DVD - Image C+ Sound C+ Extras C+
DVD (SEDC) - Image A Sound A Extras A-
starring William Hurt, Alec Newman, Saskia Reeves, James Watson
screenplay by John S. Harrison, based on the novel by Frank Herbert
directed by John Harrison
by Jarrod Chambers On the whole I enjoyed the 2000 miniseries Frank Herbert's Dune, which was adapted and directed by John Harrison. It has a sustained mood, it conveys some of the spirit of its source material, and it is entertaining, especially the last episode. The plot, stated baldly: Paul Atreides (Alec Newman), the young son of Duke Leto Atreides (William Hurt) comes to a desert planet called Arrakis, notable as the only source in the universe of the mysterious substance "spice." The spice unleashes psychic powers in young Paul, who, along with his mother, Jessica (Saskia Reeves), is driven from his home and must join the Fremen, a group of desert nomads. He grows up with the tribe and eventually leads a rebellion against House Harkonnen, who now rule Arrakis, finally brokering a peace with the Emperor Shaddam IV (Giancarlo Giannini) and the mysterious Spacing Guild, which owns all the spaceships.
Newman is nothing short of amazing in Paul's transformation from the surly, pouting son of a Duke to a poised and powerful religious leader. Noteworthy is his generic American accent, which I did not find unusual until I watched the documentary included in the special features and discovered that Newman has in real life an extremely thick Scottish brogue. This Dune (David Lynch's notorious film version preceded it) suffers from two main problems: its medium (television); and its origins (the novel Dune by Frank Herbert). Television cannot afford the same high polish as film and it shows here sometimes, in shots that are a little too obviously computer creations, or where the lighting reminds one less of a brightly-lit desert landscape than of a brightly-lit closed set. (An apparent artistic choice that conveniently cut costs.) Given these inherent limitations, the look of Dune is quite spectacular, with music, production design and fine performances working together to create an air of mystery and brooding menace. The sight of the sandworms viewed from afar, rippling across the desert under the light of the twin moons of Arrakis, was particularly well-accomplished: simple, but hauntingly beautiful.
The novel itself is packed with minor characters and interpersonal intrigues, so much so that an adaptation utterly faithful to the book would be twelve hours long, and unwatchable. Here, long-time George Romero collaborator Harrison has ridden a fine line, so that the story moves along and we are involved in the lives of the major characters, but at the expense of a parade of faces who show up just long enough for us to hear their names and receive their contribution to the plot, sometimes not even that long. To excise all of these characters would be to alter the story too drastically; I believe Harrison has done the best he could with the material at hand.
Harrison has kept most of the good stuff, juggling just enough to make it comprehensible to those who, unlike myself, have not read and loved the original book. My favourite character, who does not come into her own until the third part, is Paul's sister Alia, who, through a foolish act of Jessica's during her pregnancy, is born with the memories of generations of priestesses. Her grown-up interjections during the series' climax coming from such a small child's mouth are priceless without being precious.
Artisan's DVD of Dune looks crisp and colourful, though its 1.77:1 aspect ratio has not been enhanced for 16x9 displays. The soundtrack 2.0 matrixed surround audio further disappoints, sounding small and flat. Special features are few: a 25-minute documentary narrated by John Harrison; bios for some of the cast and crew (my biggest pet peeve: no bio of Laura Burton, who played Alia); a gallery of production stills; and a pretentious essay by exalted cinematographer Vittorio Storaro about Dune's visuals, which the user can read on-screen (not my favourite medium for text). The documentary is mildly interesting, though it mostly consists of talking heads explaining how they came to be involved in the project.
I like watching a miniseries on DVD. This way, I'm not chained to the schedule the network sets out for me ("Thou shalt watch 90 minutes on Tuesday...") and can see it at my own pace, leave off and start again anywhere I want and, perhaps most importantly for something like Dune, go back and look at something I missed the first time through. Originally published: March 19, 2001.
THE DVD - Special Edition: Director's Cut
by Bill Chambers I still prefer the LSD pageantry of David Lynch's Dune, and I continue to find those damn glowing blue eyes distancing, but the Special Edition of Frank Herbert's Dune gave me new appreciation for John Harrison's realization of the novel. A lot of that has to do with sound: Last year's DVD release of Harrison's six-hour miniseries had a cruddy stereo mix that only drew attention to the stiffness of the drama, while the SE (boasting a Director's Cut that runs almost thirty minutes longer than the televised version (though other than some unfamiliar nudity, I'd be hard-pressed to identify the added footage)) features strong DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks that give weight to Paul's journey. The third episode has the weakest audio, as if the mixers got tired, but the total improvement is vast enough that you need no other reason to upgrade. Also, the image is now enhanced for 16x9 displays.
Extras are far more plentiful this time out; the 26-minute "The Lure of the Spice," Vittorio Storaro's essay "The Cinematographic Ideation of Frank Herbert's Dune," and cast and crew bios (still sans Laura Burton, alas) remain, joining a full-length, often-enjoyable commentary from Harrison, second-unit director Ernest Farino, editor Harry Miller, make-up F/X designer Greg Nicotero, and visual F/X artist Tim McHugh; a 5-minute interview with world-music-loving composer Graeme Revell; an interview with Storaro about the representation of the four elements in the show's colour palette ("The Color Wheel" (13 mins.)); "Defining the Messiah" (13 mins.), a gathering of a Rabbi, a Muslim, and a Jungian analyst that doesn't end with the three of them walking into a bar; the two-part "Walking and Talking with John Harrison" (11 mins.), in which the interviewer (Susan Ricketts, perhaps?--she's unbilled) asks the de rigueur 9/11 question; a gallery of material from the in-production Children of Dune; "Willis McNelly on Dune" (12 mins.), wherein the author of The Dune Encyclopedia--a very pleasant man--waxes philosophic on Dune, Frank Herbert's legacy, and Frank Herbert himself, a current-events buff; and the 24-minute UCLA roundtable "Science Future/Science Fiction," with Harrison seeming to test the patience of fellow panellist Harlan Ellison (what else is new?) as they discuss the development of new technologies. Just what is Harrison doing among Ellison, inventor Ray Kurzweil, and author Octavia Butler, anyway? Trailers for The Rambo Trilogy and Van Wilder finish off the set. Originally published: June 20, 2002.