Throwback Thursday: Dune (2000)
Dune (2000) mini-series review
Long before Denis Villeneuve took on Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel “Dune,” but long after David Lynch tried it in 1984, John Harrison made this miniseries for the Sci-Fi Channel, acting as the chief writer/director. The series of course follows the same story, as your Paul Atreides, the son of the head of a powerful house, travels with his house to Arrakis, a desert planet with the most valuable substance in the universe: Spice. Haven’t heard of this Dune adaptation? Well you would not be in the minority… But that’s exactly why I am here to talk about it today! So step aside James Bond, we are building up to Dune on this page!
In the build-up to Villeneuve’s Dune, I really wanted to look back on some other attempts at the story. I already talked about Lynch’s Dune, which you can find on the page. Next week I am talking Harrison’s return alongside Greg Yaitanes for Children of Dune (2003), which is an adaptation of the second and third books on Herbet’s Dune trilogy, “Messiah” and of course, “Children of Dune.” After that we are talking the greatest movie never made: Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013), which is absolutely fascinating! But for now, let’s talk Harrison’s Dune and what works and what doesn’t!
Now I think the determination as to one’s own interest will be derived from their interest in the source material itself. For example: If you watched Lynch’s Dune and you said to yourself, “Wow that was interesting, but I wish it were 4 hours, 25 minutes and significantly more fleshed out and less silly, but with a shoe-string budget!” Boy have we got the show for you! If you watched the 1984 Dune and said, “That was okay, but it was a bit dull. I was hoping for a more exciting story presented in my sci-fi media.” There is no shame in that, and this miniseries is absolutely not for you.
Overall though, I think this series was significantly better than the 1984 version almost exclusively thanks to the writing. It’s no secret that Lynch’s Dune was a messy production, and comparatively, looking at a clean vision like this really drives my opinion of the prior film down even more. Here’s an example: Why are there shout-guns in that movie? What’s the deal with the Water of Life? What’s the deal with the relationship between Leto and Jessica? What the heck does the Spacing Guild even want? And literally dozens more questions that this show manages to answer, and then some!
Now having said all that, this mini-series if 4 hours, 25 minutes, and there are certainly times you feel that. It’s not when you think though! Dune is a story full of political intrigue and drama and betrayal and so much more, and like early Martin’s “Game of Thrones,” Dune is at its most interesting when the plot unfolds around the characters, not necessarily when ‘pew pew, crash, explosion!’ Action can certainly be exciting of course, but gosh not with an early 2000s TV budget it can’t. Every time the series had an action scene, it actually got less interesting. The bigger, the more boring. That is really no fault to anyone. They did their best; and they shouldn’t cut scenes just because they don’t have the budget! But wow some of the action is dull.
As I alluded to though, the strength in this series aligns with the strengths in the novel, which I do think you need a longer runtime to really explore. One if not THE most interesting element in this series was the relationship between Duke Leto and Lady Jessica and how that echoes into one of the relationships Paul ends up forming later on. And without giving too much more away, the rest of the characters are honestly just as interesting! Did you know that the Emperor had a daughter and that she was important? The writers of the 1984 film didn’t apparently… The focus on Rabban as a villain, the depth given to Gurney Halleck and Stilgar, the way they really flesh out the other interested parties or get into the lore of the Fremen- Ah it’s all so interesting!!
Okay so we know that the series is more compelling than exciting, that the story is done justice, and that the effects aren’t that good. I’ll add on a few more things to know before we wrap this up: I didn’t care for the score. It could be now because it’s wedged between Toto’s score from the original and Zimmer’s score from the new one, or that it’s just bland, but it’s forgettable. But one thing that does help this series is the dedication from the cast! William Hurt as Leto, Alec Newman as Paul, Giancarlo Giannini as the Emperor- really everyone does a really good job here! I would argue that there are no weak performances, just a lack of focus on Duncan. Again. Also this series completely forgets Dr. Yueh until he’s important….
Anyway I was comparing this cast to the cast in the original film and, for the most part, I think everyone does as good a job or better. William Hurt is much more memorable as Leto, Alec Newman is at least younger, Ian McNeice plays a different but equally terrifying Baron Harkonnen, and Saskia Reeves as Lady Jessica is just the best performance in the entire series.
So if you haven’t see Harrison’s Dune miniseries, I would maybe give it a shot! I think it’s on Prime, but it its not, the entire series is literally one video on YouTube. So again, if you with Dune were over 4 hours long, this series really does the source material justice. It’s remarkable that they STILL had to trim some subplots down, which hurts one of the big moments early on. Plus it’s early TV, so the budget was limiting. But despite how uninteresting the action was at times, I still found the show a compelling watch! it’s not perfect, and I feel bad giving it a 6/10 knowing that the restraints of being made for television hurt the potential that- well you know what, having the bigger budget didn’t do Lynch any favors either… Still, it’s a solid watch! Check it out.
So Harrison’s Dune? Did you watch it? What did you think? Do you like it better than Lynch’s Dune? Be sure to leave a like and a comment below and let us know what you think! And stay tuned next week while we talk about the sequel series to this mini-series Children of Dune! Which- is just not as good! And as usual, thanks for reading!
-review by Ryan Prince