Where to start with David Lynch’s Dune? Should I start with the terrible, confusing script? What about the amazing art direction; the awesome score by both Toto and Brian Eno; the great cast that didn’t do anything spectacular; the special effects that I loved as a child and look somewhat dated nowadays? Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal 1960’s science fiction novel, spawning a line of sequels and spin-off novels penned by his son, is an attempt to turn a very complex story into a two and a half hour extravaganza. Even the extended cut that appeared on television a few years after its theatrical release (attributed to director Alan Smithee, which is a pseudonym given when directors don’t want their name attached to a film) didn’t make much sense. Actually, the non-director director’s cut is worse than the original theatrical version. It uses effects shots out of context, contains a score that runs continuously throughout the picture, and substitutes Virginia Madsen’s narration for a man’s, which sounds corny. The only positive of the extended version is the few extra scenes, which don’t help the film but are enjoyable to a fan of the film, which I am.
Yes, I am a fan of Lynch’s Dune, even though I rip on it constantly. It’s really awful, but I saw it in the theater as a tiny child. I was mesmerized by the sandworms, the Baron Harkonnen, and the other visuals associated with it. It’s embarrassing to watch nowadays, since it’s quite moronic. It’s like my take on The Goonies – if you didn’t watch it as a child it doesn’t contain that sense of adventure associated with adolescence.
The film features a great cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Sting, Sean Young, Everett McGill, Brad Dourif, Max Von Sydow, Jack Nance, Francesca Annis, and many more. The acting is good considering the script is so awful. The visuals, especially the sets, are remarkably beautiful and the cinematography is exquisite. Even with all of this, Dune’s a giant turd, taking away some of the credibility associated with the novels. Many things were changed from the original novel – for instance the lasers used in the film don’t exist in the novel. In the book lasers create sub-nuclear explosions when they hit shields and the Fremen fight with knives made from the teeth of sandworms. I understand wanting to change this, since choreographing a giant knife battle would be costly and difficult, but the whole chanting laser guns is a bit silly. At the end of Lynch’s Dune, Paul (MacLachlan) brings rain to Arrakis which doesn’t happen until the fourth book of Herbert’s series. Other than that, the book and the film contain many similarities, but the main points were changed to bring it to the big screen. Unfortunately, they are changes that make the film stupid.
There are a few instances in the film that seem quite moronic, especially Sting walking around half naked in the middle of the film. I’m sure it was considered profitable to feature the former front man of The Police in a skimpy outfit, but it just came across as ridiculous. There was no context the scene and it makes Lynch seem a little gay. The thoughts, projected over the characters looking longingly into space, get a little old and are an example of bad exposition. I understand the plot of Dune is very complex, but this just doesn’t work very well. MacLachlan’s, “Arrakis…Dune…desert planet,” inner dialogue is corny. The gore in the film isn’t bad for a PG-13 film, especially when the Baron Harkonnen pulls out the heart plug of a servant (supposedly every Harkonnen has a heart plug, ending in death when one is pulled out).
A few weeks ago I posted a review of The Last Airbender, where I said it’s comparable to Dune in its insipidness. I still agree with this sentiment, except I believe Dune to have more merit than The Last Airbender. Both films rely on too much exposition and don’t really go anywhere. Unlike Airbender, Dune’s characters are better; they are able to evoke emotion from the audience. At least they did when I was a child.
The plot of Dune is too complex to get into here but I do like the allegories involving the Middle East, petroleum, colonization, and other hegemonic issues. The Fremen are nothing more than a group of pissed off Muslims, colonized by outside forces oppressing them for the sake of natural resources. Herbert makes the reader think about a world without these resources and how reliant we truly are on oil. The book came out about a decade before the oil crisis of the 1970s, proving Herbert was prophetic about the world we live in. I have to agree with Neil Postman’s assertion that science fiction writers are modern day philosophers, since they have a keener insight into our world than most.
From what I understand Dune was a box office failure. It costs $40 million to produce and brought in a little over $30 million domestically. I’m not sure what it grossed overseas but I’m willing to bet it wasn’t very much. I remember a bunch of action figures were produced when the film came out and I wanted them. I never had one and I hear they go for a bunch of money nowadays.
I don’t know what else to say about Dune right now. I’m sure I’ll do a follow-up post like I did with Jaws 4: The Revenge. Here’s the trailer.