Okay, its been a long time brewing so here it is. the epic masterpiece that is…my review of Dune. And i don’t mean just the book by Frank Herbert (who isn’t James’ brother, apparently), nor do i also not mean just the film by David Lynch (the theatrical, cinema version not the awful TV adaptation with extra graphics and shittiness – i don’t class that has as having existed) nor even do i not mean just the TV mini-series from the early 2000s on syfy – but i also intend to release some of my closely held opinions as a preview of the upcoming movie at the end of 2021. What this natter doesn’t include is Jodorowsky’s Dune (not seen it, i don’t even think it actually got made, did it?) nor does it go into any detail of the Dune sequels and prequels by Frank and his son, and laterally Kevin J Anderson. (or, i just realised its existence, the sequel mini-series with James McAvoy in it).
In fact what i now realise theres far less of Dune in my article here than there is of Dune. And if any of the last two paragraphs have complicated matters and seemed unhappily complex – i want to see your face when the Guild Navigators try folding space.
So; the book.
Its of no surprise to anybody that this is considered an absolute classic piece of science fiction, and rightly so; it world-builds an entire galaxy, nay, Universe, of planets, peoples and systems, and creates a massively high concept method of space travel that – although on reading sounds like a complicated mass of words and technobabble – makes sense, if you break it down into leyman’s terms. (watch as i blow your mind. You see, all silly science fiction can be made sense of, if you just suspend your scepticism for a brief period: there exists in the Dune universe a creature, a highly evolved being, called a Spacing Guild Navigator, that through some biological mutation involving a thing called Spice, can move things a great distance through space. Making trade possible. And therefore, incredibly incredibly useful. And economically the most important thing in the universe.
SO imagine therefore that this material, spice, is only available in one place in the known universe. One measly planet. You’re right, its the planet of Arrakis.
Oh, by the way, Arrakis is also known as Dune. BOOOOM.
So they that controls Arrakis, controls the spice, ergo controls the universe. Or so says princess Irulan, and what she says is important on a regular basis. We are then introduced to the central families – the Atreides, the Harrkonnens, the Corrinos – all bickering for control of this planet in a complex array of politics, diplomacy and bureaucracy. Its about as simple to follow as the American Voting System, but i imagine, if you ‘get it’ then its amazing. But i didn’t. Thankfully, matters not, for we are given a much smaller, more enclosed narrative to worry about; the rise of Paul Atreides, his coming of age, and his entry into the formidable world of Dune.
In a surprisingly cliche plot device, there is a prophecy about the One – a boy with a special mother but no connection to the planet that will one day drop out of the sky and bring about perfection. A ‘messiah’. Hmmm. Or something. We are led to believe, throughout, that this ‘boy’, is of course, Paul. We’ve heard this story before. Neo in the Matrix, Anakin Skywalker, the Lion King; heck, even the religion of Christianity is stooped in this. (the end result of this messianic rise is a little darker than you might expect, however, but thats another story.) However, here lies the only thing i will ever critizise about Dune, for everything else is masterpiece material. The complex politics, the steady pacing, the boiling stewpot of plot and treachery… the epic locale, the big picture involving the entire galaxy…and then, of course, theres the sandworms. Oh, egads, the sandworms.
If i was feeling cliche i would delve into the possibility that i read this during my true intellectually formulative years – after the childhood obsession with Dr Who, Star Wars and Star Trek and entering into University-level geekiness this novel (with amazing 80s cover art) came into my life, and whilst perched on a windowsill outside Environmental Science (where so many great things in life began), i consumed this novel like a pack of flame grilled steak McCoys and a lorne sausage roll…
However, now we hit controversy, because immediately after the book i saw the film. David Lynch’s one. And yes, there were obvious differences. Nuanced changes. BUT the heart remains. Pile on top of that the stunning visuals (the sandworms, egads, the sandworms!) innovative story mechanics (those internal monologues) and an absolute plethora of recognisable actors – the guy from Das Boot, the guy from Quantum Leap, the guy from Raise the Titanic, the woman and the guy from Krull, the guy from Flash Gordon, the guy from Star Trek, the guy from Popeye, the woman from Kindergarten Cop (what was it like to punch that man?) the girl from Highlander 2 and even that guy from the Police, but in this wearing metal pants and taking up most of the film poster without actually being in the film that much – oh and the music. Toto’s hugely cinematic soundtrack is unforgettable, even to this day.
You may have guessed already, its one of my favourite movies of all time.
The TV show in my opinion then suffers from a crippling problem; its not the David Lynch film. Despite a smattering of recognisable actors – the guy from Lost in Space, the guy from Doc Martin, the guy from Hannibal… and a whole load of not-quite-so-memorable actors… and some dated special effects (although i don’t judge), its still good – hugely long and more in-depth, and the sandworms – yes, egads, the awesome sandworms – and some lovely sideboob for my just-turned-17-self, but the whole thing feels even now so…well, lacking in care. The actors practically phone in their performances for a paycheck (william hurt is particularly awful). It has a similar feeling to that of the Golden Compass / Mortal Instruments / any tier 2 dreamworks cartoon – the actors and the filmmakers don’t give enough of a s**t.
Which neatly brings me to the Dune preview. Yes, Denis Villeneuves delayed 2020 outing which will feature a plethora of phenomenal actors (that guy from Ex Machina, the guy from No Country from Old Men, the guy with the starfish on his face from Pirates of the Caribbean, that guy from the Goonies, that guy from Stargate Atlantis, the big guy from Guardians of the Galaxy, that girl from Spiderman…and has even been endorsed by the son of Frank Herbert himself as the future-definitive-version-of-Dune; its going to be epic, massive, huge, titanic, mind-blowing…won’t it? I mean, it has everything going for it. Hilariously its done for Duncan Idaho what the original Lynch film did for Feyd Ruatha – massively MASSIVELY increased their role because of the actor attached. Plus, its directed by Denis Villeneuve, who isn’t Neill Blomkamp, i’ve just been informed. i adored Blade Runner 2049 and the guy openly disagrees with Ridley Scott about Deckard’s replicantness. So i have faith. I also have my niggling doubts, but thats only because i really want it to be perfect.
And hey, its got those sandworms. Egads – those sandworms.