Frank Herbert's Dune - The Spence Edit Revised

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Spence, well done with this edit. I was a fan of the mini-series but the effects were awful and distracting. I noticed you gave the VFX in this an 80's aesthetic which is simple and it instantly improves them . The mini-series was bloated and it looked really cheap, I thoroughly every ideation of Dune and this is one of my favorites. Thanks man

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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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(Updated: February 08, 2022)
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What more can I say than this was brilliant! I've always found this series frustrating to watch with its many problems, but Spence so carefully and cleverly expanded the universe without it feeling choppy or confusing, it worked very well and pulled me even deeper into the rich world.

Spence has created a masterful cinematic adventure that every Dune fan should experience.

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What a save - a great edit!
As the best way to watch more of the Dune story than the movies ever touched, the original tv series was still a slog. But Spence saves the day with a digestible Dune story that does great covering the source material without the typical TV padding and fluff.
In general, I am not a fan of the original series, and the Caladan scenes are still so obviously low budget tv, but once we get to Arrakis and past the story already covered in Villeneuve's Part 1 movie, the production quality fit so well for the story, mostly due to the cinematic LUTs that were masterfully implemented here. Technical aspects and narrative pacing are suburb, as always from this great editor!

Definitely the best way to watch the FULL Dune story (or at least the most so far) - highly recommended!

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(Updated: February 20, 2022)
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Frank Herbert’s Dune is a faithful adaptation of the novel, overall. I really enjoyed Spence's original edit of this television miniseries. It has sat next to Spicediver's edit of the 1984 David Lynch film for years.

Spence's revised edit allows the story to breathe by showing (instead of telling) in just a few hours. The edit explores the political, religious, and mystical elements in detail. Paul and Jessica’s journey through the sand dunes of Arrakis, establishes the desert dwelling Fremen culture through detailed scenes of their ritual and customs and gives plenty of necessary screentime to the character of Chani, the Fremen woman whom Paul first meets in his dreams and with whom, falls in love. Everything is told in a cohesive manner.

The color regrade works beautifully. The golds and indigos for Emperor Shaddam IV’s palace and deep reds for House Harkonnen are more vibrant. Also, visually striking is the intense blue glow of Fremen eyes that adds a unique mystical characteristic to these characters and the world they inhabit.

Spence took the time to painstakingly crop each frame to create a more realistic cinema experience. I can't fathom the time and effort required to pull off this endeavor.

Spence used the Children of Dune score which was a stroke of genius. Now present is a greater sense of tension and urgency than was present in the original production. This alone, has the desired effect of causing the viewer to enjoy a cinema type experience and changes the entire ambience.

Overall, Frank Herbert’s Dune was originally a puzzling, at times frustrating effort. It was satisfying to see such a faithful adaptation, yet disheartening to see that the story wasn’t given the proper production that Dune desperately deserved. Spence has created the movie that the miniseries could have been.

I wonder if it was my familiarity with the world of Dune, or if it was Spence's edit overpowering its limitations—the ultimate triumph of storytelling over form, where stories themselves contain the power to enlighten, compel, and transcend their medium and resonate on intellectual, emotional, and spiritual levels that caused Spence's edit to come to life as the best version of Dune.

It’s difficult to put into words, but it’s something that I feel every time I experience a compelling story.

Spence has edited this mini-series in a manner in which the narrative comes to life and displays that timeless power of story to speak to us in ways beyond conventional means we are familiar with and immerse us into a journey through a strange and magical world. I love it! I am honored to be a small part of it!

The best version of Dune! Highly recommended!

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