HBO DUNE! Dull, Dark, Slow, Shallow, and Boring

Dune, a failed interpretation of a great novel.

I’m a big-time science fiction fan, having even written the science column for Perihelion SF, a reboot of the old pulp magazines as a monthly online publication.

So I read Dune soon after it came out and I enjoyed it.

Dune Sequels

I didn’t care as much or at all for the book sequels which seemed to me just written and published to make some money off the franchise.

(As a freelance writer and author myself I never criticize any author for creating sequels since our income comes from those as much as the original work since publishers now know they have a potential big winner. That is especially true when someone else does most of the writing. But I do feel free to criticize the actual book(s))

I also saw all the movie and TV versions of Dune, even the (thankfully) short-lived 3-part 2000 TV miniseries.

My favorite was the original 1984 Warner Brothers David Lynch production with stand-out performances by both Patrick Stewart and Brad Dourif, not to mention a many star cast including Francesca Annis (Lady Jessica), Giancarlo Giannini, Alice Krige (Borg Queen), José Ferrer, Helen Hunt (outstanding as housekeeper Shadout Mapes), and Sting as the truly evil Harkonen heir Feyd Rautha.

Unlike critics at the time (now largely forgotten as the original Dune is now seen as a cult classic) I even liked Kyle MacLachlan’s work as the Duke and Lady Jessica’s son. I have to admit that I am also a fan of the first season of the other Lynch/MacLachlan team up the dark full color film noir Twin Peaks.

dune official trailer screenshot
Dune official trailer screenshot

Dune – 2021 HBO

The 2021 Dune version starring Timothée Chalamet and Jason Momoa is an HBO production. I don’t hold that against the movie, HBO does some fine productions.

I truly wish I could say as much in detail about the cast in this production but I found them pretty forgettable.

That says nothing about the actors themselves but rather the characters they portrayed in this production.

I am old, of course so these actors are not as familiar to me as the cast of the 1980’s production and that may be my failing but comparing the book to the original movie to this version I see the movie itself disappointing and I don’t feel that way about every recent version of an old favorite.

For example, I had no trouble enjoying all the new actors in the reboot of Star Trek movies. Even Spock wasn’t disappointing and although that was years ago, I was still old when it came out.

However I don’t understand the reviews I have seen in various places which all say that the original missed much of the deep history behind many of the characters and groups such as the sisterhood and even the space-faring weird giant slug-looking pilots through hyperspace who required Spice to work in hyperspace.

Turning a complex 400 page character-driven science fiction book into a time-limited movie was, to put it simply, an impossible task, one which Lynch actually accomplished in a remarkably lucid screen play considering he was interpreting a book about the creation of a God.

Dune HBO – a multi part movie

The newest version could have been much easier to develop since it only covers a portion of the book which makes it all the more mysterious that virtually none of the characters are memorable.

I especially miss how the same writers even say how much better this latest version is because it delves into the back stories so well.

I saw none of that in the HBO Dune version I just watched. Perhaps they saw a different version?

As just one example, unless I slept through it, there was no exploration of the Lady Jessica being only a mistress, not a wife to the Duke, or the realpolitik which made it necessary – many times in European history it was found politically important that a king or queen (e.g. Elizabeth I) not marry to hold out the possibility of a powerful political union between sovereigns and countries.

It was inevitable that the same could easily hold true for future empires spanning the universe or, at least, some universe.

I intentionally waited until part two was available before I watched part one. I really don’t enjoy watching part of a single story and having to wait several years for the rest of the story if I like the first part. I understand why it is done but that isn’t my problem and I really don’t mind being a few years behind other fans in beginning a new series.

Dune HBO – Characters are Mere Cartoons

In short I saw very minimal sketches, almost cartoons of all the characters in this version and, if I hadn’t been very familiar with all the story and characters from the 400 page book I would have been completely lost or would have missed many subtle points which Lynch was able to squeeze into 2 hours and 17 minutes.

About the only segments which rang true with me were the flight of Jessica and her son the new Duke with the two assassins who were being taken out into the deep desert to die and the iconic and terrible dead hand scene.

Otherwise I found the special effects so basic that I could have produced much of them with a fog machine on an empty set.

Perhaps all of the missing background will be thoroughly explored in the second (and rumored possible third) Dune episode but I am not willing to wait and I can’t believe anyone who saw the original version or read the magnificent Herbert book

Screenrant says “Jason Momoa was the perfect casting choice for this lovable badass in the reboot. Momoa’s Duncan gets a heartbreaking death scene when he sacrifices himself to save Paul and his mother.”

I felt it was more of a throw-away than a heartbreaking event.

Dune HBO – Missing Mentats

There was no filling out the character of the deadly killer who was also a sensitive and serious musician, or how the Mentats fit into the Dune universe, why solid-state computers were rejected in favor of human computers, or why Dr. Yueh had been trusted in the first place (imperial conditioning.)

There wasn’t even any real look at the difference between the openly nasty brother and his quietly evil brother, the heirs of evil House Harkonnen.

There was barely a mention of the spacer guild, let alone that dramatic fish tank view of one of them from the 1984 movie. Nor was there any real emphasis on the important animosity between the Bene Jesserit and the spacers.

Dune HBO – Part Deux

I don’t plan to watch part two which was just released (triggering, as I already mentioned, my latent interest in the franchise). Even for free (since I already pay for an HBO subscription) I wouldn’t waste my time just now although I may run out of other things to watch and view it later.

Movie Streaming, Top Five and the Alternative Sites to Check Out

Dune HBO – But Did I Like IT?

In short, if it wasn’t clear (as the late Gene Shalit used to say after being asked tongue in cheek “But did you like it?”) I didn’t like it and can’t recommend it. But, if you do plan to watch both parts, give the 1984 version a try, it may make more sense, OR I could be completely wrong.

I personally seldom decide whether or not to watch a movie based on what critics say about it and you probably shouldn’t do so either. Relying on influencers, politicians, actors, sports “stars,” and even critics or reviewers for what do do is far too often a short-cut used these days instead of deciding for yourself.

Note: Gene Shalit was an author and TV movie critic appearing on The Today Show for 3 years with his popular pun filled reviews. (A cousin of mine Bill, formerly with the Bronx DA’s office, told me she had once seen him wandering around a part of New York looking rather lost. As a long-time critic myself – mostly computer hardware and software, I can understand that.)

dune hbo official trailer screenshot
Dune HBO official trailer screenshot