Overall, the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries is far more faithful to Frank Herbert’s vision for Dune than the 1984 movie. With a run time of almost 4.5 hours (6 when viewed with commercials), most of the major plot elements are covered. The events are laid out much like the novel, and don’t feel rushed like the 1984 movie. With that said, the miniseries does have a few faults, most of which can be forgiven.
I particularly appreciated that the Baron Harkonnen was not completely blown out of proportion as in the 1984 movie. The Baron in the miniseries is very much like the character from the novel, and is much more convincing. It is a shame that they took such a faithfully accurate character and made him talk in cheesy poetry at the end of almost every scene of his. Those cheesy lines were certainly not in the book, so I did my best to look past them.
I realize that this was a made for cable TV series, but the low budget is very obvious. Much of the backgrounds are simply matte paintings and the overall feel seems like late 80’s early 90’s Star Trek: The Next Generation. Many of the sets made me feel like I was watching a play rather than something on TV. The costumes were not really that bad, but Feyd’s ridiculous triangle that looks like a kite attached to his back in half of his scenes made me cringe each time I saw it.
The main fault I have a hard time dismissing is that Paul is arrogant and whiny. It seems like the creators for this version were inspired by the character of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, which is not a good thing. I felt like at any moment Paul might say to his mother, “But I don’t want to go to Dune! I want to go to Tashi Station to pick up some power converters!” This is one aspect where the 1984 movie was superior, because it portrayed Paul as responsible and confident, nothing like the whiny brat in this miniseries.
Although Paul starts like an annoying little Luke Skywalker, there is a clear sense of evolution which is better than the 1984 movie. Paul’s rise to power is more gradual, and thus more convincing. His sense of purpose builds until he decides it is time to strike back at the Harkonnen that exterminated House Atreides.
The most blatant discrepancy is the insertion of Princess Irulan into several scenes with Paul and Feyd. In the novel she merely acts as a narrator and plays a brief part in the final pages. In this miniseries she’s more like a little Nancy Drew, acting as a detective trying to piece together the plot against the Atreides. I’m not sure why the script writers decided on this change, because the rest was pretty accurate.
The miniseries isn’t quite free of comical moments. Sure, the Baron Harkonnen’s poetry is cheesy, but nothing compared to the Guild Navigator liaisons. The final scene with them sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m not sure how anyone could make it through that scene without cracking up. If you look closely it looks like Alia is barely containing her laughter.
For Dune purists, although there are still many things missing, it is not as bad as the 1984 movie. Overall, the series is very enjoyable if you can look past the cheesy sets and matte painting backgrounds. The worms and space ships are done in CGI, which looks pretty decent. The main story and themes are relatively intact, so the miniseries earns the title of “Frank Herbert’s Dune.” I truly think that someone who hasn’t seen the theatrical release and has never read the book can appreciate the story this version tells on its own. Still, I highly recommend reading the book, which is far superior.