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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Frank Herbert's Dune (2000)

"This vast organism we call humanity is about to re-invent itself from the ashes of its own complacency. The sleeper has awakened. Anything that tries to stop it will be crushed."
- Paul Atreides (Alec Newman)

Review By: Jesse Shanks   
Published: March 06, 2001

Stars: Alec Newman, Saskia Reeves, Ian McNeice, P.H. Moriarty, Julie Cox
Other Stars: Giancarlo Giannini, Matt Keeslar, Barbora Kodetova
Director: John Harrison

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 04h:25m:00s
Release Date: March 20, 2001
UPC: 012236117681
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ AC-B- B+

DVD Review

Making a film of Frank Herbert's epic novel Dune must have been a daunting undertaking. On one side, you have legions of faithful fans, each with their own personal relationship to the work. On the other side, you have the general public with very little understanding of the novel and perhaps very little interest in the genre in general. How do you please both without offending the other?

When it comes to mass market science fiction, often the compromise is to utilize familiar elements to ground the story in the recognizable and then dress it up with the "futuristic." Star Trek was originally pitched as a "Wagon Train to the Stars" type of story and Star Wars is a fairly generic sword-and-sorcery fantasy in "a galaxy far and away." This detracts from the way that great science fiction creates a universe totally different from the one we inhabit and it is truly rare to find a sci-fi movie that breaks the bounds of convention to create such an experience. It is proven that audiences rarely enjoy the singularly unique and unfamiliar. This is a dramatic concept as old as the Ancient Greeks, when dramatists were criticized for varying even slightly from retelling the same tales over and over in the same way. In Poetics, Aristotle opined that it was this very familiarity that contributed to the impact of the catharsis found in the culmination of the story.

In the behind-the-scenes documentary, we are told how the story of Dune, even though it takes place in the year 10,091, still tells of things that resonate with a contemporary audience. This is true to a degree and I suppose they must say this in order to meet the requirement I outlined above for mass marketing. But the truth is that Dune is a fantastical story way, way out and beyond from where we are. This is one of the most attractive and compelling aspects of Dune, and to down play the uniquely different story robs it of much of its magic.

One of the major problems in dramatizing Dune is the loss of pages of description, history and the thoughts of the characters. We are thrust into scenes that involve characters we know little about and often the true import of events is lost unless we know who, what and why. This is the careful balancing act that the filmmakers must employ: to give enough detail that could inform the most uninformed viewer and yet not overload the story with long expositions. Settings, costumes and hints are required to provide some details without distracting from the important elements of the scenes. In this case, the long form of the mini-series helps, allowing for an accumulation of detail to allow the viewer to learn more and more about the characters in the drama.

Telling the tale of ambition, intrigue and conflict between planetary forces spread out over an Imperial universe, Dune is not quite like any story ever written. A multitude of characters plot and fight for control of a mysterious "spice" substance that provides special powers, long-life and health to those who use it. The planet Arrakis, called "Dune," is the only place in the universe where the spice is found and the Emperor orders the Atreides family to inhabit Dune and make sure that "the spice flows." Opposing them is the Harkonnen family who is determined not only to control Dune but also to destroy their rivals, the Atreides.

The action takes place on four different planets and in many different environments including the vast wasteland of Dune's deserts. Involved in the story are fantastical characters like the Guild Navigators, who use the spice to move through space and time, the Bene Gesserit witches, who use the spice to achieve mystical powers of awareness and the Fremen, the inhabitants of Dune, who await a Messiah to lead them to freedom.

Into this mélange is dropped Paul Atreides, the young heir to the Atreides power. Paul is the product of centuries of breeding designed to produce a super-being that can use the spice to transcend space and time in a unique way. Alec Newman essays the difficult role of Paul and takes the character from a naïve youth to the leader of a universal revolution. His father is played by Academy Award®-winning actor William Hurt in a small but key role to the early parts of the story. Paul's mother, Lady Jessica is played by Saskia Reeves. The cast if filled out with veteran and inexperienced actors to mixed results. Giancarlo Giannini, recently seen in Hannibal, appears as the Emperor Shaddam IV and Uwe Ochsenknecht, familiar from a great performance in Das Boot, is effective as the Fremen leader Stilgar. The Harkonnens are portrayed by Ian MacNeice as the evil Baron and Matt Keeslar as Feyd-Rautha, Paul's antithesis. Some of the smaller roles are filled with actors that had some difficulties with their performances and some of the stage actors are little overwrought.

Frank Herbert's Dune runs for 265 minutes and is an incredible achievement in storytelling. Although it slows down to tell details to keep those who have not read the book up to speed and build a foundation for the story, the action maintains interest throughout, and the third part is action-packed and exciting. A big part of this is the excellent cinematography of Vittorio Storaro that creates a unique and visually-compelling environment for the story. Obvious budget restrictions reveal themselves in some of the larger scenes that are obviously relying on too much CGI; but this is very often ameliorated by the great sets and costumes created for this movie. The screenplay is solid and is perhaps the greatest achievement of director John Harrison.

Ultimately, this adaptation is worthy and is a fine addition to the DVD library of any science fiction fan. Dune is certainly one of the great sci-fi novels of all time and Frank Herbert's Dune is a solid, engrossing and entertaining piece of sci-fi cinema.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1/77:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Artisan is being nailed all over for announcing that Frank Herbert's Dune would be anamorphic and then not delivering that, even though the box states it is so. Boo, Artisan! The discs are dual-layered with the first two parts on the separate layers on the first disc and part three and the extras on the layers of the second disc. Despite the lamentable loss of resolution in the non-amorphic transfer, the movie still looks pretty good. The clarity of the image transfer is a double-edged sword. When it works, it works. The behind-the-scenes documentary tells us that much of Dune was filmed on sound stages with the backgrounds created digitally. There are times when one has a true sense of the grandeur of the settings and desolation of the desert. However, occasionally edge enhancement shows these effects too clearly, so that one loses the necessary suspension of reality and is drawn back into the "television" quality of the production. Given the balance of the two difficulties, the image here is technically good and detailed - most of the time. The grade is for the broken anamorphic promise.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: It is surprising, considering the possibilities for sound design in this production and the fact that film was made with an eye toward its ultimate issuance on DVD, that this disc is not Dolby Digital 5.1. However, the sound is Dolby Surround and this is quite good. The stereo is effective and well-mixed.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 66 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. The Lure of the Spice - behind the scenes documentary
  2. The Cinematographic Ideation of Frank Herbert's Dune: an Interactive Written Treatise by Vittorio Storaro
  3. Photo Gallery of Stills and Sketches
Extras Review: There is an intriguing group of extras with this disc. The Lure of the Spice, is a fairly typical behind-the-scenes documentary. However, I came away from it with a greater appreciation of the cast and crew of this film. It as interesting to see William Hurt featured so prominently in the documentary, since he normally is not a great participator in these types of things, and even more, that he felt very strongly about his role since his was one of the most criticizes performances in the film.

A very unique extra is The Cinematographic Ideation of Frank Herbert's Dune. Vittorio Storaro has participated in some of the most visually striking films ever made. He was an Academy Award® winner for Apocalypse Now, Reds and The Last Emperor and also worked Dick Tracy, Last Tango in Paris, Sheltering Sky, Ladyhawke and The Conformist. Mixing color theory and philosophy, Storaro gives interesting insights from a master of his craft into Dune by sharing his visualization of the story and universe contained in it.

The Dune gallery provides costume sketches and production stills that go along nicely with the detailed production notes by the Sci-Fi Channel and cast and crew biographies.

Although one might not expect an alternate ending... it would seem, in a production of this length, that there would be some deleted scenes laying around. But, I won't quibble.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

This film succeeds admirably in many ways in its dramatization of Frank Herbert's novel. Very faithful to the essence and the events of the story, Frank Herbert's Dune creates a very different universe from the one we know and tells a compelling, fantastical story. This film is beautiful, dramatic, compelling and ingenious. That is what science fiction at its finest is all about. Obviously this production was created with an eye toward the DVD market and hints at the future of long-form DVD.


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