Monday, July 13, 2015

Frank Herbert's Dune

  I'm sure the makers of "Frank Herbert's Dune" had every intention of 'doing it right', but where exactly does 'right' fall? Is it in the letter of the page, or the imagery of the story? Is it in the tone of book itself, or is it in the major themes of the text? Perhaps, it's just in the characters? Well, according to "Frank Herbert's Dune", it's solely in the letter of the page. Having just finished reading the book, I was eager to revisit this mini series now that I'm older and the last time I saw it, I was about 13 or so. I can't say my opinion of it has changed in any fundamental way, but at least it's a better informed opinion.

  It's much better to judge this adaptation against the book than it is to judge it against the 1984 movie, because both are very flawed. In the end it boils down to what you want from your adaptation. It's as simple as that. For those looking for a more faithful version to the words on the page in the book, this one is for you. The dialog, the important scenes, the plot threads, it's all there more or less. However, visually... the movie leaves much to be desired (whereas the 1984, by contrast, did not). Not that there was any lack of imagination to be had, but the movie (even though it's a mini series I still end up referring to it as a movie) is held back by it's budget, and whatever artistic intent shone through was clearly aiming for a stage play look anyhow.

  Frank Herbert's Dune is home to some of the fakest most two-dimensional looking backdrops I've ever seen. Coupled with horribly dated CGI, painfully garish sets, and glaring visual inconsistencies... it's hard to appreciate the plot and the dialog when everything looks so horribly fake. The acting doesn't help at times either. Sometimes, the actors emote so flat, they blend into the visibly-wrinkled backdrops, causing me to actively struggle to pay attention. One can only harp on the budget and the visuals so much, but trust me, they're bad. It's frustrating though, because in some moments, albeit ones far and few inbetween, you can see glimpses of visual greatness.

  Despite the limited computer capabilities granted them by the small (considering) budget, there were a few shots that were stunning. A view of the Harkonnen castle on Geidi Prime springs to mind. It was unique, and fascinating... and only a five second shot. Again, the visual limitations of this movie are it's fatal undoing. After all, what's the point of making a live action adaptation in the first place? It's to bring these characters to life! But not just characters, the settings and the trappings of the world the characters inhabit are just as important. A proper adaptation marries the visuals you've been fostering in your imagination, and gives you those sights- in the flesh. So to speak.

  The guild Heighliners, the ornithopters, lasguns, Sardaukar, stillsuits, sietches, sandworms- all of these things are reduced to visual cliche in this mini-series, and if not cliche- then extreme goofiness. The Sardaukar come to mind. (Those fucking hats!) The stillsuits are bland, green jumpsuits with random patches of lines and hoses on a few areas of it. They look like desert-pajamas. A far cry from the well engineered Fremen marvel I imagined when reading the book. Of course, this might not bother some people. More power to them. If visuals aren't a priority when translating a written property to a visual medium, then your priorities are backwards. Consciously or not, I think David Lynch (director of the 1984 movie) knew this.

  Anyways, the casting here is... okay. The actors behind the Lady Jessica, Gurney Halleck, Duncan Idaho, and Stilgar have grown on me. Alia was cast perfectly, her limited screen time was a joy- every second of it. Loved it. Really, we all know the crux of the casting is Paul. If you don't cast the hero right, the story can't function as well as it should. This is my other major problem with the movie, Alec Newman is not Paul Atreides. He seems more fit to play Feyd Rautha! As young Paul they opt for a petulant attitude instead of a calculated reserve. As older Paul, despite commanding a hell of an onscreen presence at times... he doesn't carry himself right. Maybe I'm just picking nits, but even so, his acting is uneven as hell until the last part of the mini-series.

  He does his best to own the role by the time the climax rolls around, and I got to admire him for how much effort he put into it. Nevertheless, that's a fitting statement for the movie as a whole. I admire them for how much effort they put into it, and at times you can see it paying off. Some scenes are extremely engrossing, some moments of acting are simply fantastic, and despite their limited capacity for computer and practical effects- they are occasionally used perfectly, bringing a scene together in it's own unique way. Unfortunately, these are still only bits and parts, here and there- never finding consistency to elevate the whole of the movie above mediocrity. Regardless, this is the story of Dune. It might sacrifice a lot of the tone and the visuals in the process, but it's still the story from the book- as much as it can be at least.

  For better or worse, that's all it is. The 1984 movie has a better cast in my opinion, and better visuals. It might have a truncated story, but if you've read the book- what does it matter? Both films are nothing more than companion pieces to the book. Both with their own merits and demerits. That's as kind as I can get to this movie. It deserves a look if you're a fan of the book, but casual audiences can stay away. It's long, slow moving, and so complex it teeters on being outright complicated. But hey, that's Dune. I hear the sequel they made to this one is fantastic though, and I plan on watching that soon as well. We'll see.

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