Friday, May 19, 2006

Bueller + Frank Herbert's Dune

So I finally got around to watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off for the first time in over a decade. It's about the eponymous Ferris Bueller who decides to take a day off from school and drags a couple of his friends along with him. The movie isn't as good as I remember. In fact, I wouldn't even call it good. It's just decent. It lacks heart. The characters are uninteresting and just too smug. It becomes inexplicably serious and dramatic at points, scenes which I found completely uninteresting. It's funny in short bursts, especially the bits with the hapless principal who tries to catch Bueller and make an example of him. Ah well...

Frank Herbert's Dune is a mini-series based on the classic sci-fi epic novel by Frank Herbert. The book is a complex political sci-fi epic that centres around the rivalry between two of the Great Houses, House Atreides and House Harkonnen, which comes to a head when they wrestle for control of the planet Arrakis (aka the planet Dune). Arrakis is the only place in the known Universe where the spice melange can be found. The spice is the most precious substance known to man and is the heart of the Universe's economy, which in turn makes Dune the most important planet in the Universe. The son of Duke Leto Atreides, Paul, is believed by the indigenous people of Dune (the Fremen) to be the Messiah of their prophecies, and he is eventually taken in as one of them.

That was a very, very simplistic explanation - there are many characters, factions, machinations, and sociopolitical, religious, and economic themes in the book, which you can read about here and here.

The mini-series is good. It ain't great, and it could have been better. What doesn't work? Some of the performances, the dodgy effects, and the stagy, theatrical feel. If you haven't read the book it's quite difficult to keep track of what's going on. The first third of the story was done better in David Lynch's 1984 film, which was also more atmospheric and had better performances in general. The mini, like the film, fails to successfully draw out the thematic material of the book, and the concept of presience is barely touched upon.

A lot of it does work though - it's quite faithful to the storyline and universe of the book, and to see all of it realized on screen is quite a marvel. Unlike the film, the viewer can appreciate the depth of the universe Herbert created. The Fremen ways and lifestyle is conveyed very well, an element that was virtually non-existent in the film. And the "Weirding Way" of the Bene Gesserit is finally depicted accurately - a display of superhuman strength and speed, as opposed to the ridiculous "sonic blasts" of the film.

In conclusion I'd say it's a good adaptation that can be appreciated and enjoyed mostly by fans who've read the book. It might be hard for non-fans to follow, causing the many dialogue heavy scenes to be a plodding bore. Actually, they can be quite plodding even for fans - as I said, the thing feels very stagy at times. If you haven't read the book, it's still worth checking out though - the good stuff might be enough to make you consider reading the book, which is truly a sci-fi classic.

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