It’s funny how a movie like John Harrison’s Dune found its way in my review box only now. In truth, it happened now because I was lingering over the idea of buying the Director’s Cut version. As this endeavor saw me going over other people’s reviews, I’m here to throw in my two cents.
As one of the people who read the books before watching either of the Dune movies, I must say that eventually I came to dead David Lynch’s adaptation. Adaptation is a lot said because Lynch manged to rebuild the whole Dune universe in his own vision which despite being quite a feat (both in cinematography and storytelling) it did not appeal to fans of the book (story changes never go well, that’s a fact).
David Lynch’s Dune employed a lot of very good actors (Kyle MacLachlan, Sting, Patrick Stewart) and erected a very vivid world … but the world didn’t feel like Dune and the characters in the movie, while having a life of their own, reflected little of what Frank Herbert depicted. The names seemed somewhere between a coincidence and a sacrilege.
John Harrison’s Dune, on the other hand, undertook the difficult task of staying true to the story. This is particularly hard because Frank Herbert gave us an array of extremely intelligent characters whose main feat was emotion control. Thus the actors had to do Sisyphus’ work in trying to render their characters without the use of too many facial expressions. The result was a visually compelling rendition of Dune (as many fans put it) but the characterization had awkward results.
The Emperor Shaddam: is one of the good ones, but not outstanding.
Princess Irulan: one of the two female leads that managed to be more than just a pretty presence. Save for the light-colored hair, she was a good image of how I pictured Irulan. She has a good chemistry with Paul, sometimes feels like a better match than Chani.
Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam: polish actress Zuzana Geislerova delivers a good presence for her part but partly due to stiffness and partly due to poor accent, she fails to capitalize on that.
Duke Leto Atreides: John Hurt was a poor choice, he inspired little of the majesty and nothing of the greatness of Herbert’s vision. After a few scenes I was eager to see him die in order to salvage my picture of Leto.
Lady Jessica: she did feel a lot like Herbert’s Jessica, the protective nature towards Paul, the defiance towards the Bene Gesserit order. What I liked most was the fine catch of the way Jessica expressed emotion in private but never in public. She’s in the top ranking group but not quite the top.
Paul Atreides: Alec Newman had the hardest part and he failed to fulfil it entirely. It must be hard for an actor to connect with a complex and sometimes humanely superhuman character like Frank Herbert’s Paul. There’s no particular criticism here, I also can’t imagine who could have done the job.
Chani: she was very pretty, but that’s it. In Children of Dune, Chani managed to deviate a little from the canon in a way I did not care for. I connected little with the moment of her death and that connection happened only because of the books I read.
Dr. Keynes: a pretty great performance there, surreal I would say. The only minus is Keynes’ death in the desert which, on the screen, it seemed forced and the actor tried an overly theatrical scene which felt misplaced.
Duncan Idaho: a pretty stiff Idaho, especially as a ghola. Sure, he was trained be a mentat, but still …
Guerney Halleck: top of the class. In many ways Guerney is pulling the movie in terms of acting. PH Moriarty managed to do an actual Guerney, who really felt like a battle hardened assassin, unlike the overly classy Patrick Stewart who seemed too majestic for the role.
Stilgar: good, not bright
Piter: too absent, I have mixed feelings about that. In a way I wish he had a bigger part.
Baron Harkonnen: Ian McNiece shows his genius in the way he plays The Baron. There is a combination of amusement and evil in him which makes him steal not only every scene he’s in but the movie as a whole.
Fayd-Rautha: Matt Keeslar does his part great! He delivers a combination of ruthlessness, elegance and power that feels like Herbert’s character.
Rabban: hungarian Laszlo Kish should have had more time on screen, in this way he does look like Rabban but little else. His death was way too theatrical.
Alia Atreides: she looks pretty and she has her moments, but overall not the fairest of portrayals.
Leto II: good but not outstanding. He is more present in Paul’s dream sequences and he’s terribly overacting his part.
Ganima: not much acting there and not much of a part either. Even when on-screen, I would have barely missed her presence.
Acting aside, there are just a few more observations:
- In “Dune”, Paul and Jessica’s wandering in the desert seemed way too long. There was little information to advance the plot and no relevant acting, therefore it was just a drag.
- In “Children of Dune”, Alia training with the flying blades was a complete waste of time. Sure, Laura Burton got to show off her body, but in a pointless manner.
- thank Goddess for no more of Lynch’s “weirding modules” (where the hell did he took them from anyway?). The fremen cult for knives finally gets the importance it deserves.
- the “Inama Nushiff” sequence is not only eye-candy but also a perfect description which underlines so many elements of Paul’s personality. However, without having read the books the viewer will not understand it completely.
All in all, Harrison’s “Dune” beats David Lynch’s “Dune” in enough ways to make it worthwile. However, the enjoyment works only if you’ve read the books or if you have a high tolerance for seemingly discrepant plot elements. Otherwise, at the end of the movie your brain might explode due to apprent plot holes, character contradictions or seemingly out of place elements.