I haven’t seen the new Dune movie and am not sure I will, in part because my partner just doesn’t care about that kind of movie (and I could never do anything like going to see a movie by myself), and in part because I have to be careful going out given my current immuno-compromised condition.
I have seen the first two episodes of the Foundation TV series, and found it OK. Some of Asimov’s content is detectable. But reviews of the third episode make it sound like it’s become Star Wars, complete with a Death Star surrogate, so I don’t think I’ll continue.
Reactions to Foundation are increasingly negative. Reactions to Dune are mostly positive, but some quite negative, among my Facebook friends, and in the reviews. I’ll collect a few links here for, perhaps, future reference.
First is Paul Krugman, well-known for being a fan of the Asimov books.
Paul Krugman, NYT, 26 Oct 21: ‘Dune’ Is the Movie We Always Wanted
The great thing about Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune: Part I” is that he respects the audience enough to retain the book’s spirit. He trimmed the narrative to reduce it to filmable size — and even so, his two and a half hours cover only the first half of the book — but he didn’t dumb it down. Instead, he relies on spectacle and spine-tingling action to hold our attention despite the density of the story. In so doing he made a film worthy of the source material.
Then there’s Michael Dirda, in WaPo, 21 Oct: ‘Dune’ has long divided the science fiction world. The new film won’t change that.
Describing the book,
Overall, the “good” characters are preternaturally gifted, some with witchy mental powers, others with samurai-like fighting skills, while the “bad” are obscene monsters of sadism, greed and ambition.
One of the reasons I never warmed to the novel: this kind of simplistic characterization. (IIRC correctly the chief villain is homosexual, and his homosexuality is associated with his being evil. First Google link on this topic: Homophobia in Dune.) Another reason: the book’s messiah theme.
As is widely known, science fiction novels only appear to be about the future or other worlds. In fact, they are nearly always oblique commentaries on the times in which they were written — or filmed. Villeneuve’s “Dune,” even more than the original novel, addresses such contemporary hot-button issues as ecology, climate and conservation, colonialist exploitation of third-world countries, drug culture, the role of women in society and religious fanaticism. More surprisingly, it is also a paean to family life, tenderly portraying the love of Duke Leto Atreides for his son Paul, whom he no longer quite understands, and the close, sometimes tense relationship between that sensitive young man and his remarkable mother, the Lady Jessica, a concubine specially trained by the Bene-Gesserit. In fact, Jessica is the most vivid, the most fascinating character on screen. In a world of sudden violence, she is always cool, self-controlled and unafraid, qualities she has passed on to Paul.
Dirda’s brief takes on several other SF classics, at the very end, are apt.
I’ve been thinking I need to reread Dune anyway, whether or not as a briefing for the film. I last read it in 1976, and need to write a thumbnail profile of it for my sfadb.com ranking. We’ll see.
We have, by the way, been to the coastal Oregon Dunes park that supposedly inspired Frank Herbert. (We stopped there on the drive back from seeing the eclipse in 2017.)
Krugman said this too, but here’s an earlier take on the Foundation series:
Gizmodo, 22 Oct 21: Foundation Just Became Star Wars, and It Sucks, subtitled, “This week’s episode of the Apple TV+ adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi classic reveals the creators’ lack of faith in the original books.”
The subtitle captures my issue with most film adaptations. Studios are anxious to make as much money as possible, and so adapt their source material to be as much like popular works of the past as they can, usually drowning out what was distinctive about the originals.
Discussing the Death Star-like ship:
The idea of the Invictus is such a cheap sci-fi trope, and so antithetical to Foundation and everything it was trying to do and say that it’s astonishing to me that it was added. It either betrays such a lack of trust that audiences will stay interested in the show, or that the showrunners ever believed the books had the capacity to interest audiences on their own. There are many other wild deviations from the books in “Death and the Maiden,” but this one feels like the most egregious and the most insulting.
Then there’s this piece:
Alyssa Rosenberg, Washington Post, 20 Oct 21: Opinion: Humanity needs big plans. ‘Dune’ and ‘Foundation’ show how hard it is to make them.
Citing Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry of the Future as a more recent example of a science fictional long-term project, to counter climate change.
Sometimes such projects don’t work:
Sometimes, that’s because science is uncertain. But there are also plenty of variables, human and otherwise, that pose disruptions.
A central issue:
It’s hard to ask people to act on a scale that defies normal human understanding. … More than that, though, most people simply aren’t capable of suspending all human desire in service of plans they won’t live to see carried out.
With examples from both Foundation and Dune.
And here’s Wired about Neal Stephenson’s next big novel, which is about climate change: Sci-Fi Icon Neal Stephenson Finally Takes on Global Warming, subtitled, “The renowned author says his genre should inspire solutions. In his new novel, Termination Shock, he tackles our most existential crisis.”
Haven’t read this yet. The article I mean; the book isn’t out yet.
The examples touch on a running theme here in this blog, one that runs through a lot of science fiction: the battle between conservative short-sightedness, or simple denial of responsibility to find solutions for long-term threats, and the necessity to solve such threats to avoid the destruction of the species. The bug, or perhaps feature in certain contexts, of humanity’s focus on the present, and immediate surroundings, despite an intellectual understanding of what’s going on elsewhere, or later.
These are the ideas that science fiction addresses at its best. When not distracted by enormous Death Star spaceships.