Year: 1984

Production: Dino De Laurentiis / Universal

Director: David Lynch

Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis, Kenneth McMillan, Sting, Sean Young, and many others

Screenwriter: David Lynch

Based on Dune (1965) by Frank Herbert

137 minutes. Color

Seldom has a big-budget genre film been so execrated by fans and film critics alike. Certainly its narrative is confused to the point of incoherence, showing signs of last-minute, lunatic cutting. Certainly the many-layered story of Herbert's original, with its complex intellectual structure (occasionally also vague), is here largely reduced to melodrama. Certainly the distilled grotesqueries with Baron Harkonnen and his nephew Feyd Rautha (McMillan and Sting) are envisaged belongs to a world more disgusting than anything invented by Herbert. Certainly the final three-quarters of a long novel is reduced to a ludicrously fast-moving half-hour or so. Yet the film was, after all, made by David Lynch, master of weirdness, whose previous films had been Eraserhead (1976) and The Elephant Man (1980), and whose subsequent works would include Blue Velvet (1986) and the pilot of Twin Peaks (1989) - remarkable movies all. It may be time to reappraise Dune, which Lynch clearly conceived in terms of emblematic tableaux, like scenes from some stately, hieratic pageant. Much of the production design - but not the sandworms - was wonderfully original and exotic; the camerawork (by Freddie Francis) made confident, artistic use of light and shade, glowing golds and deep shadows. However bad the film may have been in some respects, the neo-Baroque of the whole thing, not least in the Harkonnen sequences, is one of the most interesting attempts yet to capture a look and a feeling for sf that does not simply depend (as Herbert's original did not) on technological gimmickry. Bits of this bad film are close to masterful.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

A brave attempt to bring Frank Herbert's novel, a landmark of modem sf, to the screen, Dune finally fails, ironically because Lynch is too faithful to the sprawling work to do it justice. At various times a project for Roger Corman, Ridley Scott and Alexandro Jodorowsky (who got the closest of the three to making it), the film was finally offered to Lynch who in Eraserhead (1978) demonstrated a similar cosmic imagination to Herbert's, albeit on a far more intimate scale. Thus, it is all the more surprising that as well such bizarre creations as the maggot-like Supreme Being, the giant sandworms and (most successful of all) McMillan's bloated villain, Lynch opts for a relatively straightforward narrative in which much of the in an expository rather than dramatic fashion. As a result much of the film, its breathtaking visuals notwithstanding, is dramatically flat.

MacLachlan is Paul Atreides, whose family is given the governorship of the desert planet of Dune on which is mined the spice melange - the key commodity of life. However, on their arrival on Dune, the Atreides family is virtually wiped out by McMillan's Evil Baron Harkonnen and MacLachlan flees to the desert where he unites the Fremen tribesmen and sets out to wrest control of Dune from the Harkonnen family. However, too much screen time is given to the religious underpinnings - the idea of MacLachlan as a Messiah and the feudal pageantry of Herbert's world - of this simple adventure story on a grand scale. Similarly, Lynch wastes his strong supporting cast (which includes the likes of Ferrer, Sting, Annis and Phillips) in a barrage of cameo roles that only serve to clutter and further confuse the narrative.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

Related Links:
Classic Science Fiction Reviews at scifi.com

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