Dune (1984) — Nobody else understands this plot, either

“Fear is the mind killer.”

Justin’s rating: Dune or a Real World marathon? No contest. Bring on the whiny kids.

Justin’s review: Seven years after Twin Peaks went off the air, my friend Lance and I discovered it for the first time and devoured all 30 episodes. We loved David Lynch’s surrealistic, unpredictable, post-modern style as much as his characters Agent Cooper and Laura Palmer. Alas, while Lynch’s movies hold the same qualities, they fall flatter than a pancake man walking down syrup alley on a hot summer day.

1997’s Lost Highway was one of the most drawn-out movies I have ever had the disprivilege of sitting through. I’d literally fast-forward fifteen minutes at a time, just to see some plot development. While relatively faster paced, Lynch’s Dune still drags and has an awkward pace. Prepare for the remote control.

It’s a confusing movie about a confusing novel, centered around the fight for a planet with this valuable “spice.” Too bad they made it before a certain British pop group became popular (and then fell out of popularity); I could see the tie-ins with Spice Girls. You have Kyle MacLachlan as your standard hero who rallies some rebel people to fight some bad people. Patrick Stewart is in this, as is Sting (although both roles are awful and incomprehensible). The dialogue is about as stilted as reading most short stories from Beginning Creative Writing in college.

For a science-fiction movie, it quickly breaks down into a low-level fantasy. From starships we eventually get to large sand worms. From the exciting possibilities of futuristic cities and space stations, we’re grounded on a desert planet. Yay! Duller than Tatooine! From laser guns we get to people who fight by cupping their hands, screaming, and amplifying their sound waves. For the layperson, that translates into some grunts and people mysteriously flying backward. Star Wars this ain’t.

When it all comes down to is that Dune is just boring. Long, dull, and uninteresting. See it only if you are hardcore.

Shalen’s rating: One out of two freaky blue eyeballs.

Shalen’s review: The Internet Movie Database is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

And I say this not merely because it acts as a giant cheat sheet for those of us needing quick trivia on a particular film. No, the IMDB is wonderful for another very important reason: spelling. How on earth would I ever know how to spell “Feyd-Rautha” or that there is an apostrophe in “Maud’Dib?” Particularly since I did not read the book Dune past about page 150?

Which brings me to the usual disclaimer about these translations — I haven’t read the books. Yes, I got partway into the first one, but I quit about the time Paul’s visions started taking up as much space as the actual plot.

The plot. Ha ha. You might have a look at the opening title lines down at the bottom there, because it’s large and complex. Basically, everyone needs this orange spice Melange for space travel, it only comes from one planet*, and that planet is about to acquire its Chosen One Who Can Save Us All and ruin everyone’s plans for galactic domination.

That Chosen One is, in this case, Paul Atreides. Dune doesn’t bother with any of this “unlikely hero” nonsense. No, Paul is a highly privileged individual from a rich family who have given him every advantage. And of course there are prophecies, and of course he fulfills every single one of them. I don’t know if there is one that says “The Chosen One shall have an exotic girlfriend who can shoot a laser gun,” but that happens, too.

And those of you who are tired of morally ambiguous movies wherein you cannot identify the villain need look no further than Baron Harkonnen. I can just picture Frank Herbert sitting down and saying, “Now, let’s see. Murderous tyrant. Hideously fat. Huge, disgusting boils. Revoltingly perverted. Did I miss anything…? Oh, yes, and he spits when he talks.” It’s as if Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies suddenly became a serious character. The whole movie is more or less that way. The Baron is horribly ugly; Paul has boyish good looks. The Baron is an incestuous murderer; Paul rescues his mother and unborn sister from a sandworm. The Baron hurts little kitties; Paul saves a mere housekeeper from death by floating syringe. And so on.

I understand there was a three hour version of this, and what I saw is the much-reviled two hour cut. Frankly there was exactly no point in my viewing when I looked at the screen and said, “Hey, this movie should have been a lot longer.” It’s a little slow to start, and Paul spends a lot of time staring off into space while voiceovers indicate his thoughts, and another hour of establishing screen time just would not help at all.

Which brings me to the voiceovers. Apparently the original novels contain a lot of internal narrative and surrealistic visions, which I recall was one of the things that caused me to stop reading them. This sort of writing style does not translate easily to film, wherein emotions generally have to be simple enough to be indicated by actors’ faces and dialogue. Director David Lynch chose instead to render characters’ thoughts in voiceover through the entire movie. And I’m not just talking about two or three of the main characters, I’m talking about practically everyone. I half-expected the camera to zoom in on the dog’s** unmoving lips and the soundtrack to say, “Woof!”

So there is some unintentional comedy. I imagine I am going to seriously annoy some of you Herbert fans in our reading audience, but let me remind you that, although I wasn’t terribly fond of the books, I am fully accepting of the idea that this movie is a less-than-perfect screen translation of ditto.

At least, I sincerely hope it is.

I’d have to say my favorite thing about this movie, as with the books, was the sandworms. The image of this giant creature rising up out of the ground and swallowing an entire mining installation was awe-inspiring, and it’s one of the few things I’d like to see again. And the electric guitar chord that suddenly appears in the soundtrack when Paul first rides a worm*** is very effective, given the typical space opera soundtrack in the film to that point. The special effects work fine when they involve models — as with the worms — and not so well when they involve surrealistic things. CGI really would not have helped the ships or worms, but it would have done a lot for the pilots and what they do.

En fin, there’s a very good reason why this movie didn’t do as well as Star Wars, but I’d say it merits a look. If you can sit through the slow first half, the second half is undoubtedly worth your time.

*Okay, wait. They tell us space travel is impossible without this spice. They also do not indicate that space travel originated on Arakkis, which seems to be mostly a backwater world. Think about that one for a second.
**The Duke has a pet pug. Sadly, it is never eaten by a sandworm.
***I swear to Cthulhu I am not making this up.

Didja notice?

  • You know, the gullet of that sandworm looks a LOT like the nesting place of the ever-mighty Sarlacc.
  • The blue eyeball effect. Sweet.
  • That pilot-creature’s “mouth” looks, um, non-mouthlike.
  • “Good against remotes is one thing. Good against the living…” Luke has nothing on Paul, apparently.
  • Women are allowed exactly one cool thing in this galaxy, and they just stomp all over that with this, don’t they?
  • Thufir has to live by milking a cat? Whuh? And why the heck is that rat there? It’s also funny that the cat they chose is a hyperactive Sphynx and it won’t hold still.
  • Jurgen Prochnow as the Duke, back before he slid so far as to be in a Uwe Boll movie.
  • Is there any possible way they could have made the Baron less appealing?
  • Possible source of the MST3K running joke: “I WILL kill you!”
  • Patrick Stewart in a rare pre-Trek role that is not Shakespeare. Oh, is it EVER not Shakespeare.
  • This film has lots of ethnic diversity. You have your white people with stained lips, white people with bald heads, white people mutated into big squids, white people with blue eyeballs, etc.

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