Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dune (1984)

Title: Dune (1984)

Director: David Lynch

Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Sean Young, Max Von Sydow, Dean Stockwell, Sting, Patrick Stewart, Jurgen Prochnow, Jack Nance, Virginia Madsen, Richard Jordan, Jose Ferrer, Brad Dourif

David Lynch’s Dune is a film that is hated by many but loved by another many, it’s a film that divides people, a love it or hate it type of thing, though if you ask me, there’s very little to hate about Lynch’s Dune. I’ve loved this movie ever since I was a kid, I didn’t fully “get it” back then, but there was something I liked about it anyways, my young mind recognized it as a special film. Dune is a film that I have revisited many times over in my life; it’s become one of those films that I will always love. Many years after I first discovered it, I read the book and appreciated the film on a whole other level. Considering the complexity of the book, I applaud Lynch for taking this gargantuan story and transferring it to the big screen because it was never going to be an easy job, the story that Frank Herbert weaved is epic, always has been, yet Lynch took it upon himself to film the thing, he even wrote the script himself! Many directors tried and failed for whatever the reason (Jodorowski and Ridley Scott being two of the filmmakers that didn’t end up directing) yet Lynch stuck to his guns and took the project head on. He even rejected an offer to direct Return of the Jedi (1983) in order to make Dune! Can you imagine what Return of the Jedi might have been like had Lynch directed it? Yeah, I know, the idea of Lynch playing with the Star Wars universe boggles the mind, yet I’m happy he ended up directing Dune instead because in many ways, Lynch was the perfect director for this project, especially when it comes to the more mystical aspects of the story, the telepathic abilities, Lynch had the perfect sensibilities for the more “weird” aspects of the Dune saga.

Herbert’s classic science fiction tale of politics, witches, religion and rebellion is one of those science fiction novels that any self respecting science fiction fan should tackle at some point in their lives. It really is one of the best designed fictional worlds; Herbert really constructed a fascinating, complex universe you can easily lose yourself in, a world filled with mysticism and inner dialog, of prophecies, false gods and abusive governments. The story of Dune is an all encompassing tale that covers many important aspects of our society, as you can expect, like all good science fiction, our way of life is mirrored in the story. For example, one of the main themes of the book revolves around religious fanatism, because after all, the story of Dune is one about a messiah coming to free his people, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in this fantastic tale of liberation. You see, Dune is one of those books that is so complex that Herbert created a unique lexicon just for these books. So if you ever decide to read it, just remember your going to be introduced to a whole glossary of words unique to the Dune books, in fact, just in case you get lost, the book actually includes a glossary of Dune words! Words like “Kwisatz Haderach”, “Benne Gesserit Witches” and last but not least, the “Spice Melange”, but same as reading Anthony Burgesses’s A Clockwork Orange which also created its own lexicon, all the new words will end up making perfect sense to you by the time you finish reading the book.  So I highly recommend checking this novel out to all sci-fi fans out there. As with any book to film adaptation, the question remains, was the film a good adaptation of the book?

I’d say that yes, it in deed was a good adaptation of the book. In its essence, the film tells the story of the liberation of the Fremen and the rise of Paul Moadib as ruler of the known universe. And this is coming from me, a huge fan of Frank Herbert’s Dune books! I’ve read almost all of them (still need to read the last one Chapterhouse: Dune) so I can say that yeah, Lynch’s adaptation was faithful for the most part. The only area in which he ended up changing things just a bit was in the last five minutes of film, but the rest of the film is pretty much the book. Of course, quite a few things were left out of the book in order to deliver a two hour movie. Speaking of which, the only real problem for me with the film is that if you’ve read the books, you’ll feel as if you’re seeing the story in fast forward. Truth be told, this book has enough story going for it to make two movies, but what Lynch did with the script and what the producers did when they edited the film themselves was compress the whole story into one movie; a pretty daunting task if you ask me. At the end of the day, the film kept the spirit of the book; even Frank Herbert himself complimented Lynch on the film. Herbert mentioned that he was mostly happy with the film, except for the ending which is where Lynch turned things around towards the more theatrical. You see, in the book, Paul Atreides is a man playing to be a god, without in fact being one; he recognizes the power that being a god to the masses represents, so he uses that to the peoples advantage. But the way the film ends, it makes him look like he is actually a god with powers like making it rain on planet Arrakis. This is why Herbert himself said that while he liked the film, he says that Lynch got the ending wrong. “I have my quibbles about the film, of course. Paul was a man playing a god, not a god who could make it rain” So this is really the only real difference between the books and the film. Though the ending of the film has an impact, and makes Paul Atreides a more powerful character, the problem with it is that Lynch’s ending changes the whole character around going against the actual message that Herbert was trying to put across with his book, that religion is a powerful farce used to control the masses.

In retrospective, considering how much of the story Lynch actually shot, they should have taken the opportunity to film two movies back to back. Lynch filmed enough of the story to make a four hour long movie! That’s right my friends, Lynch’s original cut of Dune was four hours long! So they might as well have split the thing in two and released it as two movies, kind of like what Tarantino did with his Kill Bill movies. But no, instead the producers decided to take the film away from Lynch and edit it down to two hours and seventeen minutes, which is one of the reasons why Lynch disowns this movie. It’s the one he considers a ‘failure’ in his career. In my opinion the resulting film is not a bad one and very far from being a failure. Lynch had shot too much good stuff for it to be bad; the result was going to be good no matter what. But obviously, had Lynch had final cut of the film, it would have been better. This is the main reason why Lynch has always denied participation in any of the dvd releases of the film. I’m wondering if maybe one day we’ll get a director’s cut of the film; which simply put, would be awesome! But considering how Lynch refuses to even talk about this film, well, I’m guessing we’ll never see that happen. As of my typing this review, there are three versions of the film, each varying in length. There’s the theatrical cut, the extended cut you get to see on television and then there’s the special edition version. The most complete one is the special edition version because it includes many scenes that were deleted from the original theatrical cut, which is a nifty extra for any Dune fan. But out of all the versions, I still prefer the original theatrical version best, it’s the one I have always known and loved. But true Dune fans will get a kick out of seeing all those scenes that were left out of the original theatrical cut.  

Lynch considers it painful to even talk about Dune! I can understand why, here’s a movie that took three years of Lynch’s life to make! This was a huge, huge production. Funny how gargantuan productions like this one often times end up in failure! To have so much of your life invested in a film that would ultimately end up not being truly yours can be a huge let down for any director, but such is the nature of big budget productions; it’s the producers or the studio who have the final say, they put up all the millions so that should not suprise anyone. Speaking of which this here movie cost something around the vicinity of 40 million dollars, yet strangely enough, it looks more expensive than some of today’s 200 million dollar movies. The art direction is truly impressive on this film! Dune was made in a time when sets were completely built, not half way digitized like most of today’s films. The film required a crew of 1700 people! 80 sets were built in 16 sound stages! I mean this movie was huge in every way you look at it; and what about that cast? So many amazing actors! And here’s this big budget movie being made by a director used to working on small budgets. The film proved to be too big for Lynch who obviously works better with smaller, more personal material. Still, if you ask me, I think the film we ended up getting is a great slice of science fiction.

Speaking of the different adaptations of Dune, there was a mini-series from director John Harrison which was actually extremely faithful to the books. From a fans point of view, John Harrisons take on Dune was an extremely complete adaptation, he even went further than Lynch’s films and adapted both Dune Messiah (the second book in the series) and Children of Dune (the third book in the series) by making a second mini-series entitled Children of Dune (2003), which by the way was also pretty good. These television mini-series, though faithful, lack the lavish production values of Lynch’s film, which is one of the things I love the most about Lynch’s Dune: how big budget it is! Speaking of the cinematic future of the Dune series, director Peter Berg (Hancock, The Kingdom) attempted a remake a while back and was actively involved in it for more than two years, but stepped down in order to direct Battleship (2012). I know that doesn’t make much sense but that’s what happened! My take on it is that Berg was probably trying to make a commercial film that would make tons of money so that he could then go on and make Dune, unfortunately, Battleship was a huge ass loud flop! So those plans went down the drain. As I type this Pierre Morel, the director behind Taken (2008) and District B-13 (2004) was the last director attached to the project, but so far nothing has come of it, here’s hoping it happens, I’d love to see the Dune universe resurrected for a new generation.

Rating: 5 out of 5


Keep your eyes peeled for David Lynch's cameo as one of the Spice Miners! 


Roman J. Martel said...

Really dig this movie. I know Lynch isn't a fan, and many of the more hardcore fans of the book really hate this film, but I think it works on so many levels, that it is impossible to dismiss.

As you mentioned the production design is amazing. Lynch and his team really created these worlds. Much like "Star Wars" or "Avatar", these worlds feel real and lived in. There is a scope to everything, feeling like we are coming in the middle of events, and that every person, place and thing has a story. Sets don't look like sets, they look like real places. Costumes look like something someone has worn and was made for them. It's really an amazing feat.

The film does this so completely that it really captured my imagination as a kid. Like you, I couldn't really follow it completely, but that kept me renting it over and over trying to piece it together. It really scared me in parts too, with the surreal imagery and the disturbing Baron (my sister still hates the film because he frightened her so much).

Lynch is a master of visual storytelling, and he really does a great job here. I've heard some folks complain the film doesn't make sense unless you've read the book. I don't agree. I think everything is there, you just need to go along from the ride. It might take a couple viewings, but it all makes sense in the end.

I would love for Lynch to return and give us a director's cut. But as you said, he really has washed his hands of this film. Really a shame.

Franco Macabro said...

I know this movie has it's fans, I mean it's kind of hard to deny how much effort went into making it. The visuals speak for themselves.

I her ya about the hardcore fans of the book not liking this film, but in all honesty, it only changes certain aspects of the book, not a lot. I was surprised to discover that the whole thing witht he "voice modulation" was put in by Lynch! So was the Baron decaying the way he was! That whole thing with the Baron bathing in blood was not in the book! But so what, in essence, the most important moments, the essence of the story was there.

The film captured my imagination as a kid as well, though I don't consider this a film for kids! Some parts of it were frightning to me too, especially the Benne Gesserit witches and their use of the "voice" I thought that was a pretty spooky aspect of the film. And those scenes with little Alia talking like an adult! Scary stuff!

I agree with you, you don't have to read the book to understand the movie, when I first saw it as a kid, I had never read the book and I "got" the movie, you know, when it comes to both the film and the book, I don't consider them as incomprehensible.

Thanks for your comment Roman!

jimmie t. murakami said...

Its true, there are some stunning sequences and sets in "Dune" but where the movie fell down at the time was with the spaceship and outer space sequences, everybody could see that those special effects were no-where near as good as they had been in the previous years mega-hit "Return of the Jedi" (still fresh in everyones mind at that time), now people are able to overlook that and just focus on all the great stuff in the movie. Like i said though, at the time people just wanted incredible space battle sequences in science-fiction movies and in the area this film simply didn`t deliver.

Franco Macabro said...

Jimmie: I hear ya, Return of the Jedi certainly raised the bar as far as what people could expect from a science fiction film. I'm sure the Star Wars movies affected Dune in a negative way, people were expecting the pop-corn blockbuster fun they'd gotten from Jedi and instead got this deep film touching upon religion and politics.

I guess a better job could have been done in educating audiences in the type of film they could have expected because DUNE was never about inter stellar dog fights or wars, the story mostly took place on the desert planet of Arrakis. While it doesnt have intere stellar wars, it does deliver in many other areas where no other film has gone before...

I mean, where else are you gonna see giant sand worms fighting a war for the dominance of a planet? Nowhere else but on Dune!

Jack Thursby said...

Love Dune - both the book and the film.

You're right, as much as the Sci-Fi channel was more faithful to the book it didn't have anywhere near the scope and spectacle of Lynch's film. I really like all the weird touches he added. It made it feel like a genuinely alien world.

The special effects fluctuate a bit. Sometimes they are top notch and other times they are pretty ropey. I think that's down to Lynch's inexperience to working with a big budget and Rafaella DeLaurentis holding the purse strings though.

The storyline is quite choppy too but I think Lynch did a decent job adapting the book all things considered. It's just such a difficult book to translate to the screen because of that massive lexicon at the back. Apparently, at some screenings they gave people a printed sheet explaining a few of the key terms! I have watched the extending cut but I didn't feel it worked (the pacing was even more erratic.)

I agree with Herbert the ending is a bit difficult to reconcile. I much prefer the book's cynical idea of religion.

SFF said...

I wanted to take a moment to tell you what a nice write up.

I never saw this film. It was only in the last year I finally took some time to watch it.

Like you, I agree on the one hand that I definitely don't hate this film. In fact, there was a lot to like about it.

I feel like, as weird as I am, I may never completely get David Lynch.

I suspect I have some re-watches ahead of me to continue immersing myself in the world of Lynch. But I had much the same response to Twin Peaks. Again, liked many things about it, and appreciated many things about it, but still kind of feel like a disembodied viewer. : )

I suspect Ewoks may have ended up dead.

I remember reading reviews and how many were very concerned about adapting the book. I mean, people were walking into cinemas and being handed guides to this film you know. Many argued that wasn't a good sign.

Still, it is complex, rich and visually arresting.

Re: your remarks on religion. It's fair to say there are so many religions some are doing much more than control the masses my friend. I think you'll find there are even people who enjoy their faith but probably don't feel like they are controlled automotons. Just my two cents there.

And you say that Dune was "too big" for Lynch yet you give it five stars. My understanding would be that five stars is perfection to a degree. It would seem Lynch succeeded quite nicely in your estimation and that it probably wasn't. ;)

So, I really enjoyed your write up Franco and learned some new things about and some new perspectives regarding the picture. I will look forward to getting back to it again some day.

Regarding books and films as a topic in general. It's always interesting to me that people get so tied up and tangled up by those things. I just never view them as being mediums that must go hand in hand. I've always kept them separate and I guess that has worked for me quite well through the years.

So, all in all, Dune is a pretty impressive film particularly given its competition and the year it was released. It is a truly incredible looking place to me.

Thumbs up on the review Fran

Franco Macabro said...

@Jack Thursby: As for the fx, sometimes the blue screens didn't work so great, but for the most part, Lynch was working with top notch talent, he used impressive miniatures, awesome matte paintings, cool monster effects Rambaldi worked on this one, he is one of the greats on this field.

I guess the only fault would be with the blue screen compositions. That technology was in diapers back then, even in films like Return of the Jedi, these blue screen effects weren't perfect.

But in all else I think Dune did good for the time it was made. Obviously by todays standards it would fall short.

Yeah, that extended cut isn't so great, I mean in terms of what we get to see it's great, but in terms of the way it was edited, it doesn't have finesse, it feels like somebody came in and edited that thing just to release it on dvd and truth be told, in terms of content it was cool. I love seeing all those scenes that had been left in the editing room floor.

Yeah, that was crazy, giving out hand outs before going into the movie....people were supposed to read these in the darkness of the movie theater? Doesnt even make sense! I think the underestimated audiences, I think people would eventually "get it" on their own.

Franco Macabro said...

SFF: I remember an Ewok dying in Jedi, the one that gets shot to death by a laser...and then that other little Ewok comes and cries next to it, such a sad scene in Jedi! But wow, Lynch directing Jedi would've been something! It would have been even darker I think!

About religion in Herberts Dune, well, it is portrayed as a negative thing in society, as a tool to manipulate the perception of the masses, to control them, this isnt me, it's Herbert's book man!

Actually, all through out the saga, religion is portrayed as a lie, especially when it comes to Paul Muadib as a ruler and even further down the road, he's son becomes a despot and uses religious mythology to his advantage as well.

In these books, religion is just another tool of the government. It is a very complex religious mythology, and one that many characters in the book take seriously, but we get shown in the book both sides of the tale, the way people see religion, and the way government uses it. It's a really fascinating look at religion, the book gives us a very macro view of it.

But I hear ya about some people enjoying their religion, for some people it works and makes them happy, others can live without it, such is the nature of the world, we got all kinds of people on this planet!

I do think this production was too big for Lynch, but its a testament to his talent that he turned in an amazing film anyways whic is why I gave it a five. I know Lynch himself despises it because it was taken from him, but still, I love it.

I guess it was just a misunderstood film, it went against expectations of sci-fi film at the time.

Maurice Mitchell said...

It's a brilliant film although very controversial. Some of it worked like "I must not fear" and some of it didn't. Like the cat juicer. But overall, it's a masterpiece of film-making.

Franco Macabro said...

Ha ha, the cat juicer! That was all Lynch! So was The Baron being all gross and filled with decease! Many of the grosses elements were Lynchian in nature!

Unknown said...

Count me as a fan of this film as well. Sure, narratively it is a mess, but the visuals are so rich and powerful that they just wash over you. Like all of Lynch's films, DUNE is incredibly atmospheric and has an undeniably specific mood that just gets me every time.

robotGEEK said...

I love your enthusiasm in this piece. lol. I've only seen this a few times, but have a difficult relationship with it. I love the design and scope and most of all, the score! But found it so slow that it "always" put me to sleep. But! You've made me want to revisit it and see how I feel about it now. I just purchased the Blu ray literally a few minutes ago. Thanks for the inspiration!

Franco Macabro said...

Cool robotGEEK! Looking forward to reading your review for it! I have that special edition dvd which is pretty nifty, it has so many extras and different versions of the film....but a blue ray is an enticing idea, I think I will be purchasing it myself!

Saidi of the 90's said...

I've watched it recently and to be honest, I don't see the problem with it. I had no problem understanding it and the style is a treat to watch.
And while I haven't read the Frank Herbert book, Lynch's flick DID remind me of the origin of my favorite Marvel Superhero. ;)
Seriously to me, David Lynch's Dune is easily the most accurate X-men movie I've ever seen !

Franco Macabro said...

Highly recommend Frank Herberts original six books, they are one hell of a sci-fi experience, epic in every sense of the word, without a doubt in my mind the most immersive/complex science fiction epic ever written. If you love science fiction, this is one series of books you must read.


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