Thursday, May 2, 2013

Dune, the mini-series: a very short review

Growing up, Frank Herbert's Dune was one of the books that made a huge impression on me. I think I read the book when I was 11 or 12 years old, and I was totally enthralled by it.

Interestingly, when I discuss the book with others, it's odd how we each have different memories of it. For me, I remember being just fascinated by the details of the people surviving in the desert: the special clothing they wore to minimize loss of water, the recycling and re-use of water, locating their houses underground, etc.

Other people were fascinated by the political intrigue (the maneuvering of the Great Houses).

Others were fascinated by the love stories, and by the relationship of women in the book (the main female characters are concubines).

Anyway, it's been decades since I read the book, but I just loved it.

So when I stumbled across the SciFi Channel mini-series on Netflix not too long ago, I decided to give it a try.

It was surprisingly enjoyable. What's a bit odd about the mini-series is that the producers clearly decided to allocate their budget so that they spent most of the money on screen-writing, and much less of the money on special effects, music, etc. For a show made in the year 2000, the visuals are laughable; much of the time it's obvious that the actors are standing in front of large painted backdrops.

However, since Dune is, at its heart, a story about people, not (just) a space fantasy, the result is oddly pleasing. The richness of the original novel comes through strongly, and the story is given a telling that honors it.

As I watched the mini-series, it struck me how much modern works have built on and learned from Dune. Let's see, just for an example:

  • The story is set on a faraway planet
  • Rapacious industrialists have arrived, bent on scouring the planet of its scarce and unique natural resource, and taking that resource elsewhere to sell
  • The resource is so critical that enormous sums of money are spent, and many parties are fighting over the proceeds
  • But there are indigenous life forms, and an indigenous population, who love the planet, use its resources wisely, and are prepared to fight to the death to defend it.
  • Though the colonizers have superiority in weapons, the locals are fighting for their lives, and their homes, and they drive the outsiders out.
No, not Dune, I'm talking about Avatar.

Of course, I suppose I could be talking about Lawrence of Arabia, or the Last Mohican, or ...

Anyway, cheesy though it is, the SciFi Channel mini-series adaptation of Dune wasn't the worst thing I've watched on Netflix this spring...

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