It's a mixed blessing, but Frank Herbert's Dune
goes a long way toward satisfying science fiction purists who scoffed at David Lynch's previous attempt to adapt Herbert's epic narrative. Ironically, director John Harrison's 288-minute TV miniseries (broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel in December 2000) offers its own share of strengths and weaknesses, which, in retrospect, emphasize the quality of Lynch's film while treating Herbert's novel with more comprehensive authority. Debate will continue as to which film is better; Lynch's extensive use of internal monologue now seems like a challenge well met, and Harrison's more conventional approach is better equipped to convey the epic scope of Herbert's interplanetary political intrigue.
This much is certain: this Dune is a sumptuous treat for the eyes, with sets and costumes that were conceived with no apparent limits of budget or creativity. In terms of architecture alone, this is one of the most impressive films in science fiction history. And although the special effects fall short of feature-film quality, writer-director Harrison (who rose from an extensive background in TV) admirably tames the sprawling narrative that pits the opposing houses of Atreides and Harkonnen in a struggle to control the lucrative market for the spice melange. This is as accurate as any Dune adaptation is likely to get (i.e., there's no need for another attempt), and even then, it can be tricky to keep track of who's doing what to whom. Unfortunately, the film's biggest flaws are the casting of a nearly comatose William Hurt as Duke Leto, and a wooden Alec Newman as the messiah-to-be, Paul Atreides. These are regrettable shortcomings, but this Dune remains altogether respectable. That Frank Herbert would be impressed is perhaps the biggest compliment one can pay. --Jeff Shannon
Owing to the differing broadcast standards of global television, the director's cut of Frank Herbert's Dune
essentially combines the international versions originally broadcast in 2000. Several scenes are new to American audiences, including some brief and tasteful nudity, but the real benefit comes from scenes that clarify the politics and betrayals that arise between the houses of Atreides and Harkonnen. In his articulate and informative commentary track, writer-director John Harrison illuminates the value of these scenes, while additional DVD supplements explore the challenges of production and, most eloquently, the artistic philosophy of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, whose color strategies are outlined in interviews and an intellectual essay. And while the "Defining the Messiah" and "Science Future/Science Fiction" supplements are not directly related to the film, they place this epic production (and Frank Herbert's legacy) into a rich and meaningful perspective. Even if viewed only once, these and other features provide valuable context for a deeper appreciation of Harrison's ambitious adaptation. --Jeff Shannon