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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Frank Herbert's Dune: Director's Cut (2001)

"Fear is the mind killer. I will face my fear, and it will pass through me. And when it is gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
- Paul Atreides (Alec Newman)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: November 21, 2002

Stars: William Hurt
Other Stars: Alec Newman, Giancarlo Giannini, Uwe Ochsenknecht, Ian McNeice, Barbora Kodetová, P.H. Moriarty, Julie Cox, Lazlo Imre Kisch, Matt Keeslar, Saskia Reeves
Director: John Harrison

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sci-fi violence, sexuality)
Run Time: Approx. 295 min.
Release Date: June 11, 2002
UPC: 012236125297
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+B+A B+

DVD Review

This is the second release of the miniseries version of Dune to DVD, this one adding more than 30 minutes of previously deleted footage. These excised scenes are sprinkled throughout, and add to the film more sex, more violence, and (most importantly) a more coherent storyline.

That last, however, should be taken with a grain of salt, because even at a running time of nearly five hours, the adaptation of Frank Herbert's most famous novel remains a bit muddled. It's understandable—Dune is an amazingly complicated novel, with a huge cast of characters, one that creates its own universe. Even as great a filmmaker as David Lynch couldn't craft it into a logical narrative (though his 1984 filmed version remains a marvelously realized visual treat, despite its pacing problems and scattershot script).

With a huge budget ($20 million, a fortune by TV standards) and a marketing push from the Sci-Fi Channel behind him, director John Harrison took a stab at creating a faithful adaptation in 2000, and the results were fairly successful. SFC got the ratings it wanted, and Dune fans got another movie they could argue about. Even if, like Lynch's version, Harrison's film isn't perfect, it's still a respectable sci-fi yarn.

The story is set in a universe where everything revolves around "spice," a substance that gives those who take it incredible powers. The planet Arrakis, called "Dune," is the only place in the universe where the spice is found. The Atreides family oversees the mining of the spice, but they are opposed by Harkonnens, a rival clan bent on destroying their rivals in the spice trade.

Paul (Alec Newman) is the heir to the House of Atreides; a product of centuries of careful breeding, he has the genetic predisposition to be able to reap massive benefits from the use of spice, giving him the powers of a super-being. He's seen as a sort of Messiah, a savior who will restore order to the galaxy. Newman handles the role fairly well, growing from callow youth to confident leader over the course of the films.

Because, really, Harrison's Dune is three separate, 100-minute films. The three DVD set breaks them down by disc. The first part is untitled, and concerns the Harkonnens attempts to overthrow Atreidian rule on Dune. The second, Maud'Dib, focuses on Paul as he begins to discover his powers. Finally, The Prophet reveals Paul at his most powerful, ready to fulfill his destiny. The three act structure serves the story quite well, with the breaks in between each part logically dividing the story and action.

Aside from Newman, other big names in the cast include William Hurt as Duke Leto Atreides, who plays a crucial part in Paul's development. Hurt is quite dull in the role, clearly phoning it in. It's a real disappointment when your showcase actor treats a TV movie like just that. Better is Giancarlo Gianinni as the Emperor, who grants control of Dune to the Atreides family in the first place.

Harrison juggles the immense cast and complex story quite well, but the real highlights are the special effects sequences, which take much of their imagery right off the pages of Herbert's novel. The sand worm scenes in particular are memorable—they manage to top the very effective sequences in the David Lynch film. And cinematographer Vittorio Storaro's visual palette is remarkable. He drenches scenes in solid color—the night scenes on Dune have an icy blue hue, the sandstorms are a fiery orange. His unique take on the material actually serves to hide some of the deficiencies in the special effects as well.

I've not seen the original cut of Harrison's Dune in quite a while, so I can't say for certain which sequences are newly restored, but I can say that the material flows quite smoothly, and the new footage has obviously been well integrated. Whatever impact the additions had, the film remains a wonderfully imagined sci-fi epic, despite its flaws as an adaptation of the novel. The spice trade setup can be read as a metaphor for the modern day consumption of oil, and that, plus the added plot points that hinge upon religious fanaticism, means the story feels more relevant than ever.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is a fine transfer, one that preserves cinematographer Vittorio Storaro's use of color quite well—he frequently uses filters to drench scenes in a monochromatic hue of blue or gold, and the effect is quite stunning on DVD. Black level is excellent throughout, as is shadow detail. The transfer is a bit soft overall, and I noticed some aliasing in spots, but artifacts are never a major problem.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is offered in either DD 2.0, DD 5.1, of 5.1 DTS. The 2.0 track is fine, but those with a surround setup will want to check out one of the 5.1 mixes. Both sound fairly similar, with the DTS track offering only a more effective use of LFE. Otherwise, both mixes are very nice. Dialogue is anchored in the center channel and always crystal clear (though ADR is often apparent). There is nice directionality across the front soundstage when sounds effects are used, and there is also good front to back panning into the surrounds when ships fly overhead. The score is nicely presented across the front soundstage and it too benefits from support in the surround channels.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 84 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Rambo Trilogy, National Lampoon's Van Wilder
Production Notes
2 Documentaries
6 Featurette(s)
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by director John Harrison, visual effects supervisor Ernest Farino, editor Harry Miller, effects artists Greg Nicotero and Tim McHugh
Packaging: Book Gatefold
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Cinematography Essay by Vittorio Storaro
  2. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: Artisan has really packed this set with bonus material, loading each of the three discs with multiples featurettes, a commentary, and a number of still galleries or text-based supplements. I'll talk a bit about the commentaries first, and then go through the discs one by one.

Director John Harrison leads the commentary for each of the three "chapters" of Dune; he's joined by different participants on each—editor Harry Miller and second unit director and visual effects supervisor Ernest Farino on the first; effects artist Greg Nicotero on the second; and another effects artist, Tim McHugh, on the third. All three tracks tend to focus on the technical aspects of production more than on story development or on-set anecdotes (though the tracks with editor Miller do feature some discussion of crafting a coherent narrative). Harrison frequently points out additions to his director's cut (which was nice, since I've not seen the version since it aired on the Sci-Fi Channel), and reveals himself to be relaxed and forthcoming (much as he was on the track for Tales from the Darkside: The Movie). Nearly five hours of commentary is quite a lot to sit through, but if you break it down into the three story "chunks," it's actually quite manageable, and very informative.

Disc one starts off with the pre-release promo, The Lure of Spice, a fairly typical making-of piece. The 25-minute documentary touches on casting, production design, and special effects. Though there are the typical bland interviews with the cast, the effects crew offers some thoughtful commentary, and there's little self-congratulatory talk of adapting a classic to create a classic. Note that this piece also appeared on the original release of the TV cut.

A short interview with the composer runs five minutes and is entitled Gram Revell Reveals. Revell discusses his decision to use middle eastern music as a jumping off point for his compositions. There's also a menu that allows you to select from around seven minutes of outtakes from the score (and an ad encouraging you to buy the soundtrack).

Closing out disc one is a Photo and Sketch Gallery that breaks down into "Special Effects," "Character and Costume Sketches," and "Storyboards." All told, this area includes over 200 pieces of artwork created for the production.

Disc two includes a number of featurettes. Willis McNelly on Frank Herbert's Dune runs for 13 minutes and is an informative interview with the author of the Dune Encyclopedia. McNelly discusses the metaphorical readings of Herbert's book, including an interpretation that it is all about the oil trade with the middle east.

Science Fiction / Science Future is a rather ponderous 30-minute panel discussion featuring prominent science fiction writers Harlan Ellison, Octavia Butler, Michael Cassutt, inventor Ray Kurzwell, and John Harrison. Recorded in January 2002 at UCLA, the piece includes talk of science fiction is general, as well as the moral implications of even expanding scientific development and the relationship of science and religion. It's not a bad piece, but the discussion is rather dry. Give it a try if the issues interest you. I suspect it would be more entertaining in person.

Also included on disc two are some cast and crew bios and 20 pages of production notes that concern the adaptation of the book to the TV screen.

On to disc three, which includes yet more featurettes. The Color Wheel is an interesting 12-minute piece on cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, making up for his absence on the commentaries (there's also a short text essay from Storaro). Defining the Messiah is another 12-minute piece, one that considers the real world question of the existence of a Messiah (as said plays a large role in the film). An interesting and thoughtful, if brief, featurette, and an odd but welcome inclusion. Finally, Walking and Talking with John Harrison is just that, an 11-minute interview with the director, who discusses adapting the book and makes an effort to explain his views on religious extremism and intolerance in the world (his comments are particularly interesting when you consider that Dune, full of religious commentary as it is, first aired prior to September 11th).

The Children of Dune Sneak Peek Preproduction Gallery offers a glimpse at the sequel in-progress, and the trailer gallery rounds out the bonus materials with clips for The Rambo Trilogy and National Lampoon's Van Wilder.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Debate will continue as to which version of Dune is superior, but certainly this incarnation is more faithful to the novel than David Lynch's much maligned, but captivating, adaptation. Comparisons to the book and previous film aside, John Harrison's miniseries is quite well done for a television production. This Director's Cut DVD set improves upon the original release in every way. Let's hope for similar treatment for the sequel, Children of Dune, airing in 2003.


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