actors in a science fiction movie, and this was no exception. The British characters were more interesting than the American ones (like Leto, Paul, ...).

There were many more things that I could recite, but I want to condense this already!

The mini-series obviously invites comparison with the movie. Which is better? It depends on what you are looking for, really. Which is a better viewing experience? The movie, hands down. It provided intense visual effects, passionate acting, and a terrific story. The mini-series follows the book very closely, which is something the movie could not do.  Every half hour or so, something from the movie would pop up on the screen, showing that the movie gave many of the important points anyway. Six hours of mini-series allowed it to be drawn out into a more complete story. 

The acting was definitely superior in the movie, as were the effects. There is no question in my mind at all. But the mini-series was made for people who have read the book. There was no explanation of any history or about what the various technological wonders did. The stilsuits were barely mentioned, there was a throwaway line about thumpers which did nothing to explain what they did. We see a thumper used once during this show, but it is not obvious that it calls a worm. The body shields, which I still think are one of the best SF premises ever, are barely used, let alone explained. And the Voice is used once or twice, with absolutely no explanation provided. 

The desire to transform Dune into a watery planet is very well explained, as Chani is tending to a room sparsely populated with green plants. A similar room in the Palace is opened to all Fremen when Jessica finds out about it. This is hinted at in the movie, but barely.

There were some scenes from the movie that seemed to be stolen frame for frame for input into the mini-series. Unfortunately, they came out looking like cheap rip-offs. One scene is the Leto's rescue of the spice trawler near the beginning. The other was the worm attacking Paul and Jessica once they land in the desert. Surely they could have tried to make a better rip-off? The worm itself looked positively dreadful, compared to the movie version, which was great. Riding the worm came off about as well as in the movie -both looked fake, making me think that I was watching some sci-fi B-film of the fifties.

The mini-series corrected a huge flaw in the movie, that being Baron Harkonnen. In the movie he is portrayed as a raving lunatic. Here, he is shown to be obsessed, but carefully calculating. Very powerful, and I was extremely glad to see that blemish removed. Here it was Feyd who was impatient, and the Baron explained everything to him (and thus the audience as well). The politics were shown to be very complex.

I think that's enough. I have written about no plot here, but for that I can redirect to the Dune movie, or the book, which I plan to reread this summer [summer 2001], after I've had time to digest both the movie and the mini-series. 

I think the producers spent their budget on extra cast members, because it was very impressive that they had so many people. Unfortunately, I think they could have reduced the number of people and spent the money on bettering the effects. This story doesn't require too many effects, so they should have been better. However, the story itself is so great, and they hit so many marks perfectly, that it was very entertaining, and a welcome addition to my video shelf.

 
   

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