I was watching Dune, the motion picture not the mini-series, today and got to thinking, which usually means trouble.
See, I liked the movie. That’s a kind of Dune fan heresy, because the movie really isn’t the book hardly at all. Oh, the characters are all there and they do most of the same things, but it’s not really the book. The movie adds in all kinds of weird extras, like the “wierding modules” and the freaky Harkonnen heart=plugs and junk. But, I saw the movie and sort of distanced it from the book. I see them as totally different things.
The book was a sweeping epic of socio-political commentary, military action, and religious exploration. It was to science-fiction what the Lord of the Rings was to fantasy. I read the book at least a dozen times and the rest of the trilogy at least three times, as well. Everytime I read it, Dune became something more. There was a new layer revealed or a new insight gained. The first time I read Dune, I missed the fact that Baron Harkonnen was homosexual, for instance. I caught subtleties in the writing about religion that I totally missed the first time, too. It’s one of the few books that I used to like to read on a regular basis. In fact, the book is so powerful and important to me that the fact my wife read it more than once was one of the things that made me want to marry her. I’ve met a very few women who interested me that have read Dune, but she’s the only one that I know ever read it more than once.
But, the movie is a very, very different story. The sets and atmosphere are lovely, but not at all what I imagined when I read the book. The juxtaposition of far future technology with Victorian design really made a wonderfully rich visual statement. For instance, the “glow globes” that Frank Herbert described are not at all what I saw in the film. I pictured glowing spheres with a control ring around the center. What David Lynch pictured was a glowing lozenge with stylized, Victorian wings done in a kind of wrought iron. Very, very different look and feel alltogether. Also, the uniforms are very much like the World War I British Navy uniforms that I’ve seen from old movies and costume books. Very different from the more modern military uniforms that I felt Frank Herbert described in his book.
There are other significant differences, but they only seem to bother people who know the book intimately and expect the movie to follow their vision of Dune faithfully. I rather expected that the movie would be nothing like the book, so I had no such expectations. In fact, I was telling my wife just this afternoon that I saw the book and the movie as two totally different stories. They may share characters and themes and even plot, but they differ significantly enough that they just seem totally different to me. And that’s okay! If I want to relive the book, I’ll go read it again. But, if I want to be entertained by some good sci-fi, I’ll go watch the movie. On the other hand, if I want to see something very close to what I pictured when I read Dune, I’ll go watch the mini-series.
In my opinion, the mini-series came much, much closer to the book than the movie. I wish Frank Herbert had been around to see it. I think he would have been pleased. Though, I did think they cleaned up a lot of the “naughty bits” for TV. The Baron, in particular, was more accurate and much more subtle in the mini-series than in the movie. I had a much easier time believing that he could be the devlish mastermind that Herbert described in his book than that movie Baron. In fact, in the movie the characters pretty much seemed like characatures while in the mini-series, they seemed more realistic. The mini-series characters certainly seemed more like what Herbert described. It’s too bad, really, that we’ll never know how Herbert felt about the mini-series. I really would have liked to know with which he was more pleased.
A little known fact, incidentally, was the Frank Herbert knew that he was dying of cancer by the time the movie was being filmed. In fact, I read in an interview that it was one of the main motiviations he had for doing the movie. See, writers don’t have retirement or death benefits, so he didn’t have much to leave his family. Dune the movie let him leave them something. And, now, of course, his son, Brian, is making quite a bit of money off his father’s creation by writing novels in the Dune universe. Maybe I’ll share my views on that some other time….