Last week I went to see ‘DUNE’, the movie.
It’s the second big-screen attempt to make a movie of the book, if you don’t count the first ‘Star Wars’, that borrows shamelessly from Frank Herbert’s Si-Fi classic.
At one stage Frank Herbert (Franklin Patrick Herbert Jr. 1920 –1986) was a favourite author of mine. I still have several of his books on my Si-Fi shelf. One of these, ‘The Godmakers’, is marked as purchased in New York in 1978. And the others are a bit older. So, I must have read them all around the time that my daughter, Emily, was born.
Dune was Herbert’s first successful novel, published in 1965, after six years development and many publisher rejections. With Dune’s slowly growing success (it’s now widely regarded as one of the best, and is certainly one of the best-selling, science fiction books of all time), he was able to continue to write and became quite prolific, writing five sequels: Dune Messiah (1969); Children of Dune (1976); God Emperor of Dune (1981); Heretics of Dune (1984); and Chapterhouse: Dune (1985); in addition to half a dozen other novels, curtailed by his early death.
After the first three Star Wars movies, I looked forward to David Lynch’s 1984 version of Dune. I saw it with a friend who’d not read the book and found it incomprehensible, repetitive, boring and gratuitously violent. I thought it covered the terrain but was a poorly cast sketch of the book. I found myself apologising for suggesting it.
I realised that Herbert’s imaginative themes and subtleties are hard to represent on screen. So, this time I was more cautious. Would Wendy similarly abuse me if I twisted her arm to see it? I went alone.
It turned out to be OK. But would I go and see it again, with Wendy this time?
Not unless, because of its accolades (DUNE has been nominated for many critical awards including: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Production Design; Best Editing; Best Costume Design; Best Hair and Makeup; Best Visual Effects; and Best Score), she suddenly wants to see it.
Compared to the David Lynch travesty, the story-telling is a lot better. And the characters are better cast and more accurately represented with: Josh Brolin; Javier Bardem; and Charlotte Rampling in supporting roles (no Sting this time).
Liet/ Keynes the planetologist has changed sex (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) but she’s suitably amazonian, so it works.
Before seeing the movie, I’d begun to read the book again and was surprised to recognise several passages used verbatim. Yet, as the story develops, the book becomes more and more internal, with long passages giving us the thoughts of the key protagonists; particularly Paul and his mother, Jessica. As a result, as it goes on, the movie begins to simplify and combine elements.
So, if you want the full story: drugs, sex and rolling sandworms, I’d advise reading the book - as is ever the case with movie adaptations.
Yet, you need only read the first half. Because that’s where the film ends. Paul and Jessica have just escaped to the desert.
David Lynch’s ultimate battle between good (the Atreides – Fremen) and evil (the Harkonnens) is in the distant future.
Wait for part two. Then Five sequels to go.
As critics complained, Lynch distilling the story to a fight between good and evil was already overly simplistic in 1978 (USA v USSR?). His writing makes it clear that Herbert was highly sceptical that he was living in the best of all possible worlds.
In the Dune universe, ‘good’ is a highly ambiguous concept. His characters are driven by a struggle for power and survival at all costs.
Can a movie, or two, (or more, in this franchise) ever capture the complexities of this tale?