David Lynch and Dune. Flawed, yes, but it is a Film of Immense Value

I am revisiting a previous blog post from my other website regarding David Lynch and his cinematic version of Dune. I am doing so as we approach the Denis Villeneuve adaptation of Frank Herbert’s first book in the series. At the time of writing it is clear that modern cinema has progressed but, as all fans of the series will understand, screen playing the books is a challenge few would undertake. The Frank Herbert written books are equal to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in their scope and vision. Some even place the Dune series in higher esteem. To me, Dune can not be beaten. The books are a study in the the dangers of leadership and fanaticism. I can not distil 6 books into a sentence. To do so becomes trivial in value. You must read them to find the elements that create the rich characters, worlds and history. I can not wait for the Villeneuve film, David’s version holds a special place in my heart.

To start with I have to admit my bias for this film. I’ve loved it since seeing it for the first time on an old VHS. There have been pages and pages of reviews full of hate and venom stating that David Lynch did not do justice to Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. Let me set the record straight about this, nobody can, or could, do justice to the whole set of novels for every imagination when you read the books.

From the 70’s onwards producer Dino De Laurentiis tried to hire numerous directors to bring this immense story from the page to screen. Ridley Scott nearly made it but an unfortunate death in his family saw him decline. Another well-known director, Alejandro Jodorowsky, took a detailed shot at a translation but it did not get made. A documentary shows his vision and, although very interesting to watch, it would not have been my interpretation. Yes, Alejandro would have directed a very trippy Sci-fi, but what was needed for a Dune movie was a feeling for the subtle nuisances that would be rewarding for Dune aficionados and keep those new to the series ready to maybe invest time reading one (or more) or Herbert’s books. The conceptualisation had to be first class.

Paul Atreides descends the stairs to his fate
The Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV

David Lynch had more or less disowned the film. It was cut to such an extent by the studio that around 45 minutes were removed in favour of action. This means that much needed characterisation was disposed showing a lack of sensitivity to Lynch and his vision. This is not new, Blade Runner and Nightbreed were well known studio hash ups. If you give such an iconic story to the man who created Eraserhead and The Elephant Man you will need to show respect to the idea that 130 minutes will not give him the movement to breath true life into the film. He described the experience of making Dune as a fabulous 3 years with brilliant people, all getting on. It was just what occurred afterwards. Studios wanted short films to obtain more showings a day. Thankfully since 1984 it has been released that large cinemas, more screens and good films make audiences come back.

David discussing the film in 1985
The great director in a revealing explanation of his feelings on the experience

The Internet is full of Dune reviews with some concluding it is messy with some fragments that capture Frank Herbert’s world. Others go into fine detail at the extent to which Lynch failed, adding moments of his own that had a dissonant connection with the novels. Frank, before he died, praised the film. My feeling is that the author should be the only critic that has a right to judge someone’s version of his own imagination. I would not normally be so singular with viewpoints if it were not for the world of Dune taking multiple readings before it all sinks into your mind. The books have ‘plans within plans’ which make them so rewarding.

I am not going to go into everything I love about the film. Just a few points will suffice. Take the Brian Eno, Toto soundtrack. It is perfect and certainly not cheesy as I read from one heathen reviewer spew. Next up is the whole atmosphere the film radiates. I find it genius that through miniatures, basic blue screen and budget cuts a world was created in 1984 that was far different from Star Wars/Alien visions. The actors are another stunning aspect. It was Kyle Maclachlan’s first film; it opened the door for Patrick Stewart and his famous role as Jean-Luc Pickard, Max von Sydow, Jose Ferrer, Linda Hunt and Sean Young. In fact I will put my cards on the table and say I enjoy most of David Lynch’s films and he sometimes used the same cast of actors. He uses them due to the way that they convey his abstract creativity. Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man, Wild at Heart and of course the series Twin Peaks all portray this surreal and original inventiveness.

Paul Atreides with Fremen awaiting Shai-Hulud (sandworm)

Let me conclude by urging you to watch it again. Obviously it is not the film that was originally intended. David Lynch would not put his name on an extended TV edition. Frank Herbert explained it well by saying it introduced moviegoers to his books. I’d like to believe one day it will be given the acclaim it deserves. The latest film comes out in 2021 and will be closer to the book with a huge budget. Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival are great films so, of all the current directors, he is the best to take the project on. The Baroque aesthetic of the 1984 film was created by a superb team such as production designer Tony Masters, Matte mastermind Albert Whitlock, Illustrator Ron Miller and Bob Ringwood to name just a few! The talent on that film did create an original look and as time moves on I feel, one day, we may see a remaster. See my other blog entry on how to see a fanedit version, a great restored full length alternative.

A film with no computer in sight and sets that had elements of Baroque….pre Steampunk
An enthralling Super 8 filmed ‘behind the scenes’ by actress Sean Young (Chani)
Paul MuadDib

1 Comment

  1. A disaster of a movie. Its kind of a guilty pleasure of mine over the years but by no means is this a way to make a movie of the Dune book. Its almost like a guide for Villeneuve in what mistakes not to make- chief of them being make it as two movies to ensure the scope and epic-ness of the book is done justice but boy, that’s a risky thing to do. No-ones making any sequel to Blade Runner 2049 and if we don’t get a Dune Part Two…


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