Television Review: Dune
by Rob Drysdale
Published: December 6, 2000
Anticipation quickly turned to disappointment once the Sci Fi Channel aired its much-hyped Dune miniseries. Marred by unaffectionate acting, fake looking scenery and a watered down plot, Dune was clearly a failure. The Sci Fi Channel wanted its first original miniseries to be big, but it seems they bit off more than they could chew when they decided to take on Frank Herbertís epic tale.
Ultimately Sci Fiís Dune came across a mere hollow shell when compared to the original story. Writer/director John Harrison (Tales From The Darkside, Tales From The Crypt, Earth2, Profiler) has altered Duneís original plot in many puzzling ways. Much of the internal dialogue, which was instrumental in defining the characters of Dune, was simply omitted from the miniseries. Also Harrisonís reinterpretation Paul Atreidesí (Alec Newman) prescient dreams leads to a fair amount of head scratching. Also absent from Sci Fiís Dune is the Fremen superstitions surrounding Paul and his Bene Gesserit mother Lady Jessica (Saskia Reeves), even though this later becomes the central focus of the story of Dune. Along the way there are numerous plot deviations that include a much-expanded role for the Princess Irulan Corrino, and the removal of many key scenes that build the story of the Fremen. All of this leads to the feeling that Dune is running on empty, devoid of feeling, and lacking a strong plot.
The cast of Dune does little to help liven up Dune. Both John Hurt (Duke Leto Atreides) and Giancarlo Giannini (Emperor Shaddam Corrino) are fine actors who fail to shine in Dune. Both actors appear detracted during Dune, especially Hurt as the intense Duke Leto. Alec Newman (Paul Atreides) who seems to have a face of stone does little to live up to charismatic character of Paul Atreides. Saskia Reeves (Lady Jessica) fortunately does an adequate job as the Bene Gesserit mother of Paul. Only Ian McNeice brings any life to the screen as the sadistic, evil Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Most disappointing of all is the supporting cast. Having been filmed on location in Prague many of the supporting actors and actresses were pulled in from the local acting pool. The resulting Eastern European accents stick out like a sore thumb. At times many of the supporting players stumble through their English and provide at best wooden performances.
Duneís saving grace comes from the work done behind the scenes. The costumes of Dune created by Academy Award winner Theodor Pistek (Amadeus) are rich and help bring some life to Dune. Despite their creative designs though, the costumes often have a make shift appearance. Also helping to liven up Dune was three time Oscar winning cinematographer Vitorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Reds, The Last Emperor). Many of the interior scenes are richly designed and full of color. Desert scenes suffer greatly though. Regardless of lighting or any tricks of the cameras desert scenes clearly look like fancy sandboxes. What is most distressing is that during many of the night scenes the backdrops were not even changed. So you would have a scene, everything is dark, and then you would catch a glimpse of day lit desert in the background and it would ruin the scene.
There isnít much that went right in Dune, but color is one of them. Throughout Dune color is inescapable. This is a rather pleasing departure from typical science fiction films that often sport an uninspired sterile technological front. If Dune deserves any praise, it is for showing the science fiction doesnít need to be so drab and dull.