Sometime, not so long ago, I was meant to go out to the pub and meet a close friend but something personal came up and he had to cancel. With no other social arrangements to fall back on, I thought I’d spend an alternative night of indoor entertainment. Cut to Blockbuster, and what do I see on the sci-fi shelf? Dune, that’s what! After double checking that it was in fact the David Lynch film and not the later TV mini-series, I paid my money and went home to watch it.
Cup of tea made and biscuits out, I settled down to watch it. It all started quite promisingly with some P rincess Irulan giving a monologue about the future of mankind and the spice called malange (Virginia Madsen I believe!). Very engaging and imaginative, and not completely unlike the intro to The Fellowship of the Ring in the feelings it aroused (although nowhere near as emotive).
At that point I was quite excited, especially as I didn’t really remember any of it and it was looking very promising! About 15 minutes in and the script had (quite literally) lost the plot for me. On one hand I really felt I was watching a future, alien society, which was good, but as a piece of entertainment it was almost ignoring the fact it had an audience- characters came and went with little or no introduction or motivation, lines were delivered with little context, scenes were obviously there for exposition and to just drive the plot (but seemed to be failing at both) and some of the acting was particularly poor. Despite great veterans like Max Von Sydow and Jose Ferrer. Although to be fair I’m not sure if that was more to do with the style of the production and the lines they were given as to the actors themselves. On the plus side, Patrick Stewart equips himself well and is one of the few characters to displays any convincing emotion. A lot of the characters also have a corny voice over, which goes some way to explaining what is going on (and confusing things in the process- quite a feat!) Then another character will come in and explain what is happening out loud anyway!…and it still makes no sense! A lot of things happen without much rational explanation (in the context of the universe it’s set in) and I almost got used to wondering what the hell was going on!
It looks fantastic- all sumptuous Boroque- but while I appreciate it’s a complex story, it’s not that complex! In other words, the narrative should have been clearer. As it was, I found a lot of it a muddled mess that was extremely hard to follow. Too much occurs with no decent explanation. I don’t want to be spoon fed at all, but how they thought this would appeal to the toy buying kids is beyond me; maybe Dino de Laurentis didn’t know what kind of film Lynch would give him.
It does have some very surreal moments, which I liked and the visuals are usually impressive to match, but half the time it seemed to making a logical, well written story into a bit of a confusing mess. Maybe Herbert’s novel wasn’t as easy to film as they thought.
Also (and I thought this was hard to overlook for a $45m film in ‘84) the special effects weren’t always all that special. Lynch and his team had a gargantuan budget to work with, and four years to come up with something utterly groundbreaking, and yet it didn’t turn out that way.
I loved the worms, they worked especially well, but as soon as they have to appear on screen with the actors I saw the worst back projection/colour seperation/blue screen this side of a cheap ’70s sci-fi TV show! The attack on the citadel looked like something out of Thunderbirds (and no offence to Thunderbirds; their effects were good for a well funded puppet show and in parts the acting was actually better!) So I’m not saying that this is a bad thing- I like the shows that look that way, and applaud them for innovative effects on a smaller scale and lesser budget. But when something is this expensive and grand it really does let the rest of the picture down- in that respect, this is no Star Wars. Plus the rest of the film wasn’t quite getting me on side, so perhaps the effects attracted more harsh criticism from me than would be usually the case. But, there were parts I loved. Like I said, the sand worms were generally very good!
The ending sums up my thoughts about it really. It should have been epic, but it’s actually a bit silly. The Baron whizzes off into the desert to be promptly eaten by a worm (I actually laughed at that, I have to say), Our hero Paul Atreides picks a fight with Sting’s character after failing to say anything memorable to the attentive crowds, and then even the fight is lame. Then it starts to rain! What the hell?! Isn’t water fatal to the worms? Don’t the worms help create spice?! Aren’t thousands of people addicted to the spice?! Is this really what Paul intended? Does anybody react is if that is what has actually happened?! Does this make any sense??!!
I expect Dune is one of those films that is difficult to judge. I can’t quite bring myself to completely write it off. I liked it for being so stylish and evoking a sense of place and mood. In that respect it’s a good film. On the other hand it left me confused and exasperated about who was doing what and why and having such a messy script with such clunky and dreary dialogue. Every word was epic and portentous, which was the point I suppose, but it left little room for any emotional involvement with the characters or their adventures. It’s a great big mess, but it still has much to recommend it and I praise it for its stylistic daring and I do find it oddly inspiring. But any frustrated audience who wants to throw tomatoes at the screen will have my sympathy and understanding!