Author Archive | Roderick

Mr. Sand Man, Bring Me a Dream, Part 2

While Dune’s influence on subsequent science-fiction and fantasy works is vast, the two franchises on which it’s had the most obvious impact in particular are Star Wars and Game of Thrones / Song of Ice and Fire.

Of course SPOILERS for all three series:

Star Wars parallels:

  • There’s a galactic empire, with royal houses, commercial guilds, and a less than benevolent Emperor.
  • The setting is so distant in time and space that Earth is either unknown or nonexistent.
  • The hero to whom we’re first introduced is an orphaned boy on a desert planet, the subject of messianic prophecies, with a mystical destiny based on his bloodline, who turns out to be the son/grandson of the main villain.
  • There’s an ancient order of priest(ess)-magicians, trained in manipulation and mind control.
  • There’s a desert-dwelling warrior group wearing special suits.
  • There’s a constant danger of the good guys being taken over by the dark side of their powers.
  • There’s an entire planet devoted to making clones.
  • One protagonist foresees, by mystical means, that his wife will die in childbirth, a future he attempts unsuccessfully to prevent – but he mistakenly foresees a single child when in fact twins are born, a boy and a girl, mystically linked and sharing an important destiny.
  • Spice mines, technology for moisture farming a.k.a. dew collecting, and vehicles called sandcrawlers are all featured.
  • The Krayt dragon skeleton in ANH, the asteroid slug in ESB, and the Sarlacc in ROTJ all resemble sandworms.
  • Jabba the Hutt resembles a major sandworm/human hybrid character in the fourth Dune book.
  • Arrakis has twin moons, and a messianic protagonist takes his name from one of them; Tatooine has twin suns, which are the basis for the messianic title “Son of the Suns.”
  • Even the names “Anakin” and “Arrakis/Arrakeen” look a bit alike.

Depriving the giant worm of its tasty flying snack.

Game of Thrones / Song of Ice and Fire parallels:

  • The setting is a world with an unusual ecology.
  • There are feuding noble houses, with the leader of the most honourable house being betrayed and murdered early on by representatives one of the least honourable houses, causing his child/children to go on the run.
  • One protagonist, the heir of an exiled noble house, finds shelter with a nomadic desert tribe, rises to become their ruler, learns to ride gigantic dangerous sandworms/dragons, is the subject of messianic prophecies, and leads a heroic revolt against oppressors, but is nevertheless in constant danger of succumbing to the temptation to follow in the footsteps of his/her crazy/evil ancestor.
  • Another protagonist, a boy with prophetic visions, eventually transcends his humanity and becomes the supreme ruler.
  • There’s a secret community of people who’ve developed the ability to alter their faces at will, called “Face Dancers” in Dune and “Faceless Men” in Game of Thrones (and the latter come from the same city as the “Water Dancers”).
  • An elegant, devious, and powerful witch serves as a royal advisor but really seeks to advance the messianic prophecies of her order.

(Of course another influence on Game of Thrones is Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonrider series. A female protagonist who learns how to ride dragons is the most obvious parallel, but we’ve also got political intrigue in a quasi-feudal but non-Earth setting, and a cyclically recurring existential threat to which dragonfire plus an ancient order of guardsmen are the crucial antidote, but it’s been so long since the threat last manifested that most people dismiss it as a myth.)


SciFi SongFest, Songs 277-279


Three songs comparing love with space travel:

277. Duke Ellington, “Moon Maiden” (1969):

Written to coincide with the actual moon landing, this song features some clever lyrics with an astronaut’s journey to the moon serving as a metaphor for courtship, and/or vice versa (“I’m just a fly-by-night guy … I made my approach and then revolved”)

You can hear the lyrics more clearly in this version, where he switches from singing them to speaking them:

278. Police, “Walking on the Moon” (1979):

279. Justin Timberlake, “Spaceship Coupe” (2013):


Mr. Sand Man, Bring Me a Dream

As Denis Villeneuve’s star-studded first installment of what Dune fans hope will be an adaptation of the entire saga or at least a decent chunk of it (though I wonder how contemporary American audiences will react to a story in which the heroes are explicitly Arabic-inflected mujahideen and jihadis fighting to protect their desert world and its one major hyper-lucrative natural resource against foreign imperial powers and corporate cartels) heads toward its premiere some time in 2020 – along with a spin-off tv show about the Bene Gesserit, unaccountably called Dune: The Sisterhood rather than Spice Girls – I thought a quick look back at previous attempts might be worthwhile.

1. In the mid-1970s, Alejandro Jodorowsky began planning what at one point was described as a 14-hour film. Funding fell through and no film was ever produced, but at least an excellent documentary has been made about the project. Jodorowsky’s enthusiasm is infectious, and the film would surely have been memorable (if only because batshit-crazy), but none of the imagery I’ve seen from the project really looks like Dune to me. (The most Dune-looking movie I’ve ever seen is actually Lawrence of Arabia)

2. In 1984, David Lynch’s adaptation lurched onto the screen, to widespread disappointment of fans (including this one). It’s hard to know how much of the blame to assign to Lynch, and how much to studio micromanaging. (There exists both a theatrical cut and an extended cut. Neither was approved by Lynch.) I reckon there’s plenty of guilt to go around. I mean, I’ll grant the film has some good bits – moments when the magic of the original story shines through. But it buries those monents under weird story choices (we hates the Weirding Module forever), horrible casting decisions (including the too-old and too-stolid Kyle MacLachlan as the lead), and one of the most painful opening narration sequences ever inflicted on a hapless audience.

Patrick Stewart fans, listen for his voice at 0:44-48, and watch for his face at 0:54-56, and more clearly at 1:05-07.

3. and 4. The Sci-Fi [as Syfy was then known] Channel’s 2000 miniseries Dune, and its 2003 follow-up Children of Dune (which in fact adapts, if rather hurriedly, both Dune Messiah and Children of Dune), are actually pretty good, and deserve to be better-known than they are. (Most news stories on the Villeneuve project give the impression that the Lynch film was the only predecessor.) But for budgetary reasons, they are shot (by directors John Harrison and Greg Yaitanes) entirely in the studio – against the background of some admittedly quite pretty desert paintings – rather than in any actual desert locations. Imagine Lawrence of Arabia shot that way and you’ll see the problem. (Villeneuve, by contrast, is filming in Jordan.)

Addendum: Incidentally, I found an old comment of mine from 2007:

I remember my sinking feeling at the opening moments of Lynch’s Dune, when Irulan, looking more like Barbie than like a shrewd political operative, started reading blandly and incoherently while her face inexplicably faded in and out against a background of stars. And the rest was no improvement: a rigid, lifeless Paul flying around in a rigid, lifeless ornithopter; Baron Harkonnen’s sore-covered body; weirding modules; the Toto score; a desert that looked more like a waterless beach than the magical Arizona desert or the mysterious Sahara — Aaagh! and I repeat, Aaagh!


SciFi SongFest, Songs 275-276

Two secret scientific experiments, one governmental and one private. The governmental one is reminiscent of Project X in Atlas Shrugged; the private one, of H. G. Wells’ “The Chronic Argonauts.”

275. Kate Bush, “Experiment IV” (1986):

(So what happened to Experiments I, II, and III? Or is it safest not to ask?)

276. Tom Waits, “What’s He Building In There?” (1999):


SciFi SongFest, Songs 273-274

Two songs about hungry monsters from outer space:

273. Sheb Wooley, “Purple People Eater” (1958):

274. Blondie, “Rapture” (1980):

Or, Debbie Harry sneaks rap onto MTV:

And don’t miss this mash-up of “Rapture” with the Doors’ 1971 “Riders on the Storm”:

Another version:


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