The Sci-Fi Channel’s Dune & Children of DuneTrevor Lynch
David Lynch’s Dune (1984) is a flawed masterpiece. When I first saw it, I was deeply disappointed. Frank Herbert’s original novel made a powerful impression on me. I could see Herbert’s world, and Lynch’s vision was not my vision. But when my initial impression faded and I returned to Lynch’s film with an open mind, I found it immensely imaginative and compelling. Even the score by Toto managed to grow on me.
Yes, Lynch changed some things about Dune, but the changes were for the better. For instance, the audience with the Guild navigator is not in Dune, but a similar scene takes place in the sequel Dune Messiah. It was too visually interesting a scene for Lynch not to steal, and he used it to advance the plot in crucial ways. Dune also combines a cynical materialism with genuinely mystical ideas like prescience. Lynch downplays the materialism and focuses in on the magic.
Dune deals with the explosive results of combining religion and politics. Young Paul Atreides is the product of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood’s centuries-old project to breed a superman. When he just happens to fulfill the prophecies of a messiah implanted in a superstitious desert people by the same sisterhood, he uses religion as a tool to raise an army and restore his birthright, but as we learn in the sequel Dune Messiah, the holy war takes on a life of its own and scorches the galaxy.
In Lynch’s telling, Paul really is a messiah. Oddly though, Lynch goes in the exact opposite direction in his treatment of the “weirding way,” turning it from a yogic siddhi into a kind of technology.
Lynch did not have control of the final cut of Dune, and many scenes were removed. There will never be a director’s cut, but some of the missing footage has surfaced in an abomination that appeared on television. In truth, though, nothing essential was lost, and each time I view this film, I marvel anew at how masterfully and concisely Lynch relates the essentials of the story.
Lynch’s Dune has many critics and skeptics. I will quell their qualms in a much longer analysis of Lynch’s Dune for a book about Lynch I plan to write someday. In the meantime, if you want to develop a better appreciation of David Lynch’s Dune, I suggest you try the alternative, the Sci-Fi Channel’s 2000 miniseries Frank Herbert’s Dune, directed by John Harrison. Every Herbert fan will want to see it, but few will enjoy it. In truth, it is pretty bad. Let me count the ways.
First, the special effects are abysmal, far inferior to Lynch’s which predate the age of computer animation.
Second, although some of the interior and exterior sets are imaginative, the costumes are mostly bad, especially the silly headgear.
Third, something is wrong with the sound. There are patches of the film where the dialogue is unintelligible, and not just because of the exotic accents of some of the Czech actors. The worst offender, actually, is William Hurt as Duke Leto Atreides, who sounds like he is mumbling through wooden teeth. To make matters worse, the DVD set I have does not have subtitles.
Fourth, the script is wordy, a flaw that stands out in the scenes that have direct equivalents in the Lynch film.
Fifth, the Fremen’s various gestures and rituals are muddled and clumsy, lacking in the stark simplicity one would expect of such people.
Sixth, the only decent music sounds like Brian Eno’s “Prophecy” theme from the Lynch film.
Seventh, I don’t like a lot of the cast. Some of them are ugly and others are terrible actors. Most of the casting and acting is far inferior to the Lynch film, particularly the characters of Duke Leto, Lady Jessica, Reverend Mother Mohiam, Stilgar, Dr. Yueh, Dr. Kynes, Thufir Hawat, Piter de Vries, Mapes, and Chani.
Alec Newman is actually good as Paul Atreides, but there are precious few scenes where he plays off anyone equal to him. I also liked Julie Cox as Princess Irulan, whose role is expanded from narrator to agent. This bit of tampering did not bother me, since it sets the stage for her more prominent role in the subsequent novels, and some of her lines are taken from characters in the original novel. I also liked Ian McNeice as Baron Harkonnen, whose portrayal is faithful to Herbert, whereas Lynch’s unforgettable Grand-Guignol Baron owes much to his own sick imagination. P. H. Moriarty’s Gurney Halleck is not bad, but he is no improvement on Lynch’s Patrick Stewart. The same is true of Giancarlo Giannini’s Emperor Shaddam IV and Matt Keeslar’s Feyd: not bad, but not better.
After 295 underwhemling minutes of the Sci-Fi Dune, I was not exactly eager to pop in the sequel, 2003’s Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune, directed by Greg Yaitanes. In fact, it took me more than a decade to get around to it, a decision that I regret bitterly, because it is an absolutely brilliant series.
The Sci-Fi Children of Dune is actually an adaptation of Herbert’s two followup novels, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. Watching it, I felt completely vindicated in my objections to the original series, because virtually every flaw that had rankled me had been removed: the bad actors, the ugly actors, the muffled sound, the pedestrian music and directing, the terrible special effects, even the silly hats. Both series had the same budgets, but the second one looks infinitely richer. Truly the worst sort of poverty is lack of taste.
The best actors in the first series are back: Alec Newman as Paul, Julie Cox as Irulan, P. H. Moriarty as Gurney Halleck, and Ian McNeice as Baron Harkonnen. Even a couple actresses whom I did not like in the first series — Barbora Kodetová as Chani and Zuzana Geislerová as Reverend Mother Mohiam — were much better under Yaitanes’ direction.
Edward Atterton’s Duncan Idaho, Steven Berkoff’s Stilgar, and Alice Krige’s Lady Jessica are all huge improvements over the first cast. (Krige is an astonishingly regal and charismatic woman. You have seen her as the Borg Queen.)
The new characters are exceptionally well-cast and acted: James McAvoy as Leto II, Jessica Brooks as his twin sister Ghanima, and Daniela Amavia as their aunt Alia. All three are exceptionally attractive and charismatic. They are all a bit older than in the books. Alia is about fifteen in Dune Messiah, whereas in the series she is an adult. The twins are nine in Children of Dune, but in the series, they are seventeen, on the cusp of legal adulthood. Frankly, these were good choices, because in Herbert’s novels, all three characters are sexually precocious, which is something that even today’s entertainment industry balks at putting on the screen. More mature actors are also more believable.
The big surprise is Susan Sarandon, who camps it up a bit as Princess Wensicia, the scheming younger sister of Princess Irulan. Sarandon, of course, is probably old enough to be Julie Cox’s mother. To add unity to the adaptation of the two novels, and probably also to get more out of Sarandon, Wensicia is made one of the conspirators in Dune Messiah. She is the only character who gets to wear silly hats.
The theme of Dune Messiah is Paul’s attempt to free himself from the terrible consequences of his own ambition, which have turned him into the God Emperor of a fanatical religion and ignited a universal conflagration. The theme of Children of Dune is freedom. Like a fugue, the two themes run through both books, the theme of freedom emerging at the end of the first; the theme of religion concluding at the end of the second. Thus it is quite natural and satisfying to have the two novels worked into a single 266 minute miniseries.
Paul’s power of prescience means that mankind is not free, for free acts cannot be foreseen. But there was something that Paul did not foresee: the fact that his daughter Ghanima had a twin, a brother, Leto. Leto, therefore, was a free being. Leto’s goal was to free mankind from the prescience of his father — the prescience he inherited from his father. This freedom was the gift of a particular kind of blood, a particular genetic code. Thus Leto had to oversee a breeding program as long and as ambitious as the Bene Gesserit’s, and toward the opposite aim: the creation of a truly free race. This is Leto’s “Golden Path.”
To fulfill the Golden Path, Leto must become the greatest tyrant the world has ever seen, an immortal God Emperor. To this end, he allows “sand trout” — the precursors of the giant sand worms — to fuse with his skin, turning him eventually into a giant worm-human hybrid who is virtually indestructible, as long as he avoids a bath. It is an astonishingly imaginative and downright weird story arc that finds completion in Herbert’s fourth installment, God Emperor of Dune, which I hope I will live to see brought to the screen. Yaitanes could certainly do it justice. In truth, I am saddened that the Sci-Fi Channel did not see fit to do it years ago.
Children of Dune is high-concept science fiction, but it is not space-opera. There aren’t a lot of laser battles or space-ships whooshing around. It is more like opera-opera: grand conflicts hinging on grand moral and metaphysical themes, enacted in grand settings by grand heroes and villains dressed, of course, in grand costumes.
But none of it rings hollow and melodramatic. Nor is it undercut with irony and camp, except in the case of Sarandon, who sometimes acts like she is too good for the story. (In one scene, she swings her arms like a cloddish farm girl carrying pails of milk. A princess would know better.)
Overall, Yaitanes’ direction is characterized by an unapologetic commitment to beauty and emotional warmth and sincerity. There are many genuinely moving scenes, highlighted by the lovely score by Brian Tyler (Enya meets Elgar). No matter how far out Herbert’s imagination can swing, it always remains grounded in the constants of the human heart.
If you are just beginning to explore the Dune universe, I would recommend that you skip the Sci-Fi Dune miniseries entirely. Begin with Lynch’s Dune, then watch Children of Dune, its worthy sequel.
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Lynch’s Dune is an ugly-ass movie that lacks novel’s sense of adventure and grandeur, as well as its depth. I do have a soft spot for it, as I watched it before reading the book, and its weirdness and outlandishness stuck with me. And there are things that I appreciate from this vantage point and that instill some respect for Lynch, like say the ballsy contrast between the noble, traditionalist Atreides with their techno-medieval society and the degenerate sadistic Harkonnens with their industrial hellhole world (IIRC, LGBT activists are particularly enraged about this, some even claim that baron’s skin disease was meant to imply AIDS). And this is where movie’s visual ugliness has its own respectable purpose. Of course, that had to be paid with Harkonnens, especially the Baron, losing their Machiavellian depth, being reduced to grotesque evil incarnate.
Don’t forget that the Dino de Laurentis production had passed through several hands before David Lynch had to rescue it.
Sure, parts are unmistakably his. Some must be from earlier takes.
The director’s cut really does improve it, not that the cinema release was bad, only some problems of continuity.
I have no idea what they were thinking with the costumes in the first mini series. They were outrageous. They do bring to mind some of the Moebius’s concepts for Jodo’s failed Dune flick, so they might have been inspired by that. If so, then that is another proof that what looks alright in french or japanese visual novel actually looks preposterous in live action production.
I think that we have the success of Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” to thank for the nigh immeasurable jump in quality between the two Sci-Fi Channel series. Yeah, I have as many grievances about Jackson’s movies as the next guy, but there is no doubt the they raised the bar as far as the audio-visual presentation of these high-end genre fiction adaptations goes. “Children of Dune” had as much class and artistry poured into it as you would expect from a lavish, big budget adaptation of “Ana Karenina” or “War and Peace”, and you just couldn’t expect that from any SS(F) TV series before that.
There is a director’s cut of your (sur)namesake’s Dune. It is at least forty to fifty minutes longer than the theatrical release, and much improved thereby.
I have only seen it from videotape, think there may never have been a theatrical release, and perhaps no digital disc release, but it does exist.
Agree on most of your comments re. the cable TV takes. Princess Irulan’s intro’s are great, and of course, Frank Herbert cast her as a historian in several of his chapter intro’s. Also, she *does* appear as a character in the first three books, at least very much so in Messiah and Children and, IIRC, in passing in Dune itself.
One point I found really annoying about the TV take of Dune itself (and parts of the sequels, but much less so), was what seemed to me a heavy-handed attempt to depict the Fremen en masse as Israelis.
After watching it, I assumed that some of it must have been shot in Israel.
It was made in the Czech Republic. Not seeing the Israeli angle at all.
Only my impression. Perhaps hypersensitivity to such on my part.
Still, my impression. Have you seen the expensive B-movie Stargate? The depection of the Fremen in TV Dune was very similar to the depiction of supposed Israel captivity in ancient Egypt in Stargate.
So, the arid scenes were all on-location in the Czech Republic? All CG? Perhaps so, but less likely over 15 years ago.
Thanks for your occasional sharp replies, I may look into it.
The version you mention is the TV abomination that Lynch disavowed. It bears the name Alan Smithee. (Someone should do a parody of auteur criticism on the cinema of Alan Smithee.) Lynch has refused offers from Universal to create a director’s cut. I wish he would, though. If it returned to theaters in a three-hour version, it would be a sensation.
You may be correct. In Japan it was ‘The Director’s Cut’. Perhaps a lie. I am not sure that you saw the same extended edition, I still liked the longer one, however, that may be a little like Trevor Lynch’s disliking his (sur)namesake’s Dune, then realising its good points.
Maybe there were two extended versions. The one I saw was a worthwhile extension.
Will try to check, sleep now.
Paul was played by Kyle McLaughlin, who was young at the time.
Um, he looks close to 30s in the movie, regardless of how old he was. Paul Atreides was supposed to be how old, 15-16? I can see the casting reasons, but the older actor necessarily makes Paul’s feats and abilities less impressive.
Denis Villeneuve (Director of Blade Runner 2049, Arrival, etc) is coming out with a new Dune, filming begins next year, with Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) starring as Paul.
I can’t quite describe how excited I am for this movie, Denis and Timothee are at two of the best in the game right now – something tells me it will be an absolute masterpiece…though I do suspect the Fremen will be a multi-racial mish-mash to appease the diversity crowd.
Here’s hoping that this will actually happen this time around, this is not the first time that the potential new Dune went as far as having a director and possible cast.
Do tell, what so impresses you about Chalamet. His anointment as the “it” manboy is due to his soft, andro looks and his “private” relationship with the ‘Baby Driver’ actor. ‘Hot Summer Nights’ is a perfect example of his purpose, he plays a romanticized Jewish badboy who gets the dirty blonde shiksa and outlives her dumb jockish gentile brother, who laughably sacrifices himself to protect him. I’d like to see Trevor Lynch tackle A24’s compiled releases, including the bogglingly successful ‘Hereditary,’ an indulgent Jewish hipster mess of esoteric neuroticism released with a wink on a clueless white public.
Villeneuve had me convinced, like everyone else, that he was a Fincher-Lucas hybrid of immense yet elegant powers, but he peaked with ‘Prisoners,’ and ‘BR2049’ is a generational wreckage of cringe that I would pay to have airlifted from my brain. It amuses me that he’s permitted another $150m plus budget for ‘Dune,’ sure to use all the sand left in his hourglass, a trilogy never to be. As another commenter gleamed, can he avoid pressure to turn ‘Dune’ into a Zio-whispering allegory? Chalamet’s princely casting suggests no.
(It’s worth noting the next ‘Star Wars’ was rumored to be partly shooting in Israel, and a true-seeming plot leak spoils a big reveal, surprise, the First Order is secretly powered by pseudo-Jewish slave labor camps. I really hope this is true lol. Amazon wrote-off $60 million to posthumously lampoon the massacred ‘Romanoffs,’ and we know Kathleen Kennedy aspires to be a Queen Esther of the star(s). Such delusional grandeur, a real life opera daring trolls to throw a lifetime of rotten tomatoes.)
I though Blade Runner 2049 was a very disappointing film. Chalamet is a half-Jewish twink. I don’t see him as a hero at all. Arrival and Sicario were good films, so Villeneuve might do a good job, especially since the story is golden.
There was a long podcast from a few years back, I think by the OG “Alternative-Right” blog crowd about Dune titles “Archie-Futurist Messiah” or something very similar to that. I recall it being pretty good.
I think the podcast / streaming MP3 hosting location on the server wherever was taken down sometime after the mass banning of alt-right accounts post C-Ville.
Still, someone MUST have it saved on their hard drive somewhere. If you do, please re-upload it and post here.
There’s an article in the Counter-Currents archives:
Various extended editions of Lynch’s Dune are floating about, all marked by abysmal editing and with a tedious narrator replacing Princess Irulan. The DVD set has some additional scenes which were filmed but cut from the theatrical and extended versions. A couple of these are useful to the plot, notably one in which Dr Kynes makes an alliance with the Atreides, and another where the Fremen poison a small worm to produce the water of life. Other scenes, not so much.
And yes, David Lynch should get out his maker hooks and do a three hour director’s cut. It would be impressive on the big screen.
Dune, the original, is a marvel. It has valuable concepts for our struggle.
One hearkens back to the Chechens who fought off the Soviets for a long, long, time.
Only Putin has pacified them.
Chechens seem to take their country and people VERY seriously.
We see the white males, and not just in America, without any honor, any sense of duty to their race.
The Fremen are ALL about their race, and their god.
And they fight to the DEATH for their honor.
Too many white males have grown up soft. That is their fathers fault.
It may seem foolish, at the very least eccentric, to model one’s self after characters in a Frank Herbert novel. Yet Mr Herbert modeled the Fremen after real clans. And Paul Atreides aka Muad’Dib shows how breeding and an honorable father can make HEROES.
It may sound outlandish to suggest that White Males today might benefit from modeling the Fremen and Paul and Duke Leto, but I feel it would help, greatly.
I saw Dune in bookshops in the 80s but knew I was too young to appreciate it. I bought it in the 90s, took it on a beach holiday when the kids were little and lost myself in the world of Arrakis on the grass under a tree for several days (with the kids in sight). Lynch’s movie was far from perfect but still wonderful and captivating in many aspects. That it was made before CGI is good as a bad CGI would have been shit. Because I love Dune so much – the sheer grandiosity and Machiavellian scheming of it all, I often wondered how Dune did not become as big as Star Wars. When I now see how Star Wars has been J-pozzed, I am thankful. It’s exciting to think of a re-make by Villeneuve as I enjoyed Bladerunner 2049, although quite dark, grew on me after a couple of watches.
To Greg, I know of the Alan Smithee thing, but did not check the credits to see if David Lynch was listed. You are likely correct.
To Trevor Lynch, very much enjoy your reviews (have been reading a few today, some I have seen, a few not), but I have one off-topic question.
You said in your review of/essay on Pulp Fiction (very much enjoyed the review, though not agreeing on some points) that Kill Bill demonstrates that Tarantino has a foot fetish.
Then in your review of Kill Bill part 1, a movie that I did not much like, either, there is no mention of how Tarantino demonstrates his foot fetish.
I am curious on the point, genuine question in good heart. How is the foot-fetish demonstrated?
Just rewatch the Kill Bill movies with that in mind. You will see it.
There’s a scene in Children of Dune which starts with three (White) men overlooking a valley while a thumper resonates in the background. It’s a prelude to their crew capturing a giant sandworm and spiriting it off-world via strategy, guts and a diesel-punkish flying machine. You can see the resolution in the men’s faces and body language as they take on a primal force of nature and triumph – the Faustian spirit in action.
There’s another scene where Paul Muad’Dib is supervising his council of state, debating whether or not to grant a facade of constitution in the Empire. He flatly refuses such a move which would lead to the “chaos of democracy,” an interesting commentary when you compare it to the Star Trek/Star Wars cheerleading for the “Federation” or “Republic” against the “Empire.” Nobody in the Dune universe pays even lip service to Hollywood sacharine politics, not where genetic goals for humanity are measured in millennia. Insofar as there is a “Resistance,” it’s from factions of the corrupt old order whose plans-within-plans Paul defeats hastily. Paul, of course, has a very long term vision which will be eventually fulfilled by the three thousand year rule of his son Leto.
Overall, Children of Dune is what used to be called a thinking man’s epic.
As for the Science Fiction Channel’s Frank Herbert’s Dune, its portrayal of Princess Irulan is interesting because she combines two females from the book: Irulan herself and Margot Fenring (the latter the wife of the Emperor’s chief adviser). The combined character fits in with Herbert’s Machiavellian themes as she plays the game of power politics and maneuvers herself into a position from which she will become Empress of the Galaxy. (Obviously, she saw Paul Atreides as a young man who was going somewhere!)
The script caught some of the subtleties of the novel, like the way Paul chooses his Fremen name of Muad’Dib because it sounds like Mahdi, the prophesied Fremen messiah. And there’s another scene where Reverend Mother Mohiam and the Spacing Guild rep’ conspire over higher order forces with which they can not interfere, drawn actually from material in one of the novel’s appendixes.
Let’s hope someone decides to make a movie of God Emperor of Dune. And no hats, please, we’re Atreides.
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