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Speaking of Essays on Dune and the miniseries....


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Andrew's post in the intro thread reminded me of an essay I wrote for english last semester that compared Dune with the miniseries. If you're interested, ehre it is (I'm pretty sure this is the final version as it has the bibliography, but I haven't read through it so I'm not positive).  

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It is fairly common to see a movie based on a popular (or even not so popular) book. In fact, in the next two months the theaters are going to be filled with huge, big budget films based on books, such as: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, James Bond in Die Another Day, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Hours, Solaris, Treasure Planet, and many more. Invariably, there is always a difficult decision to be made by the makers of such films: How accurate do we keep this movie to the source material? Would it be better to stick word for word to the book, or merely try and keep the same "spirit" as the novel? The novel Dune is a perfect example of the different attempts of filmmakers to answer this question. Alejandro Jodorowski decided to completely change the plot and the ideas behind it to fit his own vision of the film (Internet Movie Database). Ridley Scott wanted to make the sister (Alia) of the main character (Paul) the result of an incestuous tryst between the main character and his mother (Jessica) (Internet Movie Database). David Lynch decided to completely change the characters of the villains into gross, puss spewing monsters. Dino DeLaurintis and his studio, which produced David Lynch's Dune, made Lynch change an even more important part of the plot: the use of types of weaponry. They did not like the idea of humans fighting with knives and swords 25, 000 years in the future1(Internet Movie Database). The most recent version, written and directed by John Harrison, decided to go the opposite way as all the former directors who worked on a film version of this novel. He decided that instead of making his own version of the book into a movie, he would take

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the book and just move it onto the screen, hence the title of his miniseries, Frank Herberts Dune. But is it really? Even with the four hours and thirty minutes screen time Harrison had to use for the directors cut, could he possibly have made an accurate film translation of this novel? For many, the answer is no.

 Character-wise, there are both many similarities and many differences between the miniseries and the book. Physical differences will be ignored. Paul-Maud'dib Atreides, the main character of both versions, exemplifies how two different people can read the same book and imagine different characters. In Harrison's miniseries, Paul begins as an arrogant, sullen, self-righteous young boy. Many critics have complained about this, claiming that the Paul in the novel was absolutely nothing like Alec Newman's portrayal of him (Clemmenson). They say that Paul was a noble, honourable, happy, and respectful individual. Neither idea of the character of Paul is completely right or wrong. The way Herbert wrote those early scenes featuring Paul allow his character to be interpreted either way. He is shown to be disrespectful of the Reverend Mother Romallo early on in the novel, and he admits to having pulled pranks on his teachers, such as putting sand in Gurney's bed. He has had no contact with other children his own age, and he has been raised to think he is better than those in lower situations, which can be seen by the reactions of Duke Leto and others when Doctor Kynes forgets to address Paul properly (Herbert, 110). So, while many may disagree with this, the character of Paul in the miniseries was quite like the one in the book, depending on how you read those early scenes with him in it.

 The Lady Jessica is portrayed incredibly close to the character in the novel. She is

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a strong and intelligent woman who betrayed her own sisterhood for love, and never once regretted her decision. She also expresses the right amount of fear of her own children, mixed with the great love she feels for them. Alia was also very well done. She was represented as a tormented, yet sadistic young child who was wise beyond her years, and faced both the Fremen hatred and awe of her because she is the sister of their messiah and also had many "mystical" gifts. All three Harkonnens (the Baron, Feyd, and Rabban) were also transferred magnificently to the screen. They were not made into these vile, monstrous creatures like in Lynch's Dune, but were powerful, Machiavellian politicians that, while ruthless, were as such for a reason. As the Baron himself says in the book: "I cause pain out of necessity" (Herbert, 16). This Baron of the miniseries is the same. It is even revealed during the scene The Temptation of Feyd's Uncle (scene 3, The Prophet) that the destruction of the Atreides, who for generations had been the Harkonnen's mortal enemies, was merely a means to an end. The end being sacking the Emperor. This is also taken directly from the novel, however the plan is never fully revealed like it is in the miniseries. Rabban and Feyd are also like the characters of the book, but that is no real difficult feat as they are both fairly flatl. Liet-Kynes comes alive in the miniseries, not because of how well he is translated from the book, but because of the great acting job by Karel Dobry. The miniseries lost most of his inner turmoil, as he had some major issues with his father (who is not even mentioned in the miniseries, even though he is an important prophet to the Fremen) that became evident during his death scene. He also had to deal with his conflicting beliefs as an ecologist and as a Fremen. As a Fremen he wanted to believe that Paul was his messiah. As an ecologist, the worst possible thing that

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could happen to his plans for terraforming Arrakis would be the arrival of such a "hero". So, even though his character was great in the miniseries (especially the directors cut) he wasn't the same character as in the novel. The same must be said for other secondary characters like Piter DeVries (in the novel a sadist), Hasimir Fenring (in the novel an intelligent, dangerous, but honourable man), Thufir Hawat (in the novel survives until the very end and is very influential in the plots within plots that were mostly eliminated from the miniseries), Duncan Idaho (in the novel more of a devil-may-care type person), Princess Irulan (hardly in the novel at all, but in the sequels a far less intelligent and much weaker character), Otheym (hardly in the novel at all), and Leto Atreides (in the book a charismatic but cold and calculating leader). In the end, it seems while Harrison was fairly successful at transferring the major characters to the screen, he failed miserably when it came to the secondary characters.

 The script, dialogue-wise, is close to the book. Most people, after watching the miniseries, seem to comment mostly about the changes in sayings or quotations from the novel to the miniseries (such as the litany against fear, and the "When religion and politics ride in the same cart..." quotation), and that is a valid complaint. Not only were these quotations needlessly changed, but the originals often sounded better. Also in the script are many lines that were carried over straight from the novel into the miniseries. Lines such as "they tried and died" (Herbert, 13) and "Is it not a magnificent thing that I, the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, do?" (Herbert 14), are direct lifts from the novel to the film, along with countless other lines. However, it must be noted that David Lynch's script actually used far more of these lines taken directly from the novel, but unlike

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Lynch's script, the lines that are taken from the novel in Harrison's miniseries seem to flow more freely and are not nearly so obvious, although there are those that would disagree with that, and believe that in both the movie and the miniseries the dialogue was horrendous (Baker).

 Story-wise, most of the large elements of the plot have remained, but all the "plans within plans within plans" are gone. In return, a whole new sub-plot has been added. This new sub-plot also happens to be the most heavily criticized part of the entire miniseries. The addition of it makes the scenes that were in the novel and omitted from the miniseries even more obvious to fans of Dune. This new sub-plot in the miniseries focus's on the character of Princess Irulan Corrino, who in the novel is seen only as the author of passages of books which are quoted before each chapter of the actual novel (books within the book). These passages are supposedly written years after the events of the novel. She also appears at the very end of the novel, but has no dialogue. During these added scenes she also replaces two other characters in the book: One, the daughter of a wealthy water merchant, who is involved in short lived conspiracy to capture Paul by luring him with sex, and the other being the Lady Margot Fenring, who in the novel warns Pauls family through a hidden message about a traitor among them. She is also the wife of one of the most influential characters in the book, even though he himself only is in two scenes of the novel. In replacing the daughter of the water seller, the small conspiracy involving the attempt to capture Paul is eliminated from the film, and in replacing Margot Fenring, not only is her warning to the Atreides omitted from the film, but also is a bit of foreshadowing and characterization for Paul, which showed the

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difference between the Atreides and Harkonnen, the villains of the novel. Margot's husband, Hasimir Fenring, who, as stated earlier, was one of the most important characters in the book, is in the miniseries, but his importance is greatly diminished. In the novel he is a "potential Kwisatz Haderach", but due to some genetic engineering that left him a eunuch, he failed (Herbert, 473). He is the most dangerous man in the universe and the only one who could kill Paul. It has been argued that the real climax of this book is not the fight between Paul and his cousin, Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, but between Fenring and Paul, as Fenring decides whether or not to kill the boy after the fight. He decides, in the end, not to because "Here, finally, is a man worthy to be [the emperors] son." (Herbert, 487) Another major omission from the story is Pauls seemingly endless battle against what he sees as the inevitable future and his ultimate acceptance of it. This future, of course, being the jihad which would go on to kill over 90 billion people, all in his name. This inner turmoil is seen a bit in the scene Sayyadina- The Consecration (scene 26, Muad'Dib), but only for a few short moments, and the Jihad itself is only mentioned in The Test (scene 3, Dune), and then only in passing. In both the novel Dune and it's sequel Dune Messiah, Pauls battle with the Jihad (in the former it is yet to be, in the latter it is winding down) is one of the major focuses, as it is the key to the survival of the human species. It is rather disconcerting to see it minimized so much in the miniseries. Another eliminated story element is the reason behind the Emperor's betrayal of the Atreides. In the novel the reason the Baron is given, and that several of the Atreides suspect, is that the Emperor moved against the Atreides because the Duke was becoming a very popular man in the Landsraad. This is also the reason used in the

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miniseries (An Elegant and Vicious Plan, scene 6, Dune). In the novel, though, this is a lie. The Emperor actually moved against the Atreides because they had managed to train a small fighting force that was "within a hair" (Herbert, 374) as good as the Emperors Sardaukar terror troops. This scene adds yet another level to the already complex political machinations in the novel, and the deletion of it serves to simplify the story somewhat. Another couple of deleted sub-plots include: Feyds gladiator fight, where he and Thufir orchestrate a plot to turn Feyd into a hero, and Feyd wonders if Hawat is going to betray him with his own plot within a plot and have him killed. Hawat and Gurney's exchanging of information through smugglers. Piters having to decide which he wants more: The Lady Jessica or the planet Arrakis. A huge section of Paul and Jessica's escape from the Harkonnens, including a mid-air fight in an ornithopter, and attempted rape, Duncan arriving to rescue them more than once, and leaving again. Duncan destroying a large Harkonnen force using a body shield, the whole Fremen and Sardaukar rivalry (in the novel the Fremen are already better fighters than the Sardaukar, the Fremen respect the Sardaukar ability to fight,and the Sardaukar hate the Fremen and begin a pogram on Arrakis against them), the use of artillery and the Fremen attempts to capture them, the capture of Thufir Hawat and the price of the Fremen loyalty to him, which includes the water of a dead Atreides soldier, the importance of the constellation Maud'dib (which, due to a continuity error, is also referred to as a shadow in the first moon called Maud'dib), the image in the second moon of a fist and it's religious significance, the inner conflict Paul is experiencing between his love for his mother and his hatred of what he perceives she did to him (this anger he has for her can be seen in several scenes, such as

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The Legend of the Kwisatz Haderach, scene 12, The Prophet but is never verbalized as it is during several of Pauls prescient visions in the novel), etc.,etc.

 In the end, Harrison does seem to have tried to import the book onto the screen. In many ways he is successful. He just was not successful enough. While he succeeded in transferring the main characters to the screen, he failed in transferring the secondary characters. While he succeeded in keeping the basic story of a young boy who becomes a messiah, he failed to keep such important aspects of the story like the importance of ecology (the book was originally going to be a story about an ecologist, and is dedicated to ecologists). While he managed to keep religion as one of the most important parts of the story, he failed to show the results of this religious fanaticism, the Jihad, which is one of the most important aspects of the novel. While he managed to import some lines from the novel into he miniseries, he needlessly changed others for no apparent reason. In the end, while Harrison did a decent job at keeping the miniseries true to the book and making it an entertaining miniseries, this is still merely an "adaption". It is not the book on film, like Harrison claimed with the title. It is not Frank Herberts Dune, it is John Harrisons Dune. The only way we could ever see Frank Herberts Dune is if Frank Herbert himself directs his famous novel, so until the day gholas become commonplace, it is not going to happen.

Works Cited

Baker,Kage. Letter to Mervius, January, 2001.

Clemmenson, Christian. FilmTracks. http://www.filmtracks.com/titles/dune_tv.html

Frank Herberts Dune. Dir. John Harrison. New Amsterdam Entertainment, 2000.

Herbert, Frank. Dune. NewYork: Ace Books, 1965.

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That's a longgggg essay... I'm very impressed. Not just by length but by contact as well.

I'm writing an essay about the first six Dune books ("Dune" through "Chapterhouse") for my Higher English specialist study at the moment... reading yours is making me wonder if I'll pull it off. The title is to be, "An analysis of the political system present in Frank Herbert's 'Dune,' with reference to the effect of religion on this system." In other words, I have to write about the 'tripod' of the Guild, Emperor and Landsraad; plus the Ixians, Tleilaxu, especially the Bene Gesserit, and more. And of course the effect of Paul, Alia and Leto II.

It's not particularly good though. Anyone got any ideas?

(Mahdi, hint hint, mind giving me a few tips? Please?)

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yes my essay i beleive is going to be based on political and religious aspects of dune <insert arguments here>.

i have a few sources, but i have not started it yet but i should have. it is due at the end of march, so i might post it then.(if i end up doing it)

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