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Dune (****)
Written and Directed by John Harrison
Principal Cast
Alec Newman -- Paul Atreides/Muad'Dib
Saskia Reeves -- Lady Jessica Atreides
Ian McNeice -- Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
P.H. Moriarty -- Gurney Halleck
Julie Cox -- Princess Irulan Corrino
Giancarlo Giannini -- Padishah-Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV
Matt Keeslar -- Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen
Barbora Kodetova -- Chani
William Hurt -- Duke Leto Atreides
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

Dune, by Frank Herbert, first appeared in John W. Campbell's legendary Astounding Science Fiction magazine. Actually, by that time Astounding had changed its name to Analog, the Astounding gradually fading out, the Analog gradually fading in, over the space of the year. Campbell had also tried to upgrade the size and appearance of the magazine, changing from digest size to the size of Scientific American, in an attempt to attract advertisers from the "quality" magazines. It didn't work. Campbell was right -- engineers and rocket scientists did read (and still read) Analog in overwhelming numbers, but too many of the conservative high-tech companies of 1963 just could not bear to associate with a lowly science fiction magazine. In those pre-Star Wars days, science fiction was still That Crazy Buck Rogers Stuff.

Those 25 large Analogs were some of the best looking SF magazines ever published, and the sported three great Dune covers plus interior illustrations by John Schoenherr, the artist who established the "look" of Dune. The first Dune novel was published in two sections. First, there was a three part serial, "Dune World". A year later there was a five part serial, "The Prophet of Dune". The two serials together make up the first book of the series. Frank Herbert had only written one previous SF novel, The Dragon in the Sea, serialized in Astounding in 1955 as "Under Pressure".

Dune was an instant hit with readers, though not so much with critics, who complained that important scenes occurred off stage, such as the murder of Paul and Chani's children, and that the destiny of the entire galaxy was determined by the outcome of fights with knives.

The second novel in the series was so bad that it did not appear in Analog, the top market, but in Galaxy magazine, a respectable but lesser venue. The third novel was much better, and was serialized in Analog. Novels four, five, and six appeared in hardback, without magazine serialization, but they continued the curse of the even numbers -- only one, three, and five are worth reading.

I greatly enjoyed the David Lynch movie version of Dune (****), though Frank Herbert complained, reasonably, that Paul was only a make-believe messiah, who could no more make it rain on Dune than he could flap his arms and fly like an ornithopter.

The recent "6 hour" (counting commercials) Dune on the Sci-Fi Channel is not as verbally and visually outre as the David Lynch version, but it is very nearly as sumptuous, and altogether a worthy version of the now classic story.

In the David Lynch Dune, all of the characters are larger than life. In the Sci-Fi Channel version, the characters are much more human. Paul is, or seems, much younger, more of a teen-age boy trying to cope with problems that most adults could not handle. William Hurt, as Duke Leto, has an almost hypnotic presence. And the Princess Irulan has a much larger role. This should allow the second Dune mini-series, already announced, to improve on the second book, in which Irulan is a major character.

On the down side, the Sci-Fi Channel version, unlike the David Lynch version, never explains why all these people keep fighting with knives. Knives! The answer, of course, is that personal shields block any more powerful weapon but, in order to let in air molecules, they must also let in slow moving objects, such as needles and blades.

I was annoyed by the affectation of having characters and objects in the foreground shot in solid colors -- all blue or all dark red. It reminded me of the one big flaw in the special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey. When you see something in a spacecraft from the outside looking in, it is all in one color. The reason being that special effects available when 2001 was made could not handle a tiny color matte. I trust that is not the case today, so the solid color foregrounds must be just something the director liked. Kind of like that awful music Straczinski put in Crusade.

The Dune mini-series is available on VHS at the Sci-Fi Channel store, but is not yet out on DVD.

Copyright © 2001 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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