Far, far away, both in distance and year,
On a planet of sand known as Dune,
Spice was the word they all wanted to hear,
Its wealth their desire, its dearth their worst fear,
But the devious monarchs would learn all too soon
That they would not easily conquer this sphere.
Though long ago, a great prophecy stood
Of a savior to liberate Dune.
Though rivals and emperors did what they could
To see that he never would reach adulthood,
His destiny rose like the taciturn moon
To rescue this coveted planet for good.
MPAA rating: PG-13
Since I mentioned Dune in my post yesterday, guess what movie my VC wanted me to review next? While some of her picks end up being pleasant surprises for me, I’ve seen Dune enough times (thanks to her) that I knew this latest viewing wasn’t about to change my opinion. She loves it; I don’t, and neither of us are alone. David Lynch’s long, tiresome adaptation of Frank Herbert’s celebrated sci-fi novel was savaged by critics at the time, but over the years, it’s gained more appreciation, even a cult following. I can understand why it warrants a cult following, but the simple truth remains, it’s not a very good movie.
Perhaps the hardest challenge facing Lynch as director and screenwriter was somehow compressing Herbert’s enormous otherworldly tale into a feature-length film. The story has so many characters, foreign names and gadgets, and plot-specific terminology that it’s no wonder casual viewers were thoroughly lost. Luckily, my VC has read the book, which I’m sure helps her, and I’ve seen the film enough times that I can follow what’s going on well enough. However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the first 20 or 30 minutes is spent with different characters taking turns to spout exposition. Before the story even begins in earnest, we have to learn about the four key planets and their rulers, and the drug-like Spice that enables space travel and is only found on Arrakis/Dune, and the subterfuge of the emperor (José Ferrer) in pitting the houses of Atreides and Harkonnen against each other, and the telepathic Bene Gesserit sisterhood that has breeding rules broken by Duke Leto Atreides’ concubine (Francesca Annis) in order to give her love a son named Paul (Kyle MacLachlan), who may have a dangerous messianic destiny. You got all that? Well, I guarantee that it’s easier reading it than listening to it all in one go, which is probably why Herbert’s book was so much more popular than Lynch’s film.
The 137-minute film is so packed with plot that there’s literally no time for character building. Every character is formed solely by how they’re explained to us and what they do to further the plot. When Paul meets a lovely Fremen girl (Sean Young) after he’s been banished to the desert, you know they’ll end up together, not because of their chemistry or anything, but because Paul had visions of her and it makes sense for the plot. There are smaller quibbles too, whether it be the constant internal monologuing, the bizarre intentions of a traitor in the Atreides house, or the casting of an important character from the books only to kill him off in a trice, not to mention the strange and disgusting Harkonnen villains and the sudden ending.
Wow, sometimes I convince myself to like a film more by writing about all its strengths, but I think the opposite has happened here. I don’t hate Dune by any means, nor am I sorry to have seen it since it is not without some redeeming factors. True, most of the actors are in “serious sci-fi mode,” but it was enjoyable to see so many familiar faces before their more recognizable roles, which were often still in the realm of science fiction. There are Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap), Brad Dourif (Voyager and Lord of the Rings), Jürgen Prochnow (Air Force One), Max von Sydow (Dreamscape, Flash Gordon), and even Sting (yes, the singer), among many others. Plus, I must commend Lynch and his set design team for bringing these extraterrestrial deserts and palaces to life. Even if some of the effects are still dated, the giant worms are admittedly impressive too, especially when backed by the symphonic rock score supplied by the band Toto.
As much as I wish I could count Dune among my favorites, its negatives are just too conspicuous to overlook. Even I will concede, though, that it was a valiant effort for all those involved, one which my VC and other fans clearly appreciate more than most.
Best line: (Duke Leto Atreides) “I’ll miss the sea, but a person needs new experiences. They jar something deep inside, allowing him to grow. Without change, something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”
Rank: Dishonorable Mention
© 2016 S.G. Liput
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