Maybe some novels shouldn't be translated to film.
That's an easy conclusion to draw after watching Sci-Fi Channel's dull, impenetrable six-hour "Dune" miniseries. Add to that the disappointment that greeted David Lynch's 1984 film, also based on Frank Herbert's novel, and it's clear "Dune" is as tricky to interpret as flying an ornithopter into a sandstorm.
Though it boasts impressive production design, lavish costumes and mostly superior special effects televised in letterbox format, "Dune" makes too little an effort to introduce its characters and explain its own mythology. I found myself wanting the characters to wear badges to remind me of their names/positions.
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When: 9 p.m. today, tomorrow and Tuesday.
Starring: William Hurt, Alec Newman, Matt Keeslar
Concepts such as the Weirding Way (sort of like The Force, maybe?) and the funky voice transformations of the Bene Gesserit (no clue why they can do that or what purpose it serves) are introduced with no explanation. The way some of the characters die is unclear, and when one betrays another it has no dramatic impact because scant time was devoted to the betrayer before the betrayal.
I invited friends - some "Dune" enthusiasts, all sci-fi fans - to watch the miniseries with me, and even those familiar with the story agreed this version will appeal only to those who have read the book.
It takes 40 minutes in the first night of the miniseries before anything remotely exciting happens, which would be fine if some of what came before at least made sense.
Paul Atreides (Alec Newman) travels with his mother, Lady Jessica (Saskia Reeves), to join his father, Duke Leto (William Hurt), on the desert planet Arrakis (aka Dune). The House Atreides is locked in a battle for power against the corpulent evil Baron Harkonnen (Ian McNeice), who floats around wearing a giant diaper.
The Atreides appear to be winning the power struggle. They've been given control over the mining of "spice," a life-sustaining substance found only on Arrakis. But Harkonnen has planted a traitor among the Atreides ranks.
Tonight's premiere leads up to that breach of faith. Then Paul and his mother escape to the desert where they encounter sandstorms and vicious sandworms.
Hurt offers the requisite dignity, but Newman's Paul Atreides comes across as a sniveling dork in the early going (sort of like Luke Skywalker in the first "Star Wars" film), although he improves as the miniseries continues.
Alas, the same cannot be said for some of the set design. Once the characters are in the desert, it's obvious the actors are on a soundstage with sand dune backdrops behind them.
An awesome battle concludes the miniseries, but by that point my friends and I were playing "Mystery Science Theater 3000" with "Dune," making fun of the costumes ("Look, it's a body condom!"), hairstyles (many in pastry shapes) and dialogue.
"Is it over?" Chani (Barbara Kodetova) says near the end of night three.
"I wish," one of my guests said.
"Almost," Paul replies.
"Thank God," the audience in my living room responded.