Michael Z. Williamson
  • A Comparison of Dune to LOTR, Sort Of

    A Comparison of Dune to LOTR, Sort Of

    From a thread on one of the IMDB boards about Bakshi's version of LOTR:

    This is an odd place to discuss Dune, however...

    First, Dune the novel was a retelling of Lawrence of Arabia after Herbert did extensive studies on the sociology and ecology of the Middle East. It shows up in numerous other projects he was involved in (Medea, for example), and he extrapolated T. E. Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" to the then present day, 1960s, with melange as a metaphor for oil--the resource everyone needs from this near-lifeless locale. It's turned out fairly astutely in many observations even though most of our oil is now either Domestic or North Sea production--large parts of Europe and Asia still depend on the Middle East and this is reflected in global politics.

    Dune was published a serial in Analog Magazine, and John W. Campbell Jr (editor in chief) kept requiring Herbert to streamline and focus the story, which is why there is a different tone to Dune than any of the Herbert-written sequels. For many people, this is what made Dune a great book, Messiah so-so and the rest long and tedious. Herbert was better at short fiction and rambled incessantly in longer works.

    Star Wars is a combination of Forbidden Fortress (Lucas has said so and helped finance the director's next movie), LOTR (In Two Towers, we have Christopher Lee as the deputy to the chief heavy running the factory in the wilderness that builds the Army of Darkness. In Episode 2, we have Christopher Lee as the deputy to the chief heavy running the factory in the wilderness that builds the Army of Darkness. We have Han/Strider, Luke/Frodo, C3PO and R2D2/Merry and Pippin...etc) and quite a bit of Dune for Tatooine.

    In "Eye," Herbert said he noted 17 similarities between Dune and Star Wars, and the director had a heck of time working around them so Dune wouldn't look like its better known bastard offspring.

    The stillsuits lack masks because otherwise you wouldn't be able to see the actors. Key point: you're traditionally allowed one gaping science violation in SF in order to present a character driven story. Stillsuits are impossible. They amount to an oven-baking bag that would cook the occupant in minutes. So we note that and move on.

    Herbert was shown about a 5 hour director's rough cut which he approved of. It was then cut down to make it close to something a theater would consider showing, and large parts of it were lost. I'd read all the books that were available at the time it came out (and have never bothered to reread them), and I was completely boggled by what I saw. They changed Paul from this master of martial arts/prescient/strategic genius into "The kid with the plans for the secret weapon." Lame.

    Visually the movie was stunning. They picked a fine panoply of actors and great scoring from Toto. But a lot of it was over the top and done more for art's sake than production value (the guy with the pipe from his nose to his brain? What was that all about?).

    Then there was the rain at the end, which skipped quite a few chapters ahead and dragged the movie along with it. However, the tone and the worms were really well done otherwise, even if the worms are also ludricous violations of proportional scaling, physics, chemistry and biology. But damn, did they look cool.

    As to comparing it to LOTR, etc, the books were written in different times and styles, though both carried the theme of mortals aspiring to greatness. But Frodo remains mortal while Paul Agamemnides, excuse me, Atreides (shameless tip of the hat to Harvard Lampoon's "Doon") aspires and ascends toward deificiation. Both were groundbreaking in scope and theme.

    I barely recall Bakshi's version of LOTR existing and can't really comment, but I believe Jackson did credit to LOTR by not letting the visuals usurp the story, as happened with Dune. And I have the Dune miniseries but haven't been able to muster the interest to watch it, even though many people say it is a superior product. I guess I prefer Herbert as a short story writer and sociological commentator, not as a novelist. And few books adapt well as movies.