Reviews: Dune

Great Book, Terrible Film

Dune is one of the first science fiction books I read, and is still one of my favorites. The plot is complex without being convoluted or pretentious, and the society of both the universe and Arrakis in particular are wonderfully well-developed. It was the first story I'd come across set in a distant future where computers were illegal, and it remains one of the best. Which made the movie adaptation incredibly disappointing.

Dune is a difficult book to film, but it can be done — it just has to be in a miniseries format, because you can't cram all of it into the length of a movie without losing a lot of important things. Lynch's film had way too much use of clunky, awkward voice-overs, with poor pacing and some very questionable casting decisions — Sting playing Feyd-Rautha being the most infamous example, but Brad Dourif's take on Piter de Vries was downright laughable. To make matters worse, they added scenes that weren't in the book, at the expense of things that should have been there. Somehow, they managed to make Dune not only dull, but totally ridiculous in places. Sting in his Winged Blue Speedo was bad enough, but Baron Harkonnen zooming around the room on his anti-gravity suspensors was even worse. After seeing that, I've never been able to take the character seriously ever since.

That said, it's not completely horrible. The imagery is beautiful, and I liked Kyle MacLachlan as Paul. While Patrick Stewart was not at all how I pictured Gurney Halleck, I still liked him in the role. The costumes might be weirder than weird, and sometimes hilarious (the Winged Speedo, I'm looking at you), but for the most part they worked. The problem is that the good aspects made the negative ones even worse. The pacing really is awful, as is the bizarre soundtrack. Yeah, I know, I know, it was made in the 80's, but still. It's distracting as hell, and not in a good way.

The miniseries, while still far from perfect, did a much better job, because it had more running time to work with. If you want to see a screen adaptation of Dune, I recommend that one. While it too added things not in the book, it did so far more effectively, and dispensed with the godawful voice-overs. While those can be done right, the movie did them very wrong.