Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The spice of life?

After breaking down my resistance to sagas and series in general, I was able to start reading Frank Herbert's classic novel Dune. This is epic in every possible way; characters are increasingly superhuman and settings exotic and deadly; it's a story of heroes, villains, political and personal intrigue. Plenty of authors have described alien worlds and lifeforms; the description here is unusually complete, detailed and therefore feels more plausible; at the same time the evolutionary roles and survival struggles of life forms on the planet become symbols for the human story. You don't so much read this book as dive under the surface of Dune, emerging only in response to vibrations back in the real world, or perhaps when you feel hungry.

The Dune mini-series was made for the Sci-Fi channel. The most dedicated opera fans often go to see operas with their own copies of the libretto and follow the score as they watch. I wonder if, amongst the channel's viewers are some similar-minded sci-fi fans who are watching Dune with copies of the book in their laps. The series has clearly been made for such people; while occasionally there are adaptations for the media, to my mind this is extremely faithful to the book. On a few occasions this is at the cost of dramatic effect; the attempt to stick absolutely to the book's description of Baron Harkonnen leads to an enjoyable but slightly pantomime performance byIan McNeice; in other places the coldness of other characters is slightly overplayed. By today's standards the special effects are artful but unusually low-tech with many scenes clearly using back projection effects, or very contrived camera angles - sometimes this is a good thing. In the old days, by which I mean before Industrial Light and Magic, the limits of special effects forced directors to be much more inventive, and acting was still required at times. Naturally I still enjoyed much of this series.

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