Wednesday Wonders: Dune: The Awards Show, part three

In the final installment, learn who wins the best actor, director, and picture awards for DUneu

In yesterday’s installment, we gave out the best adapted screenplay award, as well as some for supporting actors.

 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

We’re down to the villains and heroes now, and although the villains in Dune: Part One get less screentime (of necessity) than they do in the other two, they are still formidable. Here are the contenders.

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen

Kenneth McMillan

Ian McNeice

Stellan Skarsgård (1-time Primetime Emmy nominee)

Baron Harkonnen, of course, is the most visible Big Bad in all of the Dune adaptations but, of course, he’s really just the puppet of the Emperor (and, secretly, of the Bene Gesserit). At the start of Dune: Part One, it’s made quite clear that House Harkonnen has been in control of Arrakis and the spice for eighty years, during which time Baron Harkonnen has made himself possibly the wealthiest man in the galaxy by generously skimming off the top.

He doesn’t take it well, then, when the Emperor decides to remove his House from Arrakis, to replace them with the Atreides. It probably doesn’t help that the Harkonnens’ home world is Giedi Prime, a planet that’s been turned into a hellhole by overdevelopment and over industrialization. In contrast, the Atreides home world of Caladan was a very lush and rainy place.

Also depicted in the books as so obese that he has to use anti-gravity suspensors in order to move because he can’t carry his own weight, it’s quite easy to turn the character into an over-the-top, operatic monster.

This is exactly the trap that Kenneth McMillan falls into, and he chews the scenery so hard that it’s in danger of falling apart — a really good trick considering that the sets Lynch constructed for all things Harkonnen are pretty much solid metal.

While Ian McNeice doesn’t chew as hard and never swallows, he still falls into the trap of going almost melodramatic with the character. But both of these actors seem to forget something that Stellan Skarsgård absolutely nails: the banality of evil, a concept coined by the philosopher Hannah Arendt during the 1961 War Crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann.

That is, by lacking the ability to think of others and to reflect rationally, it became very easy for governments and their leaders to impose really heinous policies while not leaving any kind of trail of actual intentions.

In the case of Baron Harkonnen in all three versions, his only interest is regaining control of Arrakis and the spice, and keeping his fortunes flowing. But the first two Barons indulge in the evil of what they do and rejoice in their intentions.

Skarsgård, on the other hand, does not play it over the top and, in fact, doesn’t really seem to have any sort of agenda toward the people of Arrakis at all as long as his nephew can get them to behave. He wants the spice, but his personal agenda is against the Atreides because he feels they have stolen from him even though it was done on the Emperor’s order.

And so Skarsgård’s Harkonnen never turns into a raging madman. Rather, he downplays everything, and that just heightens the threat. On top of that, thanks to a little change in the script, he is seriously injured when a certain character’s poison-gas “suicide tooth” manages to hit everybody in the room. Harkonnen only survives because he can literally rise above it.

So the clear winner is the actor who prove that you can play the far scarier villain by keeping it down low and quiet, which is much more menacing. Honestly, think about it. Which one is scarier? A villain screaming, “I’m going to fucking kill you!” at the top of his lungs, or the villain who smiles, steps behind you, strokes your face, and whispers, “I will kill you.”

Winner: Stellan Skarsgård for Dune: Part One

Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam

Siân Phillips (3-time BAFTA nominee, 2-time winner)

Zuzana Geislerová

Charlotte Rampling (1-time Oscar nominee, 1-time Primetime Emmy nominee)

This is probably the hardest choice of all because I have been a huge fan of both Phillips and Rampling since forever. And while Geislerová gave her noble best effort, she just lacked the gravitas and age, and really just came across as a budget Shelley Duvall with an Eastern European accent.

The other things that make it difficult are this. One is that Rampling has so little screen time in the Villeneuve version, but I suspect that this is by design, and that she will step more into the foreground in part two, especially once the Emperor is revealed.

The other is that the costume design, though brilliant, almost completely hides her face, so we’re only left with her voice. She is brilliant and powerful in the role, but for the moment subdued.

Meanwhile, Phillips gets an entire arc in Dune, and she’s another actor who remembers that the less you overplay a villain the scarier you become.

I really saw this in action about a decade after Dune when an SO gifted me with the DVD box set of the 1970s BBC miniseries I, Claudius (because of my thing for Roman history), in which she played the wicked and manipulative Livia for the first six episodes and was brilliant.

So as much as I’m a big Rampling fan, I have to defer her award until we get Dune: Part Two, where I know that she’s going to kick ass.

Winner: Siân Phillips for Dune

Lady Jessica Atreides

Francesca Annis (6-time BAFTA nominee; 1-time winner)

Saskia Reeves

Rebecca Ferguson (1-time

Globe Award nominee)

Needless to say, Villeneuve gave his Jessica one big leg-up in his adaptation that the other two didn’t have, and this is that he gave the character a lot more agency in the story. In the others, mother is always somewhat less powerful than son. This time around, Jessica is still the mentor, and Paul still has a lot to learn.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, each of the actresses to play Jessica wasn’t all that much older than the actress playing their son, although Rebecca Ferguson and Timothée Chalomet probably came closest to the reality in the books, with 14 yeas between them.

In Dune, the difference was 11 years, and in Frank Herbert’s Dune it was 13. Not that this really makes any difference, because ages really don’t matter in casting. It all depends upon what you can play — more on that in the next section. In every case of a Jessica, she did seem old enough to be Paul’s son.

But… only one of them also had the weight and presence to play Paul’s mother, so the winner in this category is easy.

Winner: Rebecca Ferguson, Dune: Part One

And this brings us to the big bambú, the star of the show, the kwisatz haderach himself…

Paul Atreides

Kyle MacLachlan (2-time nominee, Primtime Emmy Awards)

Alec Newman

Timothée Chalamet (1-time Oscar nominee)

I could just jump to the winner right now, but let me digress. The trick with casting Paul Atreides is to keep in mind that in the first book he ages from 15 to 18 years old. It’s the old Romeo & Juliet problem. You need to cast actors who appear to be in their early teens but are at least mentally (and legally) mature enough to play the adult roles.

This is the direct source, of course, of the enduring trope of every high school student in film or TV looking like they’re in their late 20s.

And yes, 2/3rds of the nominees here suffer that fate.

Ironically, Kyle MacLachlan was only about a year older than Timothée Chalomet when he made Dune, and yet he appears to be so much older. I won’t even get into Alec Newman here, who was the oldest of the bunch at 26 when he played Paul, and always just felt really wrong anyway.

But here’s the weird thing. Chalomet can easily pass for a late teen. Maybe not 15, but I’d certainly believe him as early high school, strictly based on his physicality.

MacLaclan, on the other hand? Yeah, even though he was 24 when production started, he came in reading a lot more like 30. I mean, no offense, because he didn’t look that old, but he just vibed that old.

And, to be honest, it’s probably because he’s always been a very wooden and stodgy actor. Chalomet plays from his gut. MacLachlan plays from somewhere between his forehead and nose. But knowing what I know about Lynch, this is exactly why he latched onto to MacLachlan so early and kept using him — MacLachlan is just as buttoned up and uptight as Lynch.

MacLachlan is Lynch’s self-projection into his work. Too bad, then, that Lynch is no Paul Atreides, and never was, because despite all of his weird artistic pretensions, there really isn’t a rebellious or defiant bone in his body. He only pretends to create transgressive art, but he isn’t.

His version of Dune is probably the best example of this, especially since he allows the character of Paul to go full fascist at the end, once he’s basically taken control of Arrakis and the spice.

Not that MacLachlan wasn’t great in Blue Velvet, where he got to play an oppressed and voyeuristic douchebag who managed to fuck up everyone else’s fun times by projecting his own paranoia, or Twin Peaks in which he was, after all, a frickin’ FBI officer. But, again, in both of those projects, it was his wooden and unfeeling performances that actually made it work, and not otherwise.

But I think that the audience is way ahead of me even before I open this envelope.

Winner: Timothée Chalomet for Dune: Part One

Best Picture/Best Director

And, as we get to the finale, I think that all the other awards may have given the clue, so I’m not going to belabor it. Here are the nominees for both again:

Dune (1984), directed by David Lynch (3-time Oscar nominee; 1-time honorary winner)

      Frank Herbert’s Dune (2000, miniseries), directed by John Harrison (1-time Hugo Award nominee)

      Dune: Part One (2021), directed by Denis Villeneuve (1-time Oscar nominee)

And if I’m going to score this numerically, it’s this, with 3 being worst and 2 being best: Frank Herbert’s Dune at 3; Dune at 2; and Dune: Part One being number 1.

There are probably other award concepts I could think of, but these are enough for now. I am hoping that Charlotte Rampling, for example, regains her title in Dune: Part Two, as does Josh Brolin. But we shall see.

Denis Villeneuve has bitten off quite a bit but, on the other hand, he has proven that he was also quite capable of chewing all of it.

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.

Friday Free-for-All #81: Book, building, old-fashioned

Major influences, both SciFi and not, including Anthony, Herbert, Asimov, and more.

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments. Here are the two questions I had leftover from last week, plus one more.Dune

What is the best book or series you’ve ever read?

I’ve read a few, and it depends upon when you ask me, but I’ll give a few, ranked. I’ve always been into science fiction and history, but with a 50/50 on success.

The first series is Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality, which starts out with a really strong premise: in its universe, set in a world very much like ours, magic is real, and various supernatural entities are actually just offices that humans hold temporarily. The whole thing kicks off with a suicidal human inadvertently taking on the role of Death when the Grim Reaper arrives to collect just as he’s about to shoot himself, but the man panics, shoots Death instead and just happens to make a lucky shot in a spot where Death’s magical cloak does not protect him.

The incarnations are Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, Evil, Good, and Night, but I think I only made it through about half of book four, Nature (Being a Green Mother) because things had gotten kind of silly by that point.

This is a recurring problem with Anthony, actually, as I learned when I did make it through all of the original books in his Bio of a Space Tyrant, although I never got around to the 2001 6th book that came 15 years after the end of the original series. Again, it was an interesting story that set up the planets of the solar system as analogues to countries on Earth, with Jupiter standing in for the U.S., of course.

The hero, named Hope Hubris (yeah, not heavy handed at all) is a refuge from one of Jupiter’s moons, Callisto, which is clearly a stand-in for Latin America. Over the course of the books, Hubris has to deal with a very Nixon-Like villain named Tocsin (there’s that lack of subtlety again) and is eventually basically declared Dictator by the Congress of Jupiter.

It plays out as a political metaphor but, again, suffers Anthony’s usual problems of being way too obvious and cutesy with character names, and adding up to much less than the sum of its parts.

Yes, I’ve read all of Asimov’s Foundation series, the original trilogy and all the sequels included, and while I found them to be a fun story full of intriguing big picture ideas, Asimov tends to put the ideas ahead of the characters.

Ironically, the most memorable and compelling character in the entire thing is the presumable villain of the original trilogy, The Mule — but he is actually the most sympathetic character of them all. Ironically, this may have been Asimov’s entire intent, in which case it works brilliantly, except that in retrospect, the real building of the character of The Mule relies on the readers catching empathy and creating him in their head.

Moving away from SciFi, a series of books I got into in probably early middle school was John Jakes’ The Bastard Series, aka The Kent Family Chronicles, which I discovered thanks to used book stores and used book sales where, thanks to the outrageous success of all of the novels in their original run, there were always copies available. This made John Jakes the first author to ever have three titles on the New York Times bestseller list in a single year.

What I loved about it was that it told the story of one immigrant from France, pre-American revolution, and his descendants into the 20th century, and did so in great detail. Each book in the series pretty much followed one generation and took us through U.S. history at the same time. Unfortunately, Jakes stopped with the 8th volume which, IIRC, only brought us up until the late 20s or early 30s, with the latest Kent family heir becoming a stand-in for Huey Long, suffering the same fate.

Enough of the runners-up, though. The winner, for me, is Frank Herbert’s Dune series — and note that I only include the six books that Herbert himself wrote before his death in 1986. All of the other crap that came after is as useless as all of the attempted Star Wars extended universe that is no longer canon, or anything Dr. Who that did not appear on the TV show or its spin-offs.

Sorry, Big Finish, I’m looking at you. Do all the radio shows you want to do, but they will never be canon.

So, to me, what makes the Dune series succeed where the others don’t quite make it? Mainly it was because Herbert had to first build a world totally alien to ours and not obviously based in ours, and he also filled this world with religion, politics, and feuding royal houses.

It also didn’t hurt that it all started out as a teen-boy coming of age story, so I first read it at exactly the right time, meaning that I totally identified with Paul Atreides — yes, yet another “chosen one” in YA fiction, what a surprise. That’s the whole point of YA fiction in the first place.

Although I don’t think that Herbert was writing YA, especially because the concept didn’t even exist in 1965, when the first novel came out. Remember, at that time, our teens were being sold nothing but Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys and other safe drivel like that.

If anything, Dune began as a piece of counter-culture literature, and a friend of mine has always described the first book as “Lawrence of Arabia on acid,” which is not at all inaccurate.

After all, the key struggle in the book is over control of an organic substance that can only be found on one planet, but which is sacred to one particular foreign religious order (the Bene Gesserit), also very important in the rituals of the natives of the planet it comes from, but also necessary to allow the guild navigators to trip balls and navigate their heighliners (the cargo ships of the series) by “traveling without moving,” something that, as Herbert made clear, freaked the hell out of the Bene Gesserit because, as he explained in narrator mode, women could not grasp the concept.

I think he resolved this misogyny by the last book, but certainly put it on high display in book number four, Heretics of Dune. He wrapped the whole series up in book number six, Chapterhouse: Dune, which the same friend of mine dubbed, not wrongly, “Jews in space.”

No, seriously, read it. That is not at all inaccurate.

But getting back to that counterculture thing… I don’t think that the drug in question was LSD. Rather, it was probably either ayahuasca or psilocybin, both of which are naturally occurring plants prized by several different indigenous cultures, and frequently used for religious purposes.

On top of that, they also have the ability to alter perceptions of space and time. Marijuana would be a distant third in this race, but it’s nowhere near as powerful, and is really only a sacrament to Rastafarians, who didn’t exist until the 20th century.

Still… it was this kind of detailed world-building with complex and interesting characters, plus an epic story that covered millennia that sucked me into Dune world and only let me go once Herbert died and stopped creating original content.

So Dune is the winner, and I absolutely cannot wait until the newest film adaptation comes out. SQUEEEE!

What’s the most interesting building you’ve ever seen or been in?

Oh, look. Back to science fiction, and the best part is that I actually wound up at this place for the first time totally by accident. The location: The Bradbury Building, in Downtown L.A. (DTLA).

I only found it because I went to Grand Central Market on one of my random pre-COVID Metro rides, wandered through looking for lunch but found nothing interesting, then came out on the other side only to realize that I was standing across the street from this landmark — and how could I not go over and visit.

In case you’re not sure why — The Bradbury was one of the major locations in the film Bladerunner. It was where the character Sebastian lived, and where Deckard and Beatty had their final showdown.

Of course, in the movie, the building looked like it was really, really tall while, in real life, it’s only five stories. But the other impressive bit is this: At the time that Bladerunner was shot in the late 70s/early 80s, that whole part of DTLA was neglected, so that the producers didn’t have to do a whole lot to the Bradbury to make it look like an abandoned mess.

Ironically, the film itself saved the building by turning it into an icon.

And so, on that day when I walked out of Grand Central Market and realized where I was, I had to make the holy pilgrimage across the street and into the shrine, and it was incredible. Everything had been restored to high luster, with the wrought iron elevator cages rising from the first floor to the fifth, and the staircases also intact.

Although it’s now a working office building, so that visitors are only allowed to go up to the first landing of the grand staircase at the end of the lobby, that was enough. I got to stand there and think of Bladerunner, and how instrumental this holy place was in its making, and that was enough.

Although I guess that this actually takes the place a few steps beyond “interesting” for me.

What’s something you like to do the old-fashioned way?

While I tend to adopt the new ways for everything — and my brain breaks when I see people my own age who are technologically ignorant — the one thing I will always do the “old” way is voting, although the only real definition of “old way” that is still valid in California is “in person.”

I’ve voted ever since I first could when I was eighteen, and I’ve only ever missed one election, which was an off-year, single item and city-only election in either April or May, and the only reason I missed it was because I don’t think I ever got the ballot, etc. on it.

But, otherwise, every other election day in my life, I’ve dressed nice, gotten my ass to the polling place with advance enough time to still make it to work, and done my ballot in person.

Well, until the last two elections, sort of, with the big exceptions being that these are the only two times I’ve actually voted before election day because they’re the only two elections I could have. And that’s totally fine with me.

And I totally love California’s new in-person voting system, which is pretty much like a self-checkout lane (hate those!) in a supermarket.

Scan your sample ballot or QR code, insert big blank thing, make your choices on-screen, print out marked ballot on formerly blank big thing, see it in person to make sure it’s right, then shove it back into the slot to go into the lockbox and get counted.

Oh yeah — at the same time, you can track the progress of your sample ballot and eventual vote via an app that will inform you all along the way.

Is any of that old-fashioned? Honestly, fuck no, and if I were to be honest, there’s nothing I do in the old-fashioned way because that just makes me wonder, “Who the hell would choose to live in this past when our future is far more interesting?”

Sadly… way too many people my age, apparently. Well, fuck them. I’m only willing to be as “old-fashioned” as whatever was possibly six months ago before the latest updates.

Otherwise, all y’all need to either catch up or just get out of the damn way.

Sunday Nibble #74: Dune, again

Almost a year ago, I did a Sunday nibble post expressing my excitement over the upcoming film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, which they are wisely doing in two parts so they can properly cover the scope of the book. It was originally going to come out at the end of 2020, but due to the ongoing COVID situation, it was pushed back, now scheduled for October 22, 2021.

They have released another trailer, though, and the more I see, the more it looks like the filmmakers nailed it. Have a look for yourself. You’ll want to see this in full-screen and HD.

If you’re a fan of the Dune books, or even just either of the two prior adaptations in film and TV, then I hope you’re as excited as I am. If you’re not familiar, then grab a copy of Dune now — you can probably find tons of copies at any used bookstore — and start reading. It won’t ruin your experience of the film, but it will introduce you to the Herbert’s world.

Sunday Nibble #72: Keep it varied!

One of the big fails of modern science fiction films comes down to world-building — literally. It’s pretty much this: For whatever reason, most planets wind up with a one-world biome.

It’s a desert planet, or a snow planet, or a forest planet, or a volcano planet, and that’s it.

Now, I can see how our own solar system might have propagated this idea because, well, honestly, other than the Earth and Mars, look at Mercury, Venus, Neptune, and Uranus, and they really do seem to be mostly the same globally.

Mercury is a rock — but if you compare the temperature on the side that always faces the Sun and the side that does not, you’ll find a ridiculous extreme because it has both the hottest and coldest places in our solar system if you don’t count the atmosphere of the Sun itself.

So scratch Mercury off the list, because it has climate extremes as well. And if it had any kind of atmosphere (which it can’t), it would have incredibly violent storms along its terminator, which in this case would be a line circling its poles, with total sunshine on one side and total dark on the other.

Meanwhile… Venus is a hellhole with no variation, so it totally fits the science fiction planet stereotype. Way to go Venus!

Earth… I’ll get back to us in a minute.

Mars… it may look like it’s just a little off-orange dust-ball with easily revealed gray streaks, but that’s not really true. While it doesn’t have a lot of atmosphere to speak of, it does actually have seasons, and the climate, such as it is, in the polar zones and at the equator do vary.

Let’s jump over Jupiter and Saturn and take a look at Neptune and Uranus.

These last two are, in fact, the epitome of mono-biome worlds, as far as we can tell. They are just spinning globes of liquid methane and ammonia at really low temperatures, they lack surface features, and are pretty reminiscent of a planet like Giedi Prime from Dune, which was basically made of fossil fuels.

The only fail in those books was the idea that the planet could actually be habitable by any kind of hominid life-form. Nope. It would have been, at best, the equivalent of a distant oil field, exploited by pipeline or robot rigging crew, with the actual product shipped to a real home world to be exploited.

The real action on varied biomes this far out in our solar system probably comes among the many moons, of which Uranus and Neptune have a lot, and Saturn and Jupiter have many more — but let us get back to the king of planets, and the father of the king, by whom he was eaten.

Look it up, people.

While both places may look like they are just whirling balls of gas as well, one glance at them tells us that no, they are not. And while you have to go really far down in hopes of finding any kind of solid surface, a look at the top of their atmospheres says, “Wow. They have climates.”

And boy, do they.

Jupiter is famous for its storms, the most well-known of which is the Great Red Spot, which is pretty much a hurricane just south of the equator that has spun in roughly the same place for centuries. There are indications that it’s finally breaking up, but others are forming in a storm train that’s familiar to any Earthling who watches news of our own Atlantic hurricanes.

Jupiter’s storms are just bigger, nastier, and they last (figuratively) forever. Meanwhile, the dynamics of the rest of the atmosphere are incredible, with visible bands of clouds and gases violently interacting in a dance of fluid dynamics driven by the incredibly rapid revolution of the planet.

Jupiter’s circumference is roughly eleven times the Earth’s, but one revolution on Jupiter, aka one day, takes only 9 hours and 56 minutes. Meanwhile, one revolution on Earth takes 24 hours and 15 minutes.

The net result is that the velocity of any point on the Earth’s equator around its axis at around sea level is 1,307 mph (1,669 kph). At the top of Jupiter’s atmosphere, it’s 27,478 mph (44,222 kph), which is 26.5 times faster.

So storms are much more intense, winds are faster, and atmospheric friction makes it pretty hot along the Jovian equator.

It’s probably not that much different on Saturn, with the composition of gases in the atmosphere changing by latitude — and that’s exactly what happens on Earth, for different reasons.

Back to the biome. Earth in particular is defined by its climate zones, which were mapped and named by humans centuries ago.

The defining two lines are the equator, at 0° latitude, and the Tropic of Cancer at 23.5°N and the Tropic of Capricorn 23.44°S. What they basically define are the zones in which the Sun does its maximal and minimal height at noon thing as the seasons pass.

They’re named for the astrological signs that marked the passing of the solstice — traditionally, the Sun enters Cancer on June 21, which is more or less the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Meanwhile, the Sun enters Capricorn around about December 22, which is the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere.

Swap results and seasons if you swap hemispheres.

Anything north or south of these Tropics (which basically means “cut-off”) up until the corresponding polar circle is considered a temperate zone. Well, was, until climate changed started to fuck it up.

As for the polar zones, these are the areas that either receive sunlight nearly 24/7 during summer or darkness nearly 24/7 during winter.

So this is why we have ice caps (sort of still) near the poles, pleasant weather for a zone between that and hot (until recently) and then a pretty warm climate spanning the equator in a pretty equal band.

Traditionally, that would give us snow, permafrost, deciduous forest, Mediterranean climate, rainforest, desert, then repeat in the other direction. Different climates depend upon where you are on the planet. So does the atmospheric composition, with some zones having more moisture and some less.

And yes, that’s all changing, but let’s get back to the point.

Where a lot of Science Fiction world-building has fallen down is in actually forgetting the lessons of our solar system, which are these. Which planets are naturally uninhabited and which ones aren’t?

Welp, Earth comes to mind as inhabited, with Mars a good candidate as former life host, along with various moons of Jupiter and Saturn as current hosts. The common thread, though, is that we’ve only found life on the planets with varied biomes — mainly, Earth.

And yet, science fiction planet designers insist on thinking that they can create planets that are all one thing — an ice world, a rain-forest planet, a volcanic world, a total desert, a salt flat with iron oxide deposits under it, a swamp world… whatever.

Here’s the problem: None of those mono-biome worlds are ever going to naturally support life. They might manage it with a lot of heavy infrastructure dropped onto them, but otherwise not. But for the ones that do happen to have varied biomes, seasons, maybe even a big moon to create tides, the sky is the limit.

And, to science fiction writers, if you want to create an inhabited planet, make damn sure that climate and terrain do change based on latitude, axial tilt, orbital period, and other realistic things. Otherwise, nobody is going to able to live on the “one terrain, one climate” space ball you’ve created.

To take just three examples, if you have a snowball world like Hoth, an ocean planet like Kamino, or a desert world like Tatooine, you’re going to have a damn hard time providing food and water for your inhabitants.

I’ll assume that, since most of the inhabitants of the Star Wars universe we see are humanoid, that we’d need to support an Earth-like atmosphere and agriculture, and other typically human needs.

The obvious workaround, of course, is that these single biome worlds are stand-ins for similar places on Earth.

For example, Hoth is not really inhabited by any kind of advanced civilization, just the local beasties — mainly tauntuans and whatever it was that lost an arm to Luke. It’s only an outpost, and is most like an analogue of the few bases that humans have in Antarctica.

Kamino, the ocean planet, likewise doesn’t really have any civilization, just the resident Kaminoans who are cloners, and who are involved in a very secret project most likely commissioned by a Sith Lord. Think of them like oil platforms in any distant place, like the North Sea, or very remote oceanic research stations.

And then we come to Tatooine, which seems to have a thriving culture despite being a desert planet of the sandy variety. But, again, this one has an analogue on Earth and in the Star Wars universe and Tatooine itself was actually filmed not all that far from its terrestrial counterpart.

See, Tatooine is the Middle East, which provided a gateway and marketplace between Asian traders from the East and European traders from the West.

All this is well and good if you’re being symbolic, but if you want to write real science fiction, then make your civilized planets as complicated and varied as Earth.

Oh yeah — the one other thing that seems to happen a lot in science fiction films: Every inhabitant of a particular planet apparently has the same language, belief system, culture, and general appearance. There are exceptions (that are not accounted for by aliens) but they are far and few between.

You could try to write that off to the idea that a planet’s cultures cannot migrate into space until they become one, but I’d argue that we seem to be doing just fine right now while sending up astronauts and missions from multiple nations, and we even seem to have just reached the Christopher Columbus phase 52 years to the day after the first humans walked on the Moon.

That would be the “letting rich assholes go up there” phase, by the way.

Also, if it seems like I’m picking on Star Wars in particular in this piece, I’m not. It’s just that I’m slightly more into that fandom (slightly) than the other two I’ll call out now: Star Trek and Dune.

They all tell fantastic stories. And when it comes to terms of defining them as hardest to softest in terms of the science in the fiction, then the order is this: Star Trek — they at least try to come up with physical rules for shit; Dune — they at least come up with biological, genetic, and psychological rules for shit, but really, really cheat it with what mélange can do; and Star Wars —100% fantasy, but that’s okay.

Or, in other words, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Star Wars makes the mono biome mistake constantly. It should be really annoying that Star Trek and, to a certain extent, Dune both do.

That doesn’t mean that I’m not looking forward to the upcoming Dune movie, which will just be the first half of the book. I am. It looks very, very good, whether it takes place on a totally desert planet or not.

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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