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Dune (Frank Herbert's)
DVD disk
10.09.2004 By: The Shootin Surgeon
Dune (Frank Herbert's) order
Director:
John Harrisson

Actors:
William Hurt
Alec Neman
Saskia Reeves

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
In a very distant future, the most precious commodity in the universe has become Spice, a substance that allows space to be warped and thereby permits long-distance travel in a very short time. Mined only on the desert planet of Arrakis, also known as Dune, Spice is at the middle of a war between House Harkonnen and House Atreides, two dominant forces in the universe. From this war comes Paul Atreides, who will soon become much more than a normal man as he leads the Fremen, the indigenous tribal people of Dune to true freedom.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
I can’t claim to be an expert on DUNE. I have never read the novel by Frank Herbert and I’ve only seen David Lynch's much reviled adaptation in bits and pieces. I can’t either claim to be more than a casual sci-fi fan. I did however have prior knowledge of the main storyline and I can (and will) claim that I had a great time watching this mini-series (which is about 5 1/2 hours long, incidentally). I’m not sure what hard-core fans will say about this, but to the “untrained” eye, this was a very good time. Even if the purists don’t like this adaptation, they’ll appreciate the fact that I bought the book following this and look forward to reading it. Will the experience be weakened? Who knows…?

DUNE is a story of quasi-religious proportions and has understandably gained fanatic admiration since the novel was released in 1965. The film revolves around Paul Atreides (Alec Newman), a young boy whose father, Duke Leto is appointed to rule Arrakis and in charge of making the indispensable Spice flow through the universe. His mother (Saskia Reeves) being part of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood of truthsayers, Paul has revealing dreams to which the meaning eventually becomes clear once he lands on Dune and learns of the mysterious Kwizats Haderach, a man who can be everywhere at once, a Messiah. Newman puts in a bit of an uneven performance as Paul, although the character’s rapidly evolving personality is a definite challenge. The cast, many of them eastern Europeans offer stolid support to the storyline. The accents are a bit uneven, though it hardly becomes a distraction during the film. It’s interesting to see actors of so many nationalities act together. Standouts included Ian McNeice as Baron Harkonnen, a particularly grotesque man and Uwe Ochsenknecht as Stilgar, leader of the Fremen. The biggest disappointment was William Hurt, whose performance is so wooden I’ll have to preserve this DVD where termites can’t reach it.

Filmed on a relatively small budget, the film makes the best of the available sceneries and even if some of the blue screen is obvious at times, the film is still an achievement in that department. Visually quite attractive, the mood is made even better by fantastic musical themes and interesting contrasts between the look of each House. The pseudo-religious aspect is made grand by the ambiguity and uncertainty of many of the characters. Paul himself, who later becomes known as Muad’Dib, his Fremen name, is a mass of paradox, going from the generous and healing friend to a ruthless military leader. Some pretty fantastic costumes (namely those of the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother as well as those of the Princess Irulan, played by the luscious Julie Cox) add to the imperial feel of the House hierarchies.

Hard-core fans will love picking this thing apart for the right and wrong reasons and the more casual watchers will enjoy this great introduction to a fantastic story. Whatever your reasons for watching this, it should be a rewarding experience.
THE EXTRAS
As with many sci-fi classics, the DVD is jam packed with extra material. Much of it though, as I'll explain, is reserved for the hard-core fans only. The rest of us will just have to take out our dictionaries and figure out what the heck is going on.

All three discs have an available audio commentary by director John Harrison and other crew members. Although quite average as far as commentary tracks go, the technical guys are pretty interesting if that's the kind of stuff you like to listen to. Harrison himself goes through the motions of the director commentary, talking about cast, crew, locations and the rest of the stuff, but it's interesting to note that he flat out admits to not being a fan (at all) of David Lynch's 1984 film.

DISC #1

The first disc's bonus material begins with a 20-minute featurette entitled "The Lure of Spice". It's your basic intro to the main cast members and crew members, as well as some background on the production design, cinematography, special effects, etc.

Following this is an Interview with Graeme Revell, who composed the wonderful themes to this mini-series. During this 5-minute spot, Revell discusses the ethnic influences of his music as well as the way his pieces fit into the film. Pretty interesting and I loved the score, so it was nice to hear.

The last feature on the first disk is a test featurette with some photos & a sketch gallery. This is split up into three categories: Visual effects, storyboards and character & costume sketches. Some pretty neat pictures can be seen.

DISC #2

The second disc gets a bit more hairy. The first feature is a 20-minute long Interview with Willis McNelly, a longtime friend of Frank Herbert and author of the Dune Encyclopedia. This dude will provide you with some insights on Herbert's original conception of the book and on Herbert himself. It's pretty interesting to hear what the root of an idea as grandiose as this is.

The next stop is probably the nerdiest on the tour. In a half-hour long lecture entitled "Science Future/Science Fiction", several very big nerds discuss things I didn't understand. I went back to the DVD box after and the explanation was that they were talking about the "emerging technological paradigm shift and the moral issues that surround it". If you know what that means, you'll probably get a big kick out of it. It will also mean that you're a huuuuge nerd!

Also included on Disc #2 are two text features: Cast & Crew bios, as well as production notes.

DISC #3

The third disc begins with two visual-effect related featurettes. The first one is a 10-minute long discussion by Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro who was also the Cinematographer for APOCALYPSE NOW. In The Color Wheel, Storaro talks about the meaning of colors and the themes he tried to achieve for this film. It's actually pretty interesting and definitely gives you some appreciation for the intensity the man puts into his work. The second feature is entitled "The Cinematographic Ideation of Frank Herbert's Dune" and is a text essay by Storaro, which he reprises many of the topics previously mentioned in "The Color Wheel".

Following that is a 10-minute long documentary called "Defining the Messiah", in which scholars of different faiths discuss the religious themes behind Dune. Although the discussion does get a bit heavy and pretentious, the history behind it is quite interesting. If you're one of those who's been truly moved by the religious aspect of the film, then you'll definitely gain by getting these new insights on it.

You'll then be able to move on to "Walking and Talking with John Harrison", which is actually quite self-explanatory. In a 10-minute long walk through a wooded area, Harrison will share with you his thoughts on the novel, on Herbert, on the film and on many other topics. Harrison is now working on the sequel to this series, which you'll be able to preview in "Children of Dune Sneak Peak pre-production gallery". This photo and sketch gallery will give you a forecast of what to expect in the coming years for this series.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Depending on what you already know about DUNE, you'll approach it in a different way. I can only speak for myself and the knowledge I had prior to this and with that, I have to say that this film was a nice experience. Though flawed at times, it was still very entertaining and its message got through. So I suggest you take a look at it and determine for your own, but I recommend it to anyone who likes the genre.
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