Dune, Frank Herbert’s (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Feb 26, 2018
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Dune, Frank Herbert’s (Blu-ray Review)

Director

John Harrison

Release Date(s)

2000 (June 27, 2014)

Studio(s)

Sci-Fi Channel/New Amsterdam/Hallmark Entertainment (Alive AG)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: C+
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: B

Frank Herbert's Dune (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

[Editor’s Note: This is a German REGION FREE Blu-ray release. It features English audio and will play normally on all US Blu-ray players.]

In the history of science fiction, there have been a number of high-concept works that cut through the trappings of pulp “sci-fi” (robots, laser guns, aliens) to describe timeless stories of the human condition. Among the best are Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. As good as any of them, however, is Frank Herbert’s Dune. Set many thousands of years in the future, it’s a simple tale of two great royal houses engaged in a struggle to control the most valuable planet in the universe... Dune (also known as Arakkis). The rightful heir to the planet, young Paul Atreides, is the product of an ancient genetic breeding program. His is more than a political struggle; before the story is fully told, Paul will become Muad’Dib – a prophet who will help the native people of Arakkis to reclaim their world... and help the human race to reclaim its identity. Rich in political, cultural, and ecological detail, Dune won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for science fiction and remains one of the most highly-regarded novels of all time.

For years, filmmakers struggled to bring Herbert’s novel to the big screen, with Ridley Scott and Alejandro Jodorowsky both mounting failed attempts. Finally, in 1984, David Lynch delivered his vision of Dune to the screen with mixed results. There are many fans of the Lynch film (reviewed here), which features intriguing production design and a fine cast. But in order to jam as much of the story into the film’s 137 minutes as possible, important concepts in the novel were altered or omitted entirely. An expanded, 190-minute “TV version” of the film was later created, but Lynch hated it so much that he asked to have his name removed (the infamous “Allen Smithee” is credited instead).

With the film rights tightly controlled by Dino De Laurentiis, a better film version seemed unlikely. But in the late 1990s, producer Richard Rubinstein discovered that the TV rights to the Herbert novel were still available. He interested a director John Harrison in the project, and the two acquired the rights with the help of the Sci-Fi Channel. Harrison set out to adapt the novel as a miniseries and to recreate the novel’s 3-act structure – each act would be told on a separate night of the miniseries. Once the ball was rolling, the production attracted a terrific pool of talent, including actors William Hurt (The Big Chill) and Giancarlo Giannini (Casino Royale), as well as cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now). The result was an epic and lavish 266-minute production of Dune, one that finally did justice to Herbert’s original novel, and garnered Sci-Fi’s highest ratings ever to that point (in December 2000).

Fans of the Lynch film will probably not warm to Frank Herbert’s Dune. For one thing, it completely abandoned the earlier work’s dark, atmospheric look. Instead, this production is vibrant and colorful. To save money, and to create a unique tone, the entire miniseries was shot on soundstages. Exteriors were done against massive “translight” backgrounds and enhanced with CG visual effects. The result is a feast for the eyes, a highly theatrical style that actually lends itself well to such epic, Shakespearian material.

Very few story changes were made in adapting the novel for television (the major ones are that the character of Princess Irulan, who is the “narrator” of the novel, is a more important figure in the miniseries, and that Paul’s internal monologue has been largely abandoned in favor of a more traditional narrative approach). The cast here is first-rate, including Hurt (Duke Leto) and Giannini (The Padishah-Emperor), along with Alec Newman (Paul), Barbora Kodetova (Chani), Saskia Reeves (Lady Jessica), and Uwe Ochsenknecht (Stilgar). Ian McNeice also delivers a terrific and wonderfully over-the-top performance as the infamous Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.

For fans of the miniseries hoping for a proper Blu-ray edition, there have been a few international offerings to consider, including a 2013 French release from Filmedia and a 2016 Australian release from Umbrella Entertainment. Unfortunately, while both are region free, they’re also both plagued with a 4% PAL audio speed-up that’s inherent in the French PAL/50i broadcast master.

But there’s good news: A 2014 German Blu-ray is also available from Alive AG that’s not only region free but was mastered from North American source material, so it’s 1080 HD and 24p. Presented in the proper 1.78:1 broadcast aspect ratio, Alive’s Blu-ray features the International cut of the miniseries, which is similar to the Director’s Cut (available on DVD from Artisan) save for 4 minutes cut from Part I and a minute removed from Part II. In terms of video quality, the HD image is quite good in live action shots, which were scanned directly from the 35 mm film elements. Visual effects shots, however, are upscaled from the SD resolution in which they were originally rendered. Colors are lush and vibrant, almost to the point of being oversaturated. Contrast is decent and there’s a bit of edge enhancement visible. This HD presentation will never win awards, but it’s certainly superior to DVD. Audio is available in both German and English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (the default is German), with optional German subtitles. The English 5.1 mix features a smooth, wide soundstage with nice clarity and ambience, lightly active directional play in the surrounds, and good bass.

Alive’s Blu-ray is a 2-disc set, broken down thusly:

  • Disc One – Part I (95:30), Part II (98:15)
  • Disc Two – Part III (97:41)

Disc Two also includes the following extras in the original SD (in English with burned-in German subtitles), carried over from both the original and Director’s Cut Artisan DVD releases:

  • Interview with Uwe Ochsenknecht (7:53 – 4x3 – in German, no English subs)
  • Graeme Revell Reveals (5:12 – 16x9)
  • The Making of Dune: Part 1 – The Filmmaker’s Vision (29:57 – 4x3 letterboxed)
  • The Making of Dune: Part 2 – The Production Story (31:42 – 4x3 letterboxed)
  • Frank Herbert’s Dune: The Lure of Spice (25:44 – 4x3 letterboxed)
  • Science Future/Science Fiction (28:29 – 16x9)
  • Will McNelley on Frank Herbert and Dune (12:20 – 16x9)
  • Defining the Messiah (13:08 – 16x9)
  • Vittorio Storaro: The Color Wheel (12:41 – 16x9)
  • Walking and Talking with John Harrison (11:15 – 16x9)
  • Original Trailer (1:42 – 16x9)

That’s not everything found on the previous DVDs (the filmmaker audio commentary is missing, for example), so you’ll definitely want to keep both of them to retain all the bonus content. But it’s more than is available on any other Blu-ray edition. The package also includes a thick booklet of photographs and liner notes (in German). Fans of the series may also want to check out James Van Hise’s The Secrets of Frank Herbert’s Dune book, which includes a bonus DVD of additional content not available elsewhere.

We’ve long hoped that Sci-Fi Channel might one day revisit this title with a new remastering that would include redoing all of the visual effects in full HD. That seems unlikely to happen, however, so this Alive AG German Blu-ray release is probably the best we can expect. In any case, the Frank Herbert’s Dune miniseries is a gorgeous TV production, one that is too often overlooked these days and which deserves to be seen by any fan of the original novels. Moreover, at 291 minutes in length, this miniseries is far more comprehensive even that Denis Villeneuve’s forthcoming film remake (possibly due in 2019 from Paramount, though it has yet to be officially green-lit) is likely to be. It’s highly recommended. Be sure to pair it with Umbrella Entertainment’s region free/24p Blu-ray of Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune (reviewed here) to enjoy the complete miniseries experience.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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