Dune Week

Just in case you've been living under a rock somewhere, you need to know that the film Dune: Part Two will arrive at a theater near you this coming Friday, March 1, 2024. That would place its story about 10,000 years into a future envisioned by writer Frank Herbert in his famous 1965 science fiction novel, directed in this latest film incarnation, by Denis Villeneuve.

I last wrote about Dune in late 2021 when Part One was released in theaters. The "Part One" designation surprised more than a few fans who thought that their 2021 ticket would include the entire story. But Duneholics knew better. Herbert's epic novel can fill up to 900 pages (depending on the printing) and there's no way a single 2.5 hour film could do justice to it all.

But some filmmakers have tried. The most (in) famous) attempt was by director David Lynch in 1984. That film has its fans, but most consider it an ambitious failure. There's a four hour extended version that uses discarded scenes from the theatrical cut, but this longer attempt was disavowed by Lynch. He had nothing to do with its creation and had his name removed from its credits. His name there was replaced by the ever-popular, phantom director Alan Smithee. I haven't seen the "Smithee" version.

Even before the Lynch movie there were aborted attempts to bring Dune to the big screen. The most ambitious and best known of them is Alejandro Jodorowsky's Dune from the 1970s. You can find reams of information about it on-line. While extensive planning was done for it (along with significant revisions to Herbert's story) it was never produced due to cost fears and the potential length. Hollywood legend has it that Jodorowsky anticipated a running time of at least 12 hours!

It's important to note here that I haven't read the book and therefore must judge any production of Dune on its own merits rather than how faithfully it adheres to Herbert's vision. My experiences suggest that film versions of great novels, no matter how good, rarely live up to the "film" you've screened in your mind as the pages of the book unfold. In any event, no adaptation of any novel is likely to be free of modifications as it transitions from the page onto the screen. And Dune in its novel form, filled with inner monologues, is apparently devilishly hard to adapt.

Between the Lynch movie and the current Villeneuve version were two solid attempts at filming both the core novel Dune and a sequel based on story lines from two of the (many!) subsequent Dune novels: Children of Dune and Dune Messiah. They were produced, for television in 2000 and 2003 respectively by the Sci-Fi cable channel (now SyFy). Both are available on disc, with each of them running approximately 4.5 hours making for digestible TV viewing spread out over three nights. (There are many references to its six hour running times, but that likely includes the inevitable TV commercials blessed absent from the discs!)

The Sci-Fi's results are impressive, and while nowhere nearly as epic or as technically ambitious as Villeneuve's version, taken as a whole there's much to savor from both of them. And even Villeneuve hasn't as yet attempted Children of Dune. Rumors suggest that he might make a third Dune film, but that's no sure thing given the vagaries of Hollywood and the fact that he's already devoted years of his life to the first two.

My older copy of the 2000 version was released shortly after the TV event on three DVDs--yes, 2000 was still just barely into the DVD era and almost a decade before the introduction of Blu-ray. (You'll find comments on IMDB from viewers who first saw this production on tape!!). All three parts are now available on a single Blu-ray disc, which I don't have and haven't seen. My DVD version is technically competent, though the audio is more engaging than the video. The latter is a bit uneven--soft in spots and reasonably crisp elsewhere. There's also ample use of color tinting for effect in many scenes that made me wonder if my TVs settings had gone awry. They hadn't; the colorization appears to be intentional (it's also used in the sequel). After the first half hour or so I simply went with the flow and was never tempted to quit watching, even though I've seen the discs before. (This time I viewed both the 2000 and 2003 releases on an 85-inch QLED TV rather than on my resident JVC projector.)

While the DTS audio on the 2000 DVD release isn't a revelation, it's enveloping and highly dynamic, with credit due to both to the sound effects and the music score by Frank Klepacki. I don't have the more recent release in which all three parts are mastered onto a single Blu-ray disc, but would expect only a small increase in the video quality; the limitations I see here are likely locked into the technology and financial limitations of the early 2000's TV source material. But both the 2000 and 2003 productions are 16:9 on my discs.

The 2000 TV version was highly successful, enabling a go-ahead for the 2003 Children of Dune sequel. I find the two productions equally good dramatically (though comments on the IMDB website suggest that Children of Dune was in general better received by more rabid Dune fans). I do have the Blu-ray of the sequel (all three parts are on the same disc), and its images are consistently detailed, though not quite up to the very best of today's best Blu-rays (again, the limitations of money and TV productions values of the time, along with the then ongoing transitioning to HD). The 2003's DTS audio is also more refined than that on the 2000 DVD release.

The performances on both the 2000 and 2003 releases are consistently solid. The late William Hurt is a little stiff as Duke Leto, but that's his style and not inappropriate for the part. In the 2003 sequel James McAvoy, in an early role, is a standout as the young Leto, and Susan Sarandon steals all of her scenes as the scheming Princess Wensicia. But a special shout-out here must go to Alice Krige as the Lady Jessica/Reverend Mother in Children of Dune. She replaced Saskia Reeves who performed well in the role in the 2000 presentation but was unavailable for the 2003 sequel. Sci-Fi Fans will remember Krige as the Borg Queen who first tempts Captain Picard in the theatrical film Star Trek: First Contact. And movie fans in general may remember her as the romantic interest in Chariots of Fire. Krige (pronounced Kriga) had been, in fact, the first choice for the 2000 release as well but couldn't fit it into her schedule.

The sets and costumes in both the 2000 and 2003 releases (apart from some wild hats) are faultless, though the stark and stony sets in the Villeneuve version might be more dramatically appropriate for the interiors on Arrakis). If I have a significant criticism of the 2000 production it's that the spice-generated blue eyes on many of the characters are more than a little overdone, though they're toned down (but not completely) in the Children of Dune sequel.

We'll likely have much more to say in the future about Villeneuve's Dune, particularly after Part Two comes out on disc and streaming. But unless your home theater sports a really big screen and a knock-out Dolby Atmos audio setup you should if possible first see Villeneuve's Dune in a theater equipped with either IMAX or Dolby Cinema (my choice is Dolby Cinema!).

relace1435's picture

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highfalutin's picture

I'm eager to see how Denis Villeneuve handles Part Two of the film, which will hopefully further bring Frank Herbert's Dune universe to life on screen. His visual storytelling and meticulous attention to detail are incredibly intriguing.

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Comiscrikend's picture

Do you think a 12-hour Dune film could have worked? It sounds epic, but also potentially overwhelming for audiences.

larrymartin's picture

Impressive breakdown of the Dune adaptations. The TV versions sound intriguing might give them a watch before diving into Villeneuves rendition.
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