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Dune is the tale of the planet Arrakis (aka Dune, because it's basically a planet-wide desert). The planet has a messload of huge sandworms, who can gobble you up whole. So the planet's not worth much, right? Au contraire, Jose Ferrer! The worms are the source of "melange," a spice that provides such physical benefits that half the human population ingests it like Marion Barry at a coke breakfast. The Bene Gesserit use it to heighten their senses, the Mentats use it to improve their cognitive abilities, and the Spacing Guild use it to move shit around. So the Empire mines this spice to feed everyone's addiction. No easy task, what with these sandworms crawling around. But get this: huddling around in the caves of Dune are these people called the Fremen. They kick ass. Want proof? Okay: to get around the desert, instead of driving or flying, they ride the worms! That's right--they fucking ride on the worms' backs. Damn!
So one might think the Empire would use these Fremen to mine their spice. But no, the mining is controlled by the Emperor who farms the mining operations out to the various "Houses" of the Landsraad. As the story begins, this job is being transferred from House Harkonnen (the bad guys) to House Atreides (the good guys).
In addition to the assorted Houses, there are various groups, schools, and religious orders vying for influence in the Empire:
Bene Gesserit: a religious order based on the Jesuit priesthood, but with more vaginas.
Mentats: Humans whose cognitive ability is so highly developed that they can update a checkbook (getting the correct balance every time) and understand the plot to the movie Primer.
The Spacing Guild: Humans who have ingested so much spice that they have the ability to fold space making faster-than-light travel possible.
The Suk School: A medical school whose students undergo Imperial Conditioning to prevent them from taking the life of another person, even if that person talks during a movie.
Shaddam Corrino IV: Padishah Emperor of the known universe. Kind of like George W. Bush, but without Dick Cheney.
Gaius Helen Mohiam: Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit (who shares a name with Baltar).
Princess Irulan: Bene Gesserit Daughter of Shaddam IV and chronicler of Paul Atreides' history.
Duke Leto Atreides I: Duke of House Atreides.
Lady Jessica: Bene Gesserit concubine of Duke Leto.
Paul Atreides: Son of Leto and Jessica who throughtout the tale of Dune plays the role of "The Shizznit."
Alia Atreides: Daughter of Leto and Jessica, who is born with full consciousness because of Jessica's participation in the "spice agony."
Duncan Idaho: Swordmaster for House Atreides (and the only character to appear in all six of Herbert's Dune novels, despite being killed a few times).
Gurney Halleck: A vastly talented troubadour warrior for House Atreides. He's the kind of guy that would show up to a battle ready to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And even if he still had plenty of bubblegum left, he'd still kick ass.
Dr. Yueh: Suk doctor for House Atreides, and noted pervert ("Yueh! Yueh! Yueh!" goes the refrain. "A million breasts were not enough for Yueh!").
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen: Ruler of House Harkonnen. Clearly he's the bad guy--he has both "Baron" and "Vladimir" in his name.
Glossu "Beast" Rabban: Nephew of Baron Harkonnen, vying for control of House Harkonnen.
Feyd-Rautha: Nephew of Baron Harkonnen and younger brother of Rabban, whom the Baron is preparing for a solo career after the Police break up.
Piter DeVries: Twisted Mentat (much like comedian Charles Fleischer) who serves Baron Harkonnen.
Stilgar: Naib (which is Fremen for "Head Honcho") of Sietch (Fremen for "village") Tabr (Fremen for "Tabr").
Chani: Elfin-faced Fremen. Seriously, she's elfin-faced; this is apparently an important point for Herbert, since he mentions it five times!
Dune made it to the big screen in the 1984 film Dune, directed by David Lynch. It clocked in at 137 minutes, which still wasn't enough time to tell the full story of Herbert's 500+ page novel. To compensate, many theaters handed out cheat sheets to the viewers so they (if they hadn't read the book) would know what the hell was going on. Astonishingly, this is the only David Lynch film that this idea has been tried with.
In 2000, Dune was made into a three-part miniseries on the SciFi channel (before it became the SyFy channel). Spread out over three nights, director John Harrison was able to tell the story without being rushed. And, of course, he got to use CGI.
Dune fans have debated which version is superior (when they're not complaining about how Star Wars is Dune for dumb people). In the chart below, we provide the key pieces of evidence in this debate. (Note: we are using the original David Lynch version and John Harrison's Special Edition of Dune.)
There you have it: the 2000 version is clearly superior. This may change, as production has begun on a new Dune movie, set for a 2012 release. Just as the Mayan calendar predicted.
Some have suggested that much of the Star Wars story is a blatant ripoff of Dune. Indeed, suppose the planet of Tatooine were populated by sandworms. Now suppose the Sandpeople were replaced by stillsuit-wearing Fremen. Next, what if we replaced light sabers with crysknives, and had the Jedi use those as weapons? And instead of relying on the Force, their senses are heightened by a spice produced by the sandworms. Then suppose Robocop showed up, and forced Godzilla to ride one of the sandworms, while he was being attacked by an Alien. And then a Predator appears, picking on Optimus Prime. Clearly that that would be a kickass movie.
How many copyright violations can you spot?
The two Dune movies had soundtracks, of course. The 1984 soundtrack was done by Toto. Which means it was good. If you go to Amazon.com, you can get it and check it out. Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you. The 2000 soundtrack was done by Graeme Revell, who does a lot of soundtracking for movies. But in addition to these two albums, there is also the album Dune: Spice Opera, a collection of the music from Cryo Interactive's 1992 Dune video game. The album, however is out of print, and EMI (which owns the rights to the music) won't hand the rights back to the composers. Kull wahad the fuck?!