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9.8 14 10
TV-to-Movie December 06, 2021 5224
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Amazing. Spence has worked wonders with what really is a neglected series in Dune lore, but one that tells the story with far more clarity and structure than Lynch, and with less hangups than Villeneuve. I have a special place in my heart for these films as well, as I do the novel, but this one will stand beside them indefinitely.

I hadn’t taken in the miniseries for reasons others neglect it - it’s a TV movie, which in the old days meant “cheap”. And yes, there are scenes Spence does what only can be done. The film has qualities of a well-blocked and rehearsed stage play, which, for some intents, it is (check those rear projection shots!) It has an almost-old fashioned feel that is, however, absolutely charming.

Lynch’s film took a lot of chances. It’s weird to think how much of what we think of the story of Dune we’re inventions of Lynch. Despite my heroic devotion to DL I never liked his Dune - it suffered mostly from his shockingly quaint decision to transfer Herbert’s character editorializing on screen, a decision made all the more surprising due to the fact he remains the supreme “show don’t tell” cinematic master (check Twin Peaks). Spicediver’s alternative redux saved that to a degree, and my love for Lynch’s Dune is really for Spicediver’s. In terms of taking what was an almost-impossible job - salvaging the narrative and story where one was sorely and initially neglected (the first 2/3rds are incredibly sustained, the last 1/3rd given over to a continual series of melting dissolves and very little else - it works in a form = content kind of way.

Villeneuve’s film also has its charms; certainly it has the luxury to tell a more intricate story, standing in Lynch’s shadow. So far, however, it is surprisingly conservative in its approach. If it is trying to avoid terminally weird pitfalls the way Lynch couldn’t help but step into, it is certainly succeeding, but it’s not terribly inventive, either. We’ll see how the second film plays out.

Now, in the middle comes this SF network effort by one John Harrison, a name which won’t ring any bells (curiously, he is an executive producer on Villeneuve’s films!) . I never had any interest in this stuff for reasons already mentioned. But being on a Dune kick this summer and having utter respect for Spence’s Hobbit edit from long ago, I wanted to see what was up here.

I have to say it really is the definitive version of the story, splitting the difference between Lynch (it’s a little weird, but not jaw-agape weird) and Villeneuve (it stays with the narrative, but dares to take chances). Somehow Spence managed to truncate 90 minutes or so from the story and still tell the tale, proving you don’t need internal monologue or exposition. You simply need a sense of narrative.

Spence has a careful sensibility to Harrison’s workhorseman, respectful narrative. Dune is an incredibly difficult novel to film in its entirety- if you’re familiar with it it’s clear how much Lynch left out. One or two scenes can go a long ways, however (check Yueh and Jessica here), and the way this is edited doesn’t at all feel rushed. 3 hours is indeed perfect, proving many things - if you know how to bring scenes out with your actors and block them appropriately (I wouldn’t be surprised if Harrison has a theater background), and are aware of one’s limitations (this one isn’t trying to be Lynch), you can create something miraculous in its alchemy.

The limitations are there for those who want to gripe about them - the obvious low budget, etc. But one really cannot complain when it comes to narrative. Spence has done what a faneditor does best - tell a story.

There are scenes here which are remarkable - we don’t have Eno’s haunting prophecy theme to work with, but the 3rd stage guild spacefold scene holds its own. Jessica’s water of life trip-out is absolutely awesome in its actualization. Many many scenes here are just so cleanly and professionally done it makes me wonder why Lynch was, again, unable (or unwilling) to pull them off. Spence’s editing to make this feel like a real film is seamless, never forced, always within the scope of believability.

This film will reside proudly alongside Spicediver’s edit and Villeneuve’s ongoing saga. It’s a curious thing to consider that, when all is said and done, this version of Dune may be, all-around, the definitive one.

Bravo, Spence. I’ll be checking out Children of Dune in it’s entirety this week.

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Owner's reply August 20, 2022

Thanks for the kind review. Children of Dune is pretty great, and definitely got a budget boost.

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