SciFridays: Dune

“And how can this be? For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!”

To most people, that line will probably mean absolutely nothing. But, for this science fiction nerd, it was the best end-of-climactic-scene line uttered since “Luke, I am your father.”

I’m talking, of course, about David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune.*

Back in the eighties, when HBO still played movies, I was riveted by the long voice over introduction that set up the story of Dune.**

A religious revolt against thinking machines? Space-folding Navigators? Bald, mind-controlling women? Genetic breeding programs? Spice??

The way this movie unfolded defined epic for me, and even to my seven-year-old mind I knew that EPIC=LARGE SCALE.

Multiple planets, set twenty thousand years into the future. Sweeping panoramic vistas. Centuries-old political conflicts. A spoiled boy prince maturing into a nation-saving messiah…riding gigantic sandworms.

Gigantic. Sandworms. Come on, if that’s not EPIC, I don’t know what is.

Ok, I know, theoretically, that the movie was far from being the best movie in the world. In fact, it’s often proclaimed as the worst movie of 1984. However, I hadn’t read the book yet, so I didn’t have a “story prejudice” when I watched it. And, quite frankly, I was barely able to follow the storyline anyway.

What fascinated me about the movie, and what has stayed with me, was the feeling I had while watching it: a ridiculous sense of AWE. What the film lacked in narrative art, it made up for in action movie eye candy (keep in mind, this was the eighties: the effects look silly now, and the soundtrack is a bit warped).

Anyway, the movie may have been a cinematic flop, but its most redeeming quality, at least to me, is that it made me want to read the book.

By the time I decided to read the book, I was eleven. I didn’t have any memory of the movie’s storyline at that point (thank goodness!); only the memory of the movie’s settings remained. My mind used those images as backdrops to bring to life the story Frank Herbert imagined, and through subsequent re-readings, they are still the images I see.

Dune will always be THE science fiction story to me. That EPIC SCOPE, that AWE fueled my imagination, and made me hungry for more. It awakened my young imagination, and permeated it with archetypes that will always be a part of my consciousness.

How about you? Do you have any stories that set the standard for your imagination?

*Most consider this movie a gigantic flop, and I’m not going to argue. I just want to point out that Frank Herbert was quoted as saying, “They’ve got it. It begins as Dune does. And I hear my dialogue all the way through. There are some interpretations and liberties, but you’re gonna come out knowing you’ve seen Dune.”

**I rewatched the beginning prologue that intrigued me so long ago, and nearly died of boredom from the long droning exposition.


14 thoughts on “SciFridays: Dune

  1. Elise Stephens says:

    Liza, I read all of the Dune books when I was in high school. You’re absolutely right about them being epic in imagination and scope.

    A movie that I’m sure was formational for me as a child was Cleopatra, starring Liz Taylor. Something about love and death, sacrifice and eternity, passion and dangerous politics all seared into my head and I was walking around the house, dazed and enchanted, by the tragic and still beautiful way the story had ended. I still write beautiful tragedies in many of my endings. Can’t seem to get away from them. 🙂

  2. Jennifer J Randolph says:

    I never watched the movie, now I think I have to. The books on the other hand I loved very much. I read up to the God Emperor and got distracted by other series but the whole world is fascinating.

    When I was in middle school, I was part of a book club and we read some good books like Pullman’s Dark Materials series. One of the girls got me interested in Marion Zimmer Bradley and ever since then I wanted to write about King Arthur and Camelot.

  3. Redhead says:

    I had a similar experience with Dune, except I was a little older than you. I was about 10 when I saw the movie (and had the same exact reaction you did: this is the coolest thing EVER!) and was maybe 14 when I read the book. My naive first reading of Dune turned me into a life long Science Fiction fan.

    Sure, the movie sucked, but it molded me into a SF more so than even Star Wars, and that’s saying something!

    • Liza Kane says:

      I so agree! I think it enabled me to enjoy science fiction and fantasy, for sure! I wonder if my love of science fiction would have changed if I’d remembered seeing Star Wars first? (my parents said they took me and my siblings with them to see Return of the Jedi, but I have NO memory of that whatsoever!) Or if my family is just hardwired to love science fiction…like it’s genetic or something 😉

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • Liza Kane says:

      Yes! I hope you enjoy it! I’ve read the story during different stages of my life and I get something new out of it with each reading! When you read it, let me know what you think!

  4. Jenny says:

    Liza, I love your post. I, too, really thought the movie, Dune, was an Epic film. I wasn’t that disappointed in the film, as i had read the book before and the film remained true – well as true as films remain to the novels. I loved Sting’s role in the movie and thought he played it well. The whole concept of Dune was an incredible undertaking for me and the scope was broad and powerful.

    The movie that woke my ‘writer’s eye’ was an equally ‘bad’ movie from 1981 – “Excalibur”. I have always been, since I was little girl, hooked on stories of knights and castles and magic. Fairytales. I remember reading stories of Camelot and Merlin when I was little and soon found that I couldn’t get enough of Morgana, Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin, Uther and Mordred. The battle scenes were epic to me. The smoke, the fog, the mysterious grail. I chuckle at parts of it now, but still the fight scenes appeared so real. Director John Boorman did not cut expenses on these scenes, and I couldn’t think of anyone else who could play Merlin the way Nicol Williamson did. There is something about his accent that brought that character to life, that made him ‘real’ to me.

    In spite of its “badness”, it still remains one of my favorite films and one of the best Camelot portrayals I’ve ever scene.

    Currently, I am hopelessly hooked on the BBC series ‘Merlin’. I can’t get enough. I want it to go on forever, but I know it’s not possible. Mordred must kill Arthur and Excalibur must return to the Lady of the Lake. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy every blessed hour each week when it begins again on the ScyFy Channel on Jan. 6, 2012 (even though the impatient part of me couldn’t wait and has been streaming it online. shhh..:-))

    • Liza Kane says:

      heehee, I can sit through Dune as a conscious adult (and have!) and enjoy it; I just giggle at all the soliloquies and asides and expositions…it’s like the film version of “show don’t tell”…BUT: I still get the AWE when the “big one” still breaches the sand dunes after Paul Mua’Dib awakens…and the whole battle at Arakeen…and, I lovelovelove whenever all the “great quotes” were spoken. *chills*

      I’m with you, though: I LOVED Excalibur, and it was ANOTHER one of those movies that HBO played over and over again. I must have seen it 10 times before I reached teenager-hood. Again, it was one of those movies that I didn’t quite follow in terms of twisty plots and nuances, etc, but I followed the main story well enough, and of course, am always a fan Good knights triumphing over the Big Evil. (Also, this is the movie that made me fall in LOVE with Orff’s Carmina Burana…I always see those knights charging out over the countryside, restoring the land when I hear the song!)

      (aw, man, now I NEED to see Merlin! I have to get my fantasy fix!!)

  5. D.B. Smyth (@DB_Smyth) says:

    I know I’m going to be like so many others when I say this, but Star Wars was mine, specifically RETURN OF THE JEDI. I was enraptured with the opening sequence. Still am! Jabba, exotic creatures, robot life, ginormous monsters and anxiety inducing escapes. I’ll watch up until Jabba’s barge gets blown out of the sky and then walk away happy and fulfilled. Another childhood fav is LABRYNTHE. David Bowe be still my heart! And I love the twist… Fairies that bight, worms that help, and a kingdom where all the ‘rules’ get turned on their heads. Love it! Sadly, I was already old enough to understand the awfulness of DUNE the movie. Perhaps I should give the book a try. Great post! Thanks Liza!

      • Liza Kane says:

        The book is a multilayered epic, and it can get a little slow at times, but I found the world building fascinating, so I didn’t really notice. (Remember, I first read it when I was ELEVEN.)
        I believe if one is to REALLY enjoy science fiction, one MUST read this book!

    • Liza Kane says:

      heehee, i LOVED Return of the Jedi: it’s my favorite Star Wars movie because of that beginning and the Ewoks at the end! (Yub Yub!).
      And, as I was writing this post, I SO thought about Labyrinth, too! I have stills from the movie posted to my Pinterest board, “What Inspires” because of the impact it’s had on my life!
      See…this is why HBO needs to play movies…I glutted myself on scifi/fantasy with their constant reruns of Dune, Labyrinth, Legend (Tom Cruise, baby!),Willow…

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