a critiQal film review Dune (1984)

Plot: In the year 10191, a spice called melange is the most valuable substance known in the universe, and its only source is the desert planet Arrakis. A royal decree awards Arrakis to Duke Leto Atreides (Prochnow) and ousts his bitter enemies, the Harkonnens. However, when the Harkonnens violently seize back their fiefdom, it is up to Paul (MacLachlan), Leto's son, to lead the Fremen, the natives of Arrakis, in a battle for control of the planet and its spice.

683 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 24s)
  • ...this trippy early film in oddball director David Lynch's career has not aged well at all, and it was kind of a mess to begin with.

One film seems to come only second to the acclaimed Blade Runner (1982) in terms of the number of versions available is Dune, the 1984 film based on the classic novel by Frank Herbert. While it sort of makes sense with Blade Runner (1982) (each version changes the film somewhat), the several versions of Dune just seem to showcase how much extra footage was shot, since each keeps extending the length of the film.

But, are all the extra cuts needed? Or, are the filmmakers of Dune cashing in on a poorly made film just because director David Lynch is now famous?

Kyle MacLachlan leads the cast in Dune. Like his later, more celebrated performance in “Twin Peaks” (TV), he carries himself oddly. While it works in his later role, it gives the viewers the impression he’s a bit dispassionate about everything he’s doing – even if his role is calling for him to be passionate. It does, however, make him a good fit to partner up with the icy Sean Young. Still, their sequences of falling in love seem a bit too much for the viewer to believe.

Evidently, working on this film was the thing to do back in ’84, as so many recognizable faces turn up in Dune. With this much of a disparity between cast members though, there’s bound to be differences in performances, and that proves true for this supporting cast. Whether it’s Jurgen Prochnow’s surprisingly understated performance as Duke Leto, Dean Stockwell’s silly doctor persona (complete with a shockingly fake mustache), Virginia Madsen’s nearly unrecognizable narrator, Linda Hunt’s quick performance as Shadout Mapes, Brad Dourif’s bushy-eyed henchman, or Patrick Stewart acting like he’s trying to recreate a modern-day Shakespearean soldier, each scene with a recognizable actor gives the viewer a different tone. It’s an odd bunch to put together, and it works about as often (or maybe a little bit less) than when it doesn’t.

While the film doesn’t exactly flesh out the novel, Dune instead seems to highlight the trippiest parts of the famous book. The book immerses the reader in a detailed world that spun from Frank Herbert’s mind. The film includes that world as the backdrop for a Christ figure to do some heavy drugs, and trip out of his mind. Sure, the story is still there, but it’s obvious director David Lynch was much more focused on the odd mind trips Paul Atreides takes in order to fulfill his destiny. It’s rather an odd thing to focus on, but with oddball director David Lynch at the helm, viewers are expecting that part to be visionary. Instead, it’s a bit dull, as many of the seemingly never-ending dream sequences revolve around the same images flashing onto the screen. Maybe director Lynch got in the practice he needed making this film, as some of his other films are mind-bendingly odd (Lost Highway for example).

Sadly, many of the special effects in Dune haven’t fared very well since 1984. It’s pretty obvious that the film tried to incorporate some high-tech effects of its time, but with the advancements in technology since 1984, they seem very shoddy and unrealistic when viewed today. While the creature effects (the worms, especially) are still decent, most of the rest (including when the worm is attacking people) are showing definite signs of age. It’s too bad, as there is already so much distracting the viewer from this film that another added distraction the dated special effects add doesn’t help at all.

While trying to film this epic tale of alien planets and a fictional war seems like an ambitious task, it’s pretty obvious that director David Lynch and the special effects of the time weren’t quite up to the task. Toss in an ensemble cast of actors that don’t really mesh together, and viewers are left with a disjointed, trippy mess.

If you’re looking for an epic space opera, check out the earlier instead. As for this, chalk it up to practice for cast members Kyle MacLachlan and Patrick Stewart (among others) and director David Lynch, as they went on to bigger and better things.

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Leave a Reply

Around the Web