Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Unclean In The Sand


When I saw the original "Dune" miniseries I was entranced. I bought a copy.

And I've watched it at least half a dozen times. Every time I do I'm amazed by how little its flaws affect its effect. Sure, the early-generation computer graphics were not the best, but hey. It was TV. You got the idea. It was fantasy. You got the idea.

The story was simple, the acting restrained and to the point, and the plot moved.

Two things were especially good: the sets and the costumes. They added depth without being distracting, and were cheap ways for the creators to enhance the experience. Constraints, if handled intelligently, lead to creativity. It worked here.

Now, a decade later, noodling around, I found that there was a followup series, "Children of Dune". Hey, why not. I bought it. Worth a look.

"Children of Dune" is everything that "Dune" was not: tedious, incomprehensible, boring, over-produced.

Yuk, yuk, yuk.

And the sound quality is bad. My hearing is not good, and getting worse. I admit. But at times I was able to get maybe 10% of the dialog. I don't have any other VHS or DVD recordings that are this bad. Turning up the sound made it louder, not better. OK, too bad.

Eventually I went into the "extra features" section of the DVD. Yeah, right.

A bunch of guys congratulating themselves on the special effects and other details of production. They could as well simply put up an org chart for the production company. It would, I think, have been more interesting, and at least as enlightening. Maybe more.

But I found what could be the cause of this sad production's problems. Two of Frank Herbert's books, "Dune Messiah" and "Children of Dune", were combined into this one miniseries.

Those behind "Children of Dune" tried, I think, to cram everything in the two books into the one production. Don't know. I didn't read the two books. But it looks like everything.

The actors skip along the high spots of a plot outline, hitting key words and then stepping out of the way before they get run over by the next bunch of actors tromping through the sets.

It's like watching crowds thundering through a bus depot at rush hour and searching for the meaning.

What should be one tight of scene after another of two or three, in three or four minutes is more like synchronized acting. Herds almost trampling one another, racing through scene after disjointed scene in seconds. Speed acting.

The screenplay is high school quality. There are huge stupid gaffes, such as when Ghanima Atreides (Jessica Brooks) nearly weds Farad'n Corrino (Jonathan Bruun). The young Farad'n kneels before her, confesses various nefarious things about his family's doings, and says that he has only the truth to give her, not even a dowry.

Duh? Dowry?

Dowries are a stupid and evil tradition, but they come from the bride's family, not the groom's. This is basic history, part of standard, worldwide, human culture. You don't change all that just to give a minor character a couple of words utter, nonsensically.

Major screenplay fail.

All that said, Ian McNeice shows decent acting. Almost the only example.

He turns up as the spirit of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, deceased but still alive somehow inside Alia Atreides. McNeice's role is small but I really perked up when I saw him. His character, though evil, brought sunshine to the production.

Everything else made me want to gnaw one of my legs off. The costumes and sets, rather than adding a nice extra dimension, were severely overdone and inappropriate, the computer effects overbearing. A hint of sandworm is better than all worms all the time.

Other than McNeice, there was Alice Krige, who played Lady Jessica Atreides, poorly. I remember her as the Borg Queen from a Star Trek movie. I've always had the hots for the Borg Queen, despite the tubes in her head and the mottled skin and all. I doubt if I'm alone. This is one gorgeous woman, with or without tubes in her head.

So then?

Well, it appears as if her entire face is one massive Botox injection site.

How someone can talk while moving nothing but her jaw baffled me. No facial expressions whatsoever. No muscle movement, no eyebrow arching, no smiles, no frowns. Nothing. I've never seen this before and really can't say how she managed it, but there you are. The Wooden Lady. Almost worth watching the whole shebang just to get the full effect of this. Entirely spooky.

I'll avoid passing judgment on the male actors, because I'm personally not attracted to men, but the women are fine. So very fine. Daniela Amavia as Alia Atreides. Jessica Brooks as Ghanima Atreides. Julie Cox as Irulan Corrino-Atreides. All get six stars out of a possible five. On looks. All turn in execrable performances because of the vile screenplay and confused production. Disaster. Acting chopped into baffling bits. No point to it at all. I know they have all done better elsewhere.

And maybe worst of all, so very much the worst of all, the relationship of the twin children (Ghanima Atreides and her brother Leto Atreides II) of Chani and Muad'Dib, played by Jessica Brooks and James McAvoy.

If I had anything to abandon I would abandon it all, forever, if I could only spend the rest of my life worshipping Jessica Brooks.

But.

I think the technical word for the on-screen relationship of the brother and sister is "eeewww". Touching, kissing, playing together, fondling. No, don't show me that. Not now, not ever.

I had to cringe, and keep cringing. Again and again.

This is unclean.

I don't know or care what may or may not have been in Frank Herbert's writing. I saw what was on the screen and I did not like it at all. The brother and sister may be close, and may be strong characters on the page, but this, no. Though lacking actual sexual contact, it was deep incest.

The original "Dune" was clean and simple, direct, compelling and well produced. "Children of Dune" is worth seeing only as an example of how poorly something can be done, despite having a terrific model to follow.

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