Written by: David Lynch
Starring: Francesca Annis, Leonardo Cimino, Brad Dourif, José Ferrer, Linda Hunt
Taking a relatively short book from the page to the big screen has its difficulties in trying to effectively include and exclude important elements for a coherent story. Dune dares to ask what can occur if one of the densest works of science-fiction could be condensed into a 136-minute film. The final product seen in this movie would indicate no, but the effort still deserves its own recognition for the gargantuan task at hand.
In a world where a drug named melange becomes the most sought after item in the universe, the planet where most of it can be found, Arrakis becomes a place of contention. Offered to look over it is the Atreides family led by Duke Leto (Jürgen Prochnow) and his son Paul (Kyle MacLachlan). With their efforts in trying to navigate this dangerous planet, they learn about the prospect of them getting ambushed by the Emperor and their sworn enemies.
Dense would not even begin to describe Dune as a novel with a level of vocabulary and expansion that could rival the worlds created by J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin. Many planets with an encyclopedia to learn about all of the facets constructing it. Bringing this into a singular feature film appears to be an impossible task so handing the reins to someone like David Lynch seemed like such an oddball move and I’m glad it occurred. Yes, give the guy who created Eraserhead and then Blue Velvet right after this film the opportunity to adapt this enormous piece of work. Such a bold move and I love it because it certainly sticks out compared to the other movies by this completely unique director. Seeing the creation of him operating within a big studio and a large property must have created quite the challenge and while much of it can be considered a mess, it surely proved to be a valiant effort.
From the onset, plenty needs to be delivered to establish the worlds and the players. There happens to be a guild pulling the strings but then you have the deadly rivalry between the Atreides and the Harkonnens. The importance of Arrakis gets explained and thus becomes the center of this story, as trying to control this planet comes as a high risk-high reward opportunity. Along with these trade battles and rivalries, the story also focuses on Paul growing up to be a future leader while fighting off these strange visions he receives.
The personal journey of Paul becomes the most fascinating aspect of the story because his way of fully becoming someone with the capability to lead presents some interesting obstacles. Some instances include the box test and the sparring sessions. He has these strange dreams where he can see the future partly as well. This time proves to be an integral moment in this young man’s life and he will need to step up very soon to take the responsibility for a whole bloodline. Focusing on Paul and his journey centers the story on a human perspective, which helps when so much other information gets thrown right at you. An issue David Lynch had to work through, which has its difficulties considering the time constraint and the sheer amount of information necessary for everything to be coherent. Paul becomes someone compelling to follow but the rest of the story cannot overcome the obstacle of not enough being brought into the feature that the book has to offer. The bare bones of the story came through but some elements felt like it was missing and some conversations did not hold the intended weight behind it because of it.
With the resources available at the time, many of the visual effects look very dated, which should not be held against the film. Regardless, it displays a level of ambition in trying to visually display what Frank Herbert wanted to express in his story. The time just did not have the technology to match it but the costume design definitely stood up to the challenge by creating distinct outfits for the characters. It expresses the different families and what each group of people finds necessary to survive within their surroundings. The Atreides certainly do not have the same look as the Fremen people. This attention to detail makes the designs look equally as lavish as it is informative.
While not possible to be described as a well-made film, I will always have respect for David Lynch’s gargantuan effort with Dune. He brings this dry world to life and helps craft some of the inventive moments with the sandworms on Arrakis. A stunning visual put together from the book. As a film, elements seem to be missing in order to make it a completely coherent story, which is to be expected when trying to adapt something of this stature. A thoughtful exercise but an unsuccessful in the end.