Dune (1984)

Dune (1984), directed by David Lynch.

I saw this a few times in the theater when it was new but not in the decades since. I tried to watch it with fresh eyes this time, forgetting the book and my previous viewings.

There are intimations of a good story here: Paul's premonitions that he will be inserted into an epic adventure and become a messiah (or perhaps, "Messenger"). And the sandworms are monstrously elegant.

Otherwise it's still ridiculous after all these years, awkwardly stiff and uncinematic throughout. The leads are particularly bland (although Kenneth McMillan is having a good time as the Baron) and tend to be overpowered by the secondary characters who just drop in for their episodic bits. All the characters speak in platitudes; even their thought-voice-overs are dull. The Harkonnen villains are ludicrous.

It has the double flaw of trying to stuff in too many details from the book, but still not presenting the story very well. In the theater, management handed out a printed glossary to try to help the audience keep up. As a filmmaker you really need to think about what you are trying to do here.

Beyond that, Lynch introduces elements which must be important to him but which make no sense and add nothing to the story. The Baron as a pustule-covered flying vampire? Heart plugs? Weirding modules? What's that all about?

The Fremen are the easiest to represent: we think of desert Arabs. The Atreides are properly shown as European nobility, although the court and retro-uniforms are more formal than I imagine, and they live in a museum. The Harkonnens on the other hand: good grief. I imagine the Baron as a sybaritic Roman senator. Here he lives in an industrial hallway and makes bloody shambles of minions with bad haircuts.

I don't know why Lynch was offered this, or why he accepted and stuck with it. I know he and most others regret it. The wikipedia article has a summary of the background.

Filmed in Mexico. Available on Blu-ray.