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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

Frank Herbert's Dune I took a break from watching old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies to watch the two six-hour Sci-Fi Channel Dune movies. I'd seen and enjoyed them when they first aired. They hold up well on a second viewing, thanks to excellent acting, scripts by John Harrison that are mostly true to the books, outstanding musical scores, and special-effects that aren't bad. This was before the powers-that-be at Sci-Fi decided to do everything on the cheap.

The first mini-series, Frank Herbert's Dune, doesn't have the shock-value of the David Lynch film, but makes sense -- never a David Lynch strong point. John Harrison wrote and directed. The main change from the book is to give a bigger role to Princess Irulan, and to make her a more sympathetic character. Fans should see both the Lynch and Harrison versions -- each has its pleasures.

The second mini-series adapts the second and third books in the series. The second book, Dune Messiah, Frank Herbert's Dune all about Paul trying to avoid the inevitable, is by far the weakest book in the series -- John Campbell bought books one and three for Analog, but book two was serialized in Galaxy, which suggests that Campbell rejected it. The television version of Dune Messiah, Part One of Frank Herbert's Children of Dune, is more interesting than the novel.

Parts Two and Three of the mini-series adapt the novel Children of Dune, and the focus is on Paul's children, Alia and Leto II, appealingly played by Daniela Amavia and James McAvoy. The joy the children take in each other's company helps relieve the overall grimness of the plot. I especially enjoyed their game of lightening chess. Once again, Irulan is given a more important role and a more sympathetic character than in the novel.

Since Book Four, God Emperor of Dune, is unfilmable, it is probably a good thing that the channel formerly known as Sci-Fi never tried. The two films they did make rank along with their adaptation of Gormenghast as minor classics of science fiction and fantasy television.

Copyright © 2010 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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