Directed by David Lynch
Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, Jose Ferrer, Max Von Sydow, Linda Hunt, Sting
Studio: Universal 21242
Video: 2.35:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0 French-(Theatrical version only)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Extras: Both original and extended versions on a double-sided disc, Deleted scenes with introduction, Designing Dune, Dune Effects, Dune Models, Dune Wardrobe, Photo Gallery
Length: Original Version = 2 hrs., 17 mins.; Extended Edition = 2 hrs., 57 mins.
David Lynch’s sci-fi epic interpretation of the first of Frank Herbert’s thick volumes has been criticized by many viewers and reviewers as being excessive, confusing and over the top. With 40 minutes of additional material now added in the extended edition I find the progress of the story much easier to understand for those of us who have not plowed thru Herbert’s original novels. The new version is evidently not exactly a “director’s cut” because it lists as the director not Lynch but “Alan Smithee” – a pseudonym which had been often used during the Black Listing period to disguise the identity of a director on the List. The disc packaging achieves a military metal-looking appearance, and the transfer is good – though I was hoping for a bit more detail in the dark areas of many scenes. Surround sonics, and especially the subwoofer activity of the “thumpers” is first rate.
The longer version has some problems too, but I found it an improvement over the original which leaves the viewer nonplussed at several developments in the plot. It begins with an introduction by a voiceover while we view color drawings of the various events discussed. Voiceover is used at several other points in the longer edition, sometimes just the voice of MacLachlan repeating something he had uttered earlier in the film, while we see a shot of him standing silently. Other times it sounds like part of one of the complete commentary tracks which can be selected while viewing the film – comments about something we are seeing on the screen. Another glaring error in the extended version is the re-use a couple times of special effects of soldiers being blown into the air during battles. The repetition of the brief footage occurs within minutes so it is especially obvious.
In the featurette on the film’s design, Lynch is quoted as saying he didn’t want to make a sci-fi film but instead a realistic adventure/drama. He wanted the sets to actually work so that the actors felt less false. On Dune not being sci-fi I say Nonsense – it’s a quintessential sci-fi epic! Not only the sets and space ships are magnificent but the nearly 4000 costumes in the film are memorable. The rubber Fremen stillsuits – designed to process drinkable water from sweat and body waste on the desert planet Arrakis – are truly unique. The desert scenes were shot in a desert near Mexico City at high altitude with up to 120-degree heat, and the otherwise comfortable suits became unbearable. The producers felt they got off easy with only one hospitalization and nine faintings. A fascinating theme of the design of Dune – which it shares with Brazil and some other sci-fi films – is the odd mix of futuristic space travel and advanced weapons existing at the same time as daggers made out of the worms’ teeth, the use of wax seals on letters, and 1920s-style microphones, in a feudal society.
The story? That’s not easy in a few words. MacLachlan plays Paul, the son of the ruling Duke of one of the four planets prominent in the story of Dune. His family is sent to the desert planet to oversee the mining of the spice Melange, which seems to be the droppings of the immense sandworms of the desert. Ingestion of the spice has mutated a race of space navigators who have acquired the ability to “fold” space so that the ships can travel from one planet to another without moving. There is also the Mentat – another tribe of men trained as supercomputers since thinking machines were outlawed earlier. These men are counselor-warriors to the leaders of the various worlds. A female tribe of spiritual witches is the Bene Gesserit, who over generations have engaged in a selective breeding program whose goal is the messiah figure whose mental powers will be beyond any imagined.
The relocation of the Duke’s family to Arrakis is a ruse by the evil Emperor, who arranges for the Harkonen family to attack and kill them after they are settled in. The Duke is killed but Paul and his mother (also a Bene Gesserit) escape into the desert lair of the Fremen where thru various trials and efforts Paul is finally shown to be Muad’Dib – the messianic hero to overcome the Harkonens and the evil Empire, with the help of the Fremen and the sandworms. The film still seems to end abruptly even in the extended edition, with some questions unanswered. For example, since Muad’Dib’s strategy was to stop the mining of spice forever, how will the inhabitants of the four worlds be able to travel between them any longer? Further travels thru Herbert’s highly specialized world (with its own extensive glossary of words) may be made via the DVDs of the Sci-Fi Channel’s production of Children of Dune, which we reviewed some time ago.
– John Sunier