- Written and Directed by David Lynch
- December 3, 1984 (Eisenhower Theater) / December 14, 1984 (United States)
In the distant future, the rival noble families Atreides and Harkonnen struggle to control the planet known as Dune. It is the only source of the spice-the most valuable commodity in the universe as it is vital to space travel.
Kyle MacLachlan made his feature film debut here as Paul Atreides who is the Kwisatz Haderach which is the product of a centuries long breeding program by the Bene Gesserit sisterhood. MacLachlan is a much better actor now but here he was wooden and that was in a good scene. Unknowns in major roles are always hit or miss and he was very miss. Worse, the character of Paul was THE central character and MacLachlan’s lack of skill brought the movie down. I am not exactly sure what convinced Lynch. I would love to know.
The acting overall was just not good though. Patrick Stewart (Gurney Halleck) and Dean Stockwell (Doctor Wellington Yueh) for example are better than they gave here. They and others overacted to the extreme. There was more ham up there than at the Kunzler plant during Christmas. This is space opera, but this was supposed to be space opera for adults. What we got was something closer in tone to the 60s Batman series than, say, Star Trek.
They clearly raced through the narrative. They used exposition by the characters and internal monologues that served as voiceover to avoid scenes to lead to events or moments to describe to the audience what was going one. So much in this film was spoon-fed to the viewers. Used sparingly it can be forgivable, but I do not think ten minutes went by without some bit of lengthy explanation or voiceover. It brought the story to a halt.
The most harmful use of this was when it came to the relationship between Paul and Chani (Sean Young). Supposedly they developed this passionate romance but if you missed the voiceover you would never know. There is no on-screen development between the characters. They met, there is a voiceover, and then they were deeply in love at least according to the voiceover. Other than that, she just lingered around until the finale.
Speaking of lingering around, Virginia Madsen plays Princess Irulan. The character gives an opening narration that sets up the basics of the film and then that is it for the next two hours or so until the end when Paul leads his forces against Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV (José Ferrer). Other than that she does nothing. It just stuck out.
A lot of the actors featured in the closing credits as their character barely appear in the movie. They came and said a few lines and that was it for them. The cast is expansive. Far too many to give good arcs to in the film’s runtime. I have heard the original length of the film was between three and four hours before edits were made and the voiceovers were added. That may have been better given the number of people involved. Instead characters like Doctor Kynes (Max von Sydow), Duncan Idaho (Richard Jordan) and the Shadout Mapes (Linda Hunt) appear in and quickly vanish from the narrative. “Hello! I must be going…”
For the day, most of the special effects were not bad though I do draw issue with the first instance of space folding in the film. That ship was not a model but rather, at least me, looked like a matte painting. They move the mat painting from one background to another. I saw this when CGI was not a thing and models and so forth were used and it still looked bad.
I was not too thrilled with some of the ship designs. Some of those ships just did not look good up on the screen and some of the equipment that the characters used looked like the prop guy just slapped together random pieces rather than actually designed something or fished a car part from the garbage.
At times the story fluctuates between a serious space opera and the characters being on a fun adventure to overthrow the Emperor. “We are leading a revolution today bruh! Totes awesome!” The tone was uneven. They could not figure out which way to go here.
I think the lesson that can be taken from this is never give David Lynch a science-fiction epic to film. He (mercifully) passed on Return of the Jedi. Lynch knows weird as evidenced by this movie, but I do not think he knows science fiction. This was my first and so far, only exposure to Lynch. I have not had a desire since seeing this to view any of his other work. I even skipped Twin Peaks. Making this enjoyable even if it was forgettable should have been easy but obviously it was not for him.
If you are a fan of David Lynch give this version of Dune a look but it’s my understanding this does not follow the narrative of the book too strongly so if you’re looking for a faithful adaption skip it. This a glorious train wreck that should only be watched if you are interested in watching a bad movie. The book must be amazing because I cannot see this film inspiring others to attempt to make more.
2 thoughts on “Dune (1984)”
The effects were primitive even in 1984. I realise they didn’t get ILM or EEG or someone like that because Dino didn’t want to spend the money – go figure, its an epic and Dino was still cutting corners, like he did with Conan the Barbarian a few years before (even to the point of making them release that film in mono, refusing to pay for a stereo mix) but really you compare Dune to that same years 2010: The Year We Make Contact flick and its obvious, the effects were sub-par even then so have aged rather more than those of its contemporaries.
What Dune does have is its source novel’s great core story, bizarre casting and amazing production design that still looks all its own. So its pretty with dodgy effects and its last half is cut to bloody ribbons making no sense and having little or no dramatic impact. Yet it still fascinates, strangely. I was going to watch it again (I bought the Arrow 4K set) but in the end decided not to, I’ll watch it after I watch the new Dune (which is hopefully tomorrow!).
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The current Dune is a vast improvement over the ’84 version. Just watched it. I am not calling it perfect though.