Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Now Playing: Children of Dune

This is one of those reviews that is obscenely late due to many reasons so I'm trying to recall as much as possible several months after the fact. The first thing to state was that I was an unabashed fan of the original novel, hated the Lynch version (which I'm routinely mocked for to this day), and loved the SciFi mini-series version of the first book warts and all. The thing people either immediately accepted or refused to get past was how it would vacillate between sound stages/sets and location shooting. One shot would be out in a real desert and the very next shot would be on a sound stage and people just couldn't get past that.

I liked it because I felt it added to the hyper-reality of Frank Herbert's book which, let's be honest, is more than a little out there. The ideas and themes advanced in the novel are as old as time, but the setting for the discussion was so fantastical that one could only truly capture the feel of the novel by going off the deep end too.

Which brings me to the sequel mini-series set several years after the ending of the first one. Paul has grown tired of being the Messiah to the desert people, The Fremen, and his advanced sister Alia has grown up to be his right hand in governing the galaxy. Naturally, the rival houses in the Imperium and the Bene Gesserit are still fuming over Paul usurping the power they've held over the galaxy for centuries. Meanwhile the Fremen continue to terraform the sand-covered world of Arrakis which has caused the sand worms to move deeper into the desert, taking the spice with them.

If you didn't understand a single word in the above paragraph I'm not going into explanatory detail. Either you're familiar with the Dune universe or you can look it up on Wikipedia. Here is a good starting point. Suffice it to say the second mini-series picks up after the first one and improves on virtually all aspects of the original from the acting down to the sets. This chapter is massive in both scale and budget which helps to keep the jarring transitions to a bare minimum. Out of all the actors I'd say Susan Sarandan is the only one left stranded as she Lady MacBeth's her way through the six hour saga. She does little other than scheme, plot, and chat up her right hand man. Oh, she wears a new costume roughly every new scene she appears in.

In the interim, the first two hour block wraps up the Paul-Chani story in a way I didn't expect, but wasn't entirely surprised by. Barbara Kodetova remains one of the most scorching hot European women I've ever seen, and the fact that she could absolutely kick my ass is immeasureably cool. Ditto Daniela Amavia (Alia) who is both formidable, powerful, and searingly hot. Of course, since all Dune works are Grecian tragedies in disguise Alia quickly goes insane thanks to visions of her (late) uncle Baron Harkonnen, brilliantly played once again by Ian McNiece.

Parts two and three deal with the children of Paul and Chani, Leto II and Ghanima, and their own personal ascensions to the throne. One thing I'll give the crafters of this series major credit for is tapping the spirit of Frank Herbert's novels better than anyone else ever has. Whether the outlandish costumes, which are more toned down this time, or focus on religious iconography tends to throw you, this remains an excellent series to check out.

It would have been nice if P.H. Moriarty hadn't continued to play Gurney Halleck as if he were acting in another movie, but his role is kept close enough to a minimum so that he doesn't outright kill scenes like he did in the first one. Children of Dune is highly recommended from this viewer, but if you're not alreayd familiar with the material then this one won't make things any easier for you.

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