Directed by David Lynch
Starring Kyle MacLachlan and Brad Dourif
A spectacular journey through the wonders of space and the mysteries of time, from the boundaries of the incredible to the borders of the impossible.
It's always interesting to dissect what makes a fantastical film successful for an individual viewer.
Take this film. There have been two major cinematic treatments of Frank Herbert's epic science fiction novel, and each has its fans.
For my money, it's David Lynch's lush 1984 visualization starring a young and extraordinarily poised young Kyle MacLachlan in the role of Paul Atreides, the young Duke who becomes the savior of a desert world.
For the record, it's also touted as one of the greatest box office disasters this side of Ishar. And, like that ill-fated Warren Beatty / Dustin Hoffman vehicle (also set in a desert, but that one was a musical...), it's not nearly as bad as a lot of people will tell you.
Whether or not you enjoy Dune probably depends on whether or not you read the book, and, if you did, how you imagined it.
Same held true in large part for "The Lord of the Rings." The films, while impressive technically, seem to be more loved by those who see Tolkien's classic novels as the archtype of the sword and sorcery novel, a saga battles and import and the conflict between good and evil.
Not so much me. I liked the films, but they missed the part of Tolkien I treasure most -- the songs and levity that makes the saving of the world worthwhile.
With Dune, even the harshest critics had to admit the film looked gorgeous. No other film I have seen went to such an extent to completely imagine a completely alien world with technologies that even Herbert had not really described, and to design it with such sumptuous beauty. Most sci fi design has a distinctly utilitarian feel, as if to move into the future is to choose function every time over form.
Even the remote controlled needle weapon sent to kill Paul in his room is a wonder of loveliness, deadly purpose in an almost Victorian filigreed casing.
The cast is full of icons and Iconic performances, from lovely Sean Young and Virginia Madsen and Francesca Annis to powerful turns by Kenneth McMillan, Sian Phillips, Jose Ferrer, Jurgen Prochnow, Richard Jordan, Linda Hunt, Freddie Jones, and Patrick Stewart. Even a relatively weak performance by Brad Dourif is memorable, and it's a rare treat to see Sting on screen as the oversexualized, immature, villainous Feyd.
This is truly an epic film, sharing in retrospect a lot more with Lawrence of Arabia than Star Wars in plot. Even the actors seem in awe of the scope of what they are trying to accomplish, often speaking to each other in whispers.
There is an extreme brutality to the film that impressed me even the first time when I saw it in on the big screen. Then as now I was transported by the sheer power of its imagination.
I clearly recall watching the film in a theatre where the concession staff and ushers outnumbered patrons, and where I was required to keep up a running commentary for the people around me who just couldn't make sense of it all.
Lynch films are a mixed bag for me. I have some I love like a fanatic, and others I hate as passionately. But they never fail to stir me to a reaction. The moment in Dune when Annis's Jessica realizes the man she has loved and sacrificed even her own integrity for has died has as much power as any Oscar moment.
And the appearance of Paul's little sister Alia (Alicia Witt) has a creepiness that I think may be unmatched in cinematic precocity.
The way that the struggle inside a single man become a struggle for a planet, then a struggle for the entire universe is, in itself, a metaphor for what good fantasy and science fiction does -- it gives us a new way to look at ourselves by giving us a version of ourselves hidden deep inside an allegory that looks like a brand new world.
I'm not unfond of the 2000 miniseries of the same title starring Alec Newman (Enterprise). The casting overall was not nearly so strong, and the miscasts more prominent -- one being William Hurt as the Duke to whom Prochnow gave such exquisite dignity and pain.
It was well done, but nothing, I think, could really touch the attention to detail and sheer scope of the Lynch version. I must admit to also being a sucker for the grandiose score by Toto.
In the end, how you respond to a film set in an imaginary world depends I think on two elements -- how well imagined the world by the filmmakers (into this goes how well they have communicated this vision to every member of the team); and what you bring with you in your own imagination to the table.
It's a wonderful thing to enter a place of pure imagination completely fresh, without preconception. For a work like Herbert's, or Tolkein's, you can count on a good number of the audience having a notion already formed before they even enter the cinema.
For a film to satisfy both the fans and the neophytes is an impressive feat. More often than not, one group is unhappy with the result.
I think Lynch's film satisfies immensely no matter to which you belong. And, at a mere 137 minutes, it's far less of a commitment than sitting down to watch LOTR...