Since I’m revisiting all things Dune, I thought I watch the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries again. It’s on YouTube.
The first time I watched this, I had very low expectations. It was when it was airing live on cable (probably 2003*), yet I even then retained the lingering disappointment with the 1984 version. Add to that TV special effects plus the dubious quality of all things Sci-Fi Channel, and it couldn’t be anything but pretty bad. Starting with rock bottom expectations left me with an experience that wasn’t all that bad. Furthermore, I watched it with someone who had no exposure to book or previous film (but with plenty of bad Sci-Fi Channel shows under her belt) who thought is a was a pretty decent piece of entertainment, as far as these things go.
Recently, I’ve come across a lot of negativity regarding this adaptation, but at the time it was pretty well received. It has been Sci-Fi’s most successful show, even up to today, and ranked favorably among all original programming for a cable channel. Reviews at the time were generally favorable as well.
My first thought when starting the series back up again is the casting choice of Paul Atreides. He’s no Kyle MacLachlan. In fact, who he resembles most is a whiny Mark Hamil from the original installment of Star Wars. It is a departure from the novel, but I actually think the choice is somewhat inspired. Paul is only 15 and he’s not ready to take on his father’s responsibilities nor that of a Universal Messiah. The dramatic connection to Luke Skywalker helps to fit into the Dune-as-Star-Wars motif. I was also a little jarred when their top-billed actor remade his appearance. After getting very accustom to Jürgen Prochnow as the face of Duke Leto, William Hurt is quite the radical departure. This casting is not one I would have thought should work, but I suppose it does.
My second impression is that this, once again, is a production made for those who have read the books. It’s not that the plot is incomplete, but I feel the story is far too complex that if you haven’t read the inner monologues. Without the book behind you, you’re going to miss out on a lot of what is going on. Obviously the miniseries was popular enough, at its time, with people who hadn’t read the books**, but I am just say that those people missed out the full effect. Contrasting to Lynch’s Dune, the miniseries is much more complete, story-wise, while at the same time forgoing the meticulous detail with which Lynch embellished certain scenes.
The Luke Skywalkering of Paul Atreides is not the only departure from the book. The miniseries de-emphasizes the no-tech theme of the novel, both by removing it from the narrative and by liberally featuring firearms and energy weapons on-screen. Princess Irulan shows up much sooner and with a much bigger role, likely so as to make up for her missing function as narrator in the previous incarnations. Even the points that have been changed, however, interact well with one’s familiarity with the novel because it forces one to compare and contrast versions as you watch.
One of Sci-Fi’s weakest points is the cut-rate special effects. Even here, the TV Dune doesn’t look so bad given it’s got Lynch’s Dune as a yardstick. The battle scenes still look like a handful of extras running around a soundstage. The costumes department obviously had even less to work with than they did in 1984. Advances in animation technology means that the sandworms are comparable, which is kind of a surprise. Best of all, the Weirding Way is shown appropriately; none of that horrific voice-gun stuff. All-in-all, the fact that the source material deliberately de-emphasized the “science fiction” in favor of individual interaction greatly aids the made-for-TV approach to illustrating this story.
You have to be prepared for its weaker points, but if you’re in the right mindset going in, Frank Herbert’s Dune (or, sometimes, Dune 2000) is well worth the investment.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that Children of Dune is available anywhere. I would have definitely watched them back-to-back again, as I did the first time. At this point, I have pretty much zero memory of watching the second series before. It’s not on YouTube, doesn’t appear on any streaming services, and is only available in hard copy from third-party Amazon sellers. If you can pick up the DVDs for your own region, they’re probably going to cost you a fortune.
I’ll take this as a sign that I should try getting a hold of that second book before I watch any more adaptations of it.
*It is actually a pair of miniseries, one from 2000 and then a Children of Dune adaptation from 2003. I recall watching both, one after the other. This probably means it was a release of the first when the second came out.
**Modifying this with the word recently is probably useful. When I watched this before it had been a decade or two since I read the novels, and I’m sure I had forgotten plenty.