Talky Tuesday: Dune: The Awards Show, part two

In the second part of the Dune Awards, we get to the screenplay and first of the acting picks.

In yesterday’s installment, we gave design and music awards for the best from each film, and it was a Dune: Part One sweep. This time around, the competition gets a little bit stiffer. Here we go.

The three versions, to remind you, are:

Dune (1984), directed by David Lynch

      Frank Herbert’s Dune (2000, miniseries), directed by John Harrison

      Dune: Part One (2021), directed by Denis Villeneuve

Let’s jump right to one of the above-the-line creative roles.

Best Adapted Screenplay

1984: David Lynch (3-time Oscar nominee; honorary winner in 2020)

2000: John Harrison (1-time Writers Guild of America Award nominee)

2021: Jon Spaihts (2-time Dragon Awards nominee), Denis Villeneuve (1-time Oscar nominee), Eric Roth (6-time Oscar nominee; 1-time winner)

Two things immediately jump out with this list of nominees. One is that the director of the film was also involved in the screenplay. The other is that only one of those directors was wise enough to collaborate, and he did it with two excellent screenwriters.

That, of course, would be Denis Villeneuve.

Oddly enough, this time around, it’s David Lynch’s Dune that comes out the weakest of the bunch. While he does manage to pare the story down enough to fit into a two-hour and seventeen minute runtime, he also takes liberties with certain elements of the story and relies entirely too much on voiceover to feed us exposition or characters’ inner monologues, particularly when it comes to Paul.

The opening narration in his version runs nearly two minutes, and is mostly a shot of the actress delivering it. Meanwhile, the opening narration of Villeneuve’s version is much shorter, and we’re seeing life on the planet Arrakis the entire time.

In the TV movie version, the opening narration is also short, about 40 seconds, and it focuses on an image of the planet.

Some changes of Lynch’s changes come out of left field — for example, the addition of “weirding modules,” which are devices that convert sounds into powerful energy beams. However, it’s only select sounds that have any effect. Naturally it turns out that Paul Atreides’ Fremen name, Muad’Dib, activates the device and blows stuff up.

This prompts Paul to realize, in yet another awkward voiceover, “My name is a killing word.” You know. In case we didn’t get it.

This addition really weakens the entire idea of the Bene Gesserit training, which relied entirely on one’s own mental and physical skills. In effect, it allows anybody with a weirding module to use their own supercharged version of the Voice, and it’s really a cheat.

Lynch also added the Guild Navigators to his movie. In Herbert’s canon, they don’t actually appear in the second book Dune Messiah, but are only alluded to. They actually have a far more mutated form than that described in the books. He did a similar thing with Baron Harkonnen, having the actor covered in rather disgusting boils and lesions, all in various stages of bloating or bursting.

What he did maintain about the Baron were his ephebophilic tendencies — that is, a sexual attraction to young teenage boys that Herbert included as 1960s shorthand for “evil.” If anything, Lynch leaned into it, adding one horrific scene in which an unfortunate servant (slave?) catches the Baron’s eye, only to be molested and then murdered when the Baron pulls out his “heart plug” (also a Lynch invention) which is rather akin to the transmission fluid check stick in a car.

Probably the biggest changes in both the Lynch and Villeneuve versions involve the first acts, but in two very different ways. Lynch choses to have his first scene be a meeting between the Emperor and a Spacing Guild Navigator which lays out the entire reason that Paul Atreides is a threat to all of them. As noted above, the Navigators do not appear in the first book, nor do they make a physical appearance in Dune: Part One.

Meanwhile, Villeneuve’s first act begins on Caladan with the Atreides family, but includes scenes that don’t happen in the book. To be fair, though, we can think of them as prequels to what we learn in the early chapters. In the book, House Atreides has already accepted taking on the stewardship of Arrakis from the Harkonnens. In the movie, we see the Emperor’s representative visit to deliver the proclamation.

In both movies, we also meet all of the family retainers — Duncan Idaho, Gurney Halleck, Thufir Hawat, and so on — before the arrival of the Reverend Mother Mohiam to administer a life-or-death test to Paul.

Basically, he has to put his hand in a box that uses direct nerve induction to cause the sensation of pain. If he pulls his hand out, then the Reverend Mother will kill him with her gom jabbar, which is a poison-tipped needle.

Villeneuve’s specifics here differ from the other films in two ways. Actually, three. In the other films, the boxes are large and shiny, while in Villeneuve’s the box is small, rough-surfaced and probably made of wood.

Second, in the other two films, the gom jabbar is a device mounted on a thimble-like object on the Reverend Mother’s finger. Or, in other words, she has a lot more control over it. In Dune: Part One, it’s pretty much just an oversized needle that she holds in her fist, pointed at Paul’s neck. This makes it a hell of a lot more dangerous.

Finally, in the first two versions, both directors felt it necessary to show a cutaway view to the inside of the box to reveal the skin on Paul’s hand burning and blistering. Villeneuve, on the other hand, relied entirely on his actor to sell it — and his actor did.

As for the changes made by Villeneuve et al, they serve more to make this a story about an oppressed indigenous people, the new group of colonizers that replace the old oppressors, and the question of whether the Fremen will actually be better off — especially when the former group of oppressors just comes roaring back onto the scene.

Not that Herbert’s book wasn’t always about this too. It’s just that Lynch focused on imperial politics, and so inadvertently centered the colonizers instead of their victims. But of course.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the opening narration. In the books as well as the other two adaptations, it comes from Princess Irulan, the Emperor’s daughter, taken from the pages of one of the many history books she wrote long after the fact. In Dune: Part One, Irulan doesn’t even appear, and the opening narration goes to Chani, the Fremen woman who will become intimately connected to Paul.

It’s an immediate and welcome change to POV. Another big change is gender-flipping the role of Dr. Liet Kynes, Imperial ecologist to Arrakis and Judge of the Change, i.e. overseer of the handoff of power from House Harkonnen to House Atreides. Villeneuve and company also give the character a very different and much more meaningful death scene.

Of course, the biggest change in Dune: Part One is in its title, so it’s not an adaptation of the entire book. However, the adapters chose the exact perfect moment to end it, as well as the right exit line. Of course, this leaves out a few important characters, like the Emperor, his daughter, and Baron Harkonnen’s other nephew Feyd Rautha, but that’s why there’s another film on the way.

I don’t think there’s any question here at all, although Frank Herbert’s Dune is a close runner-up.

Winner: Spaihts, Villeneuve, and Roth for Dune: Part One

Acting/Casting

And now we come to the big tamal, as it were. Who played which role better? By default, David Lynch’s Dune wins for Emperor Shaddam IV (José Ferrer), his daughter Princess Irulan Corrino (Virginia Madsen), and Feyd Rautha (Sting), but only because they don’t appear in Dune: Part One and because the miniseries versions were really pale shadows of the movie versions.

The characters where it’s really hard to decide between Lynch and Villeneuve are mostly Atreides retainers, and here they are:

Duncan Idaho:

Richard Jordan (1-time Emmy nominee; 1-time Golden Globe winner) vs.

Jason Momoa (1-time SAG Awards nominee)

I was really taken with Jordan’s performance in the original film to the point that I had to track down his other work in Logan’s Run and the TV miniseries from the same year Captains and the Kings. The former was easy to catch up with in revival cinemas all through the 80s and 90s. The latter, not so much until late in the days of VHS, right before DVDs took over, and I was able to pick up all the episodes for really cheap.

Anyway, I found him engaging, ideal for the role, and with a purity that made what I knew was coming later (as a fan of the books) even more tragic. Plus he died at only the age of 56 in 1993 due to brain cancer.

So, I was leaning heavily toward Team Jordan, but then I saw Momoa in the role and, sorry. He had all of the same engaging traits that Jordan did, but also a physical presence that Jordan did not but which the character needs.

Winner: Jason Momoa for Dune: Part One

Gurney Halleck:

Patrick Stewart (4-time Primtime Emmy Awards nominee) vs.

Josh Brolin (1-time Oscar nominee)

Keep in mind that Star Trek: Generations was nearly a decade in the future when Dune came out, so that Patrick Stewart did not have the same connotations at the time. He was just some bald, British actor. Still, he did make an impression on me as the character tasked with teaching Paul how to fight, and pretty much forcing him into his lessons.

Brolin’s take on the character does the same as well, and their scenes are pretty similar. However, Stewart brings a lot more humanity to the character, while Brolin’s Halleck is just kind of a dick. Plus I can only ever think of him as Thanos now.

Winner: Patrick Stewart for Dune

Thufir Hawat:

Freddie Jones vs. (1-time BAFTA nominee)

Stephen McKinley Henderson (2-time SAG Awards nominee, 1-time Tony Award nominee)

Although it’s one of those “if you know, you know” instances in Villaneuve’s version, Mentats are very important to all of the Great Houses mainly because they serve as human computers, which is a necessity because the Butlerian Jihad 10,000 years earlier outlawed all mechanical computing devices.

Thufir Hawat is Mentat to the House Atreides, and while Freddie Jones has a certain gravitas for the role, Henderson just walks away with it by pure physical presence. He sort of embodies the grandfather we all wish we’d had as kids.

Winner: Stephen McKinley Henderson for Dune: Part One

Dr. Yueh: Dean Stockwell (1-time Oscar nominee) vs.

Chang Chen (1-time nominee, Asian Film Awards)

This one is the hardest call of all for one simple reason: Stockwell was an iconic actor who passed away only a few weeks ago and, in fact, after Dune: Part One was released. If this had been an actual Oscar ceremony, he might have just won based on that — although that’s not always the case. Just ask Chadwick Boseman. Or Heath Ledger. Hm. What’s the difference, again?

Stockwell was a Lynch regular, and probably most well-known for his role in the TV series Quantum Leap, but also memorable for his turn in Blue Velvet, which came out two years after Dune.

But the elephant in the room, of course, is the name “Yueh,” which is of Chinese origin. And while Herbert’s books are set nearly 8,200 years in the the future, it’s definitely a future that includes Earth. So, while the ethnic and national sources of names may have completely broken down by that point, it’s also clear in Herbert’s universe that the certain planets and societies have managed to remain insular and tribal.

For example: The Fremen of Arrakis, the Spacing Guild, the Bene Tleilax, or Planet Ix.

Still, while Stockwell was memorable in the role, this one has to go to the first actually Asian actor to play him. Not to mention that his whole “being a doctor” acting goes way beyond anything Stockwell did. In fact… I really don’t remember Stockwell’s Yueh doctoring at all.

Winner: Chang Chen for Dune: Part One

Piter de Vries

Brad Dourif (1-time Oscar nominee) vs.

David Dastmalchian

The Harkonnen version of Mentats, this one is really a total no-brainer. Dastmalchian has a couple of scenes where he’s basically background, and then he dies. Meanwhile, Dourif’s take on the character embodies the mental mania that would be going on in a human computer’s head.

Another Lynch stalwart, he also appeared in Blue Velvet. Keep your eyes on “Raymond” in this disturbing sequence from that film, which also features Dean Stockwell. Dourif has this uncanny ability to play both almost lovably dorky and incredibly creepy at the same time.

I guess there’s a reason he’s the voice of Chucky, after all.

Though probably no fault of his own because his character had nearly no development in the script, Dastmalchian loses out.

Winner: Brad Dourif for Dune

Uncontested winners:

Duke Leto Atreides: Oscar Isaac for Dune: Part One

Shadout Mapes: Golda Rosheuvel for Dune: Part One

Dr. Liet Kynes: Sharon Duncan-Brewster for Dune: Part One

Chani: Zendaya for Dune: Part One

Stilgar: Javier Bardem for Dune: Part One

And now it’s the time you’ve been waiting for — the top three acting awards, best director, and best picture, but… crap. We’ve run out of time again and have to pre-empt Wednesday’s regularly scheduled article, so tune in tomorrow for the grand finale!

Momentous Monday: Dune: The Awards Show, part one

Now it’s time to compare the three adaptations of Dune to see which one fares the best. What better way than awards show style?

This is part two of yesterday’s Sunday Nibble, which gave a general discussion of the various successful (as in released) and failed versions of Frank Herbert’s Dune. This time around, I’m going to be comparing various elements of each of the three, head-to-head.

The three versions, to remind you, are:

Dune (1984), directed by David Lynch

Frank Herbert’s Dune (2000, miniseries), directed by John Harrison

Dune: Part One (2021), directed by Denis Villeneuve

I’ll do this Academy Awards style and work my way up to the ones people really care about — actors, writers, and directors, so let’s start with the tech awards.

Design

For this, I’ll be comparing costumes, set design, and various pieces of world building.

Remember, this was before the days of broadly available HDTV sets. While the technology had been around since the 80s, developed in Japan, legislative and industry foot-dragging and infighting really gunked things up.

It was like the VHS vs. Beta or DVD Format wars all over again. Everybody wanted to hold the only patent, and nobody wanted to work together or compromise. It was the same with TVs, where the big hold-up was going to be the ability to broadcast signals over the air that required such bandwidth.

That bandwidth existed in unallocated channels, but the telephone landline industry wanted that real estate for themselves, and badly, so things dragged on. (Yes, landline had a voice in the argument — that’s how long ago this was.)

Ultimately, the first HDTV sets hit the consumer market in the U.S. in 1998 but, as with any bleeding edge consumer technology, it took a while to become cheap enough to really catch on.

Consequently, producers didn’t exactly jump on the bandwagon to produce HD content. It was a repeat of the transition from black and white only to exclusively color TV in the 1960s. There had to be enough demand from consumers before it happened.

In 2000, that demand wasn’t there yet, so everything was still stuck in 4:3 TV ratio, with that nice, flat, even lighting. This puts Frank Herbert’s Dune at a serious disadvantage for all design elements.

Meanwhile in 1984, film, particularly 70mm, was the high-def medium, and even 8K resolution hasn’t quite equaled it yet. The resolution of a 70mm IMAX frame is the equivalent of 12K, although 35mm film was bested when 4K came around.

Here are our nominees:

Costume Design

1984: Bob Ringwood (2 time Oscar nominee)

2000: Theodor Pistek (2 time Oscar nominee; winner for Amadeus)

2021: Jacqueline West (3 time Oscar nominee)

I suppose that the surprise here is that the actual Oscar winner — and for the Best Picture at that — didn’t leave all that much of an impression on me, for the reasons noted above, so that he had to go with simple lines. There were probably also budgetary restraints.

In my memory, everything in the film was generally too “clean” and crisp, including the costumes, although there were some interesting choices. The Harkonnen gang’s outfits, for example, seemed to have a lot of Japanese and Eastern influences, which is actually a very strange choice given the characters.

Between the other two, Ringwood and West, it’s really hard to call, because they both did excellent jobs, albeit working with a 37-year difference in fabric and textile development. We have clothing materials now that just didn’t exist in 1983, when the film started shooting, with pre-production possibly even beginning in late 1982.

We can create the look of heavy leather, armor plate, densely brocaded fabric, patterned textiles, and on and on, and do quite a lot of it as light-weight illusions.

That leather? It’s rubberized spandex or cotton, and the armor is probably vacuum-formed plastic. As for those brocades and patterns, they’re just as likely to be very clever 3D illusions or, in other words, fancy printed patterns with nary an actual stitch or applique at all.

In 1982, if you wanted leather, armor, brocade, and so on, you were pretty much stuck with the real thing. Plastic or vinyl for armor (think Star Wars Stormtroopers) were probably the only viable alternative then, but only if you were going for solid, glossy colors. Much harder to get the look of dull, tarnished metal that wouldn’t rapidly chip off during filming.

Still — so many of the costumes from Lynch’s Dune still stick in my mind even while sticking toward more western metaphors and industrial motifs. Dune: Part One truly diversifies everything, and we see it in particular in the costumes, where which group someone belongs to is immediately identifiable by what they’re wearing.

Attention to detail with the Fremen, the natives of Arrakis, particularly honors Herbert’s original metaphors by going very Middle Eastern. Lynch’s version, not so much.

As a friend of mine described the whole series of books, Dune is basically “Lawrence of Arabia on acid, in space,” and he’s not wrong.

Ringwood went a long way toward world building in Lynch’s film but, ultimately, it didn’t feel all that far from ours. West, on the other hand, went all-out to source her costuming not just from Europe and the Americas, but from the world.

Her take on the Bene Gesserit sisterhood alone sells it. In the Lynch version, they come off as just a bunch of women in black with shaved heads and weird headdresses. By obscuring their faces and body shapes as they make a menacing group entrance, West reinforces what’s so dangerous about them, and she turns Charlotte Rampling’s Reverend Mother into a truly formidable force precisely because we cannot ever see her face clearly.

Winner: Jacqueline West for Dune: Part One

      Production Design

1984: Anthony Masters (1 time Oscar nominee, for 2001: A Space Odyssey)

2000: Miljen Kreka Kljakovic (1 time Primetime Emmy nominee)

2021: Patrice Vermette (2 time Oscar nominee)

The set design for Frank Herbert’s Dune is absolutely beautiful, and parts of it have a very Art Deco feel. However, as noted previously, the worlds of that version are just too clean and pristine for Herbert’s world.

Lynch’s and Villeneuve’s are, of course, much grittier and fitting the story, although they achieve this in very different ways. Lynch’s world, in fitting with his aesthetic, is very industrial and mechanical. Meanwhile, Villeneuve’s is very natural and organic.

Remember, after Lynch became known for the low-budget indie film Eraserhead, producer Mel Brooks picked him precisely because of it to direct the studio film The Elephant Man, which was Lynch’s debut as a “legit” director.

The film is set in late 1880s Victorian England — the same time period when Jack the Ripper was active as well as the setting for the graphic novel and movie From Hell, which focuses on the hunt for the ripper but features the Elephant Man as a background character.

It’s an era of arsenic in the wallpaper and gaslights everywhere, and in Lynch’s vision of it, you can smell the faint whiff of methane from the streetlights, the sickly heaviness of oil keeping carriages and machines running, and the stench of smoke from burning coal pouring out of every factory chimney. There would also have been copious amounts of horseshit in the streets and a generally unpleasant odor from most of the people.

The Elephant Man is a film you can smell, and Lynch carries this over into his version of Dune. But, again, it’s an industrial one, especially as typified by the Guild Navigators, who arrive in the Emperor’s palace in huge metal containers that resemble train cars without windows before they slide open to reveal the glass chamber within, mutated Guild Navigator floating in a yellow cloud of spice gas.

We don’t even see the navigators in Villeneuve’s take on it, nor do we really see much of the fabled Heighliners with which they travel. In 2021, we only get the end of the trip, showing the gigantic ships having arrived in order to unload their cargo.

Lynch, on the other hand, took great interest in showing the heighliners in enormous detail, including how the Guild Steersman used the mental powers given to it by the spice in order to fold space.

Lynch lingered on the craft, both in space and descending down to a planet. Villeneuve doesn’t really focus on such craft, but just throws them into action, the one exception being some nice, lingering shots of his dragonfly inspired ornithopters, which beat the Lynch versions hands down.

Other little design details are very telling as well, like the layout and overview of Arrakeen, the capital city of the titular Dune planet, Arrakis, every bit the Middle-Eastern desert stronghold. But where Dune: Part One really pays attention can be found in the little details of Fremen Tech.

What Lynch’s design team seemed to not notice or think about but Villeneuve’s did is this: Yes, the Fremen have some pretty amazing technology. However, they also live in the desert, and crossing it while traveling lightly is essential.

We see this in Dune: Part One when Paul unpacks a Fremen supply kit left for him and his mother by the family physician Dr. Yueh, and there is an endless supply of very useful items in there, but they are all packed into very compact and specific areas and, in aggregate, also appear to be very lightweight.

The biggest example of the difference comes in the so-called “thumper,” which is a device designed to either call or distract sandworms, depending on needs. If you look at the 1984 poster above, you can even see one — it’s what Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) is carrying over his shoulder, and it’s as tall as he is.

In contrast, the Villeneuve version is really about the size of a hand-vac or six-volt flashlight — handheld, portable, and it does the job.

Visually, I get that Lynch was trying to show that thumpers were signaling devices, as well as show us that they worked by, well, thumping the sand, and he did this by having the tall shaft with some kind of unit on top of it, so we could see that something was, indeed, moving inside.

But… a thumper was never designed to be a signal to other Fremen, so there was no need at all for anything that visible. It was meant to signal to sandworms, and that signal traveled entirely downward into, well, sand.

That’s just one of many examples, but the most telling.

Winner: Patrice Vermette for Dune: Part One

Music/Score

1984: TOTO (5 time Grammy nominee; 4 time winner)

2000: Graeme Revell (11 time BMI Film & TV Award nominee; 11 time winner)

2021: Hans Zimmer (10-time Oscar nominee, 1-time winner)

Each soundtrack for each film is a product of the time it was made and the medium it was made for. TOTO would have been a perfectly rational choice in 1984, especially considering that only four years earlier, the campy sci-fi epic Flash Gordon came out with a soundtrack by Queen that was rather successful, so why not another rock band?

It also made sense because in 1983, TOTO won their four Grammy Awards, so they were in a pretty good position to be in demand.

The problem, of course, was that this was the height of the age of synthesizers but also right before sampling technology got good enough to emulate real instruments. And rather than write their score and then transcribe it for an orchestra, TOTO went the DIY route, and it shows.

Synthesizer “string” sounds in 1984 were anything but, and the effect nowadays is to give a strangely dated feeling to the music. To be honest, I couldn’t remember anything about the soundtracks from either 1984 or 2000, so had to look them up and give a listen. Hooray, internet!

Anyway, while some of the TOTO stuff is very melodic, it does suffer by not having been recorded analog. On top of that, there are several very cringe moments when they unwisely unleashed their electric guitars, especially when Paul and the Fremen (which also sounds like a band) ride a sandworm or House Atreides finally kicks Harkonnen ass at the end. (Spoiler!)

Meanwhile, Graeme Revell’s material takes advantage of either a full orchestra or the much-improved state of sound synthesis in 2000, or possibly both. It’s got some beautiful moments but, again, it comes from the land of TV instead of film, so its main raison d’être, sadly, is to keep the viewer keyed in on the emotional content of the scene while they’re looking away and being distracted by their phone, kids, pets, SO, or whatever.

Which brings me to Zimmer and Dune: Part One and, as with the costume design mentioned previously and the casting yet to come, he remembers one thing: The world of Frank Herbert’s Dune was diverse and not Eurocentric.

In fact, Arrakis/Dune is quite clearly a stand-in for the Middle East, Saudi Arabia in particular, for one specific reason. The all-important “spice” in Herbert’s universe is essential for all space travel and, hence, inter-planetary commerce. Without it, the system falls apart.

Translate to late 20th century Earth and, ta-da… fossil fuels. Now, granted, unlike in Dune, Saudi Arabia is not the sole source of black gold — Texas and Alaska, for example, would not have had such disproportionate wealth in the U.S. at one point in history without it — but Sudi Arabia was an important enough producer that imperial powers took notice.

In this case, “Imperial” is specifically Great Britain, which is how that whole Lawrence of Arabia thing happened in the first place.

That’s all just backstory to Zimmer’s score, though. Where he absolutely succeeds is in keeping it orchestral — or at least milking current sound technology to its fullest to keep it sounding realistic — and in making it world music.

His score is an amazing combination of Western, Middle-Eastern, Asian, African, and Indigenous musical modes, rhythms, and sounds, and it does as much to build this world as everything else. There’s not even a question here, and this could easily be Zimmer’s 11th Oscar nomination and second win. I’m calling it now.

Winner: Hans Zimmer for Dune: Part One

And, will you look at that? Just like any awards show, we’re running way over time, and we haven’t even gotten to the ones you’re really interested in yet. Let’s play the “In Memoriam” segment for those cast members who are no longer with us. As it turns out, they were all in the first film. Then, we’ll pick it up after the break tomorrow, in Dune: The Awards Show, part two.

In Memoriam — The Cast of Dune

Leonardo Cimino, José Ferrer, Freddie Jones, Richard Jordan, Silvana Mangano, Kenneth McMillan, Jack Nance, Paul Smith, Dean Stockwell, and Max von Sydow.

Sunday Nibble #90: Dune: Part One

My thoughts on the one attempted and three succeeded adaptations of Dune, part one of two.

Okay, I know. I’ve raved about the upcoming film and past adaptations and many other things Dune here before, and while the latest move adaptation did open almost a month ago, it took me a while to get to it mainly because I wanted to see it in an actual theatre — this was not one for streaming at all — but I wanted to wait until the size of the crowds died down.

Plus, I know how the theatre business works, and if you want most of your ticket money to go to the theater (who needs it) as opposed to the mega-studio distributor (who doesn’t) then wait a few weeks.

If you want the minimal number of audience members with you, go on a Tuesday through Thursday early evening, at just after six p.m.

I’m glad I finally did, on a Tuesday evening at 6:50, although I felt guilty in that I didn’t realize before I committed that this was the theater chain’s cheapie $6.50 ticket night (service charge extra.) I would have paid the double price for a Wednesday or Thursday, really.

On the other hand, psychology, it just felt like I needed this bit of self-care on a rough Tuesday and, ultimately, I’m glad I went.

My very short review of it is this: Many have tried, but most have fallen short. Jodorowsky tried and failed spectacularly in the late 60s/early 70s, much closer to the release of the original novel and, honestly, also much closer to its psychedelic roots.

That’s probably the reason this version never happened, because the director behind that one was clearly cranked out of his mind, went way over-budget, and wrote a script that original author Frank Herbert himself reported would have run well over 14 hours.

The first theatrical version of Dune didn’t come out until 1984, directed by David Lynch, and while the producers obviously thought, “This dude makes some really fucked-up looking shit,” they failed to notice that he’s also pretty much straightlaced as hell IRL.

Or maybe the correct term is “buttoned up,” which is literally true — the man always wears dress shirts buttoned all the way to the top, whether he has a tie on or not.

So, while Lynch had no actual experience via which to hook up with the real spiritual and visionary ideas in the source, he nonetheless was a visionary in terms of the arts, knew how to express things visually and how to use art design and cinematography and editing.

Ultimately, his version is a visual feast in which he does create very distinct worlds between those of the Atreides, Harkonnens, the Imperium, and Arrakis. On top of that, his theatrical release came in at two hours and seventeen minutes, which is barely enough time to really even tell the first act of the story.

Still… he had some pretty amazing cast members and some very memorable set, artistic, and costume designs, especially revolving around the Imperial Court, the Guild Navigators and their handlers, and the ships in general.

In a way, he took the way that Star Wars had turned the design of science fiction on its head only seven years earlier in 1977, and then turned it on its head again and gave it a shake. Lucas managed to steal a lot of that back by the time of the prequel trilogy, really.

The third proposed and second produced version of the book was a 2000 miniseries backed by Hallmark, of all entities, and it aired on the then-called Sci Fi under the title Frank Herbert’s Dune, presented in three parts. It was followed up in 2003 by another three-part adaptation of the books Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, probably most significant for introducing James McAvoy to a worldwide audience as Leto II Atreides.

Now, to a Dune fanboy, both of those minis together are just amazing, but the second miniseries is also way out of the scope of things here. Also, the Sci Fi version was really on a budget that focused on hiring very unknown and frequently Eastern European actors in order to put the budget into the special effects.

The two big exceptions, maybe, were William Hurt as Duke Leto Atreides in the first mini and Susan Sarandon as Princess Wensicia Corrino in the second.

But if we’re scoring over/under here… Lynch’s film was a good, “financed by 80s studio suits who wouldn’t know art if it bit their taint but were mostly wise enough to let him go,” while the miniseries was a better, “You can do what you want with the script, and we’ll finance the effects as well as long as you can make everything else cheaply as hell.”

Caveat on the first one: Yeah, the suits left Lynch mostly alone when he made the film, but they also created an extended version for TV that was so bad that Lynch took his name off it, and it aired as “An Alan Smithee Film.”

If you don’t know what that used to mean, go look it up.

The Smithee cut was 40 minutes longer than the theatrical version, but was padded out mostly by a half-hour extremely expositional prologue narrated by a minor character, Emperor’s daughter Princess Irulan, and illustrated completely with pre-production art and storyboards.

In other words, boring AF. The other ten minutes were composed of mostly outtakes and, honestly, they were originally outtakes for a reason.

So… those two and a half versions down, we come to the 2021 Part One iteration, and what’s my Dune Uber-fanboy take?

Oh, fuck, yeah. Denis Villeneuve just gets it and, wisely (unlike the other two directors) he split screenplay credit, so he did not try to do the whole thing himself.

Plus… he also did not try to do the whole thing, which was his wisest move. The book Dune would never fit into a single film, and it barely fit into a nearly five-hour miniseries. Dune: Part One is nearly half-way to that, which is a good sign.

The other good sign is that it ended at exactly the right part of the story, with the exact right line and visual, so that (for me) it didn’t feel unfulfilling. Nope. exactly the opposite.

It was the director planting his flag in the sand and declaring, “Hey. This is what I said I was going to do. Here we are. See you in Part Two…”

And I am so there for that journey.

Also amazing are the things that did not appear in Part One, which are only going to make Part Two stronger.

In Lynch’s Dune, the Emperor appeared early on and, IIRC, in almost the first scene, and we learn about his entire plot right then and there. In Villaneuve’s Dune, though, the Emperor and his daughter do not appear. Neither does Baron Harkonnen’s other nephew, Fayd Rautha, so memorably portrayed by Sting in a blue clamshell speedo in Lynch’s version.

Wait, what?

And if Harry Styles does not show up as the barely-clad and arrogant challenger to Paul Atreides in Dune: Part Two, then the director is not paying any attention to the Zeitgeist.

C’mon — that is the perfect death-cage matchup, period. For one thing, I think the two are pretty well-matched physically, and (spoiler alert) the characters are probably related thanks to the Bene Gesserit and their long-running breeding program, so their physical resemblance actually works.

For another, despite people thinking that it might look like an angry nerd slap-fight in a middle school cafeteria, Timothée Chalomet has already proven that he can hold his own in fight choreography.

The only downside is believing that he’s related to Harkonnen and his nephew (Feyd’s older brother) Beast Rabban, because Styles is just too pretty. On the other hand, the same two characters in Lynch’s version were not at all attractive people and Feyd was Sting, the only nod to them being related their fiery red hair.

Oh — Harkonnen and Rabban are both bald in this one. Hm…

So that’s my take on the latest Dune adaptation and thoughts on the others, but how do the three really compare? I’ll give my take on that one in the next installment.

Hey, if Villeneuve can do his adaptation in two parts, I can do likewise with my commentary. Check in tomorrow. At least I’m not making you wait until 2023.

Sunday Nibble #34: Dune

As a kid, I read all of Frank Herbert’s Dune books but, caveat, only the ones he actually wrote, and not all of the add-on attempted canon that came later. I was also a huge, huge fan of the much reviled David Lynch film adaptation — his version, not the bastardized Alan Smithee cut — which is nowhere near as awful as a lot of idiots have made it out to be.

Although, looking at the trailer now, is just a reminder of how, well… cheesy a lot of movie-making and movie marketing was back at that time — not to mention how awful a lot of the special effects look now. But do you remember those days when trailers had narrators that had to explain absolutely everything? Pepperidge Farms remembers.

Still, I have to admit a major fondness for the Syfy Channel’s 2000 and 2003 adaptations of the first three books which, in a lot of ways, went way beyond the Lynch version in scope and depth, although at the same time went with a much more low-budget, mostly unknown cast — which gets really ironic in 2003’s Children of Dune, because this was pretty much America’s intro to James McAvoy who, well, needs no introduction.

And now, there’s a new film adaptation coming out, and it looks like maybe they’re doing it right by only biting off half of the first book now, the second to come later — and the casting is beyond amazing.

Bonus points to them for using a Pink Floyd song in this trailer, which is a huge nod to the aborted attempt to adapt the book way back in the late 60s by Alejandro Jodorowsky, with such mind-blowing ideas as the Emperor being played by Salvador Dali, Feyd-Rautha portrayed by Mick Jagger, and the director’s own son as Paul Atreides.

Soundtrack: Pink Floyd. It’s hard to imagine what would have come out of that collaboration, but it never happened.

As for the source material itself, a good friend of mine always describes Dune as “Lawrence of Arabia on Acid,” which seems pretty accurate to me. Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet this go-round) is the son and heir-apparent to a noble House that is given the task of subjugating the planet Arrakis, source of the spice melange. This substance has both religious and secular uses.

It allows Guild Navigators, star pilots mutated by OD-ing on spice, to actually see and plot routes between star systems and making the hyper-jumps entirely with their minds in a process described as “traveling without moving.”

This is what gives spice its true value, because it literally powers all space travel and commerce in the known universe. And it only comes from one planet. Arrakis.

Spice is sacred to both the natives of Arrakis and the religious order of Bene Gesserit, who have been mucking about behind the scenes trying to selectively breed the person who will become the Messiah to the people of Arrakis, thereby giving them indirect control of the planet and the spice.

The big bads of the original book are the House Harkonnen, sent to do the emperor’s dirty work, and House Corrino, to which belongs the Padishah Emperor himself, Shaddam IV.

And if all of this competing houses business absolutely reeks of Game of Thrones, just remember that Frank Herbert came up with his version sometime before 1965.

Interestingly enough, it looks like we don’t get to the Emperor in the first movie this time around, which is probably a good thing.

My only disappointment with the impending project is that there really is enough Dune material to have done it as a very extended streaming series. On the other hand, it’s the kind of the thing that really needs the same kind of big screen that was necessary to tell the story of Lawrence of Arabia.

Of course, there’s always the ideal universe, where director Denis Villeneuve pulls this off and nails the sequel, and then the Dune saga becomes the next (and very grown-up) version of the Potterverse Franchise, which has pretty much lost all of its shine for me.

But there’s plenty of material. The original Dune series comprises six books, one short of Potter: Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse Dune. And god (emperor) knows, Herbert’s son went all Christopher Tolkien on his dad’s IP and spun it out into a ton of further books to rival the ridiculousness in scope of today’s Star Wars extended universe.

Perhaps I’m fanboying too much, but this trailer really does have my hopes up that there will be at least one bright spot coming at the end of 2021. I’m hoping for two, and anyone who’s been paying attention can probably guess what the other one is.

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