Posted on April 3, 2016
I was the one who talked everyone in my unit into going to see David Lynch’s Dune on opening weekend. I was in the military back then, going through intel training in San Angelo. We were all under a lot of stress and I thought we could use a break.
When the lights came up after two and a half hours, everyone turned to me and said, “What the hell was that?” And I had to reply, “I don’t know.”
That one was hard to live down.
I had read the book over and over as a kid, had waited fifteen years for a movie come out, had seen some things in the trailer that confirmed my bias… and then… and then… Dune happened.
That should have been the end of it, but over the years I discovered that Dune was a difficult movie to miss. It seemed to be playing on some channel somewhere at every hour of the day and night. I’m pretty sure I never watched the thing from beginning to end again, but I always managed to drop in on some scene that was actually good.
Over time, I led myself to believe that Lynch had captured the spirit of the book if not the literal thing itself, much in the way Kubrick distilled the essence of the Shining into a beautiful movie that has nothing to do with the book.
But the critical thing here is I never actually watched the whole thing front to back again and I certainly never saw a good copy, especially not in high definition.
This weekend my brand new copy of the Blu Ray version of the theatrical cut of Dune (1984) arrived. I fired up the big screen, turned off the lights, and had my illusions shattered.
Dune is a fucking mess.
Even though it’s cast nearly to perfection, the actors stomp around, hit their marks and announce their lines like a grade school presentation of Macbeth. Lynch stages the action so operatically that I am surprised an actual opera hasn’t been staged by now.
He must have been struck by the book’s heavy use of internal monologue because Lynch is constantly pounding us over the head with whispered thoughts that could just as easily have been projected by the actors with a look. And what the hell is Princess Irulan even doing in this movie if she’s not going to be married to Paul at the end?
And the special effects… Remember, this is seven years after Star Wars. We had seen what good, rear projection could look like. This is just sloppy and Blu-Ray doesn’t help one bit. It just magnifies the half-assedness of everything.
But mostly it’s just a badly told story. You can feel Lynch panicking at the thought that the audience might not get the subtleties of the intrigue so he just does away with them and replaces large swatches of plot with useless narration.
What is the point of narrating something that doesn’t make any sense?
It seems to me that now is the time for a remake. We have the CGI. Audiences are used to actively watching movies instead of being spoon fed everything and major works are routinely broken up into two movies (though this is more for financial reasons).
With those tools, you could do a decent job of telling a five or six hour version of Frank Herbert’s masterpiece. Something more coherent than Lynch’s attempt and less bloodless than the SciFi channel’s 2000 miniseries.