Friday, 13 February 2015

Dune (1984)

When the novel Dune was written by Frank Herbert and released in 1965, it was critically praised and massively popular. It was considered a science fiction masterpiece and would become the best selling sci-fi novel ever and would spawn numerous sequels in its own universe. I haven't read it, but I always had a mild interest in it and wanted to see an adaptation of it. I remember one night my brother invited over some of his friends and one of them brought the 2000 Dune miniseries and they watched that. I missed the beginning so I chose not to watch it, but I do remember coming downstairs every so often and going “is that still on?” It just kept going. Though, I am not reviewing that version of Dune. Instead, I want to discuss the 1984 version that was directed by the well renowned art house director David Lynch. I haven't seen a movie by David Lynch before, which some cinephiles may chastise me for, but whatever, I'll get to it some day. But I know of his reputation and it is quite curious to see what happens when you get a visionary director and give him a very large sum of money to put together an ambitious science fiction story that at times was deemed unfilmable.

Maybe it is unfilmable. Despite, for the most part, trying to remain loyal to the book, using actual inner monologue from the book and putting it in the movie, something crucial must be missing because this movie is completely nonsensical. So many times I would leave a scene thinking something along the lines of “Umm... what?” It's a shame because there is a lot to admire about the movie, particularly on a visual level. A lot of work went into making it look good, but I'm just not sure if Lynch was the man for the job. The tone is very inconsistent, but never any fun. Yet, some of the events that happen on screen are absurd and seem completely out of place for how serious the movie is. For example, our revolting villain is so over the top in how repugnant he is, that it is difficult to take him seriously. He can't even stand up without aid of a body suit, and in the book it helps him stand. In this movie, he flies and it just looks ridiculous. If it had the right soundtrack, it could be hilarious, but it shouldn't be and as a result, it's just kind of awkward.

Oh yeah, I suppose if you don't know, you might be interested in what Dune is about. Well, there is a prince named Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) and he goes to the desert planet of Arrakis where the most important substance in the galaxy, a spice called malange, is mined because the production of the spice is in jeopardy. But there is a threat on Arrakis also as the evil and disgusting Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan) plans to undermine the whole operation, killing Paul's father and trying to axe him and his mom too. Umm... and there are sand worms and natives who hide underground and I don't know what else to say about it. There were some things I understood about the story, but the whole political back story is convoluted and despite trying to explain it in the beginning, I was still lost so I couldn't understand the real motivations of the characters, good or bad. It sucks because it seems to me that a lot of this stuff would be really interesting and likely is in the novel. But really there was this whole opening scene with the emperor of the universe or something and then a huge alien came in and they talked but I could barely understand a word of it because all I could think about was how the alien's mouth looked like... well, I don't want to say.

Perhaps some of the problems with the movie could be forgiven if it was any fun, like I mentioned before. Again, I don't know the source material, but I'm not asking for a comedic rendition, just something that isn't taxing to watch. Some Sci-fi you can get lost in the visuals or some action, but honestly there isn't much action and the visual aspect is mixed. I said before that it was one of the highlights, but mostly because there was a lot of work put into it. The special effects for the time were pretty stellar. But it's not as engaging simply because often the visuals are kind of gross to look at. There is that alien I mentioned earlier, but also many of the sets are dark and drab. Maybe it's the shades of puke green and brown. Seems like an intentional choice, but it does make it that much more exhausting. Dark Sci-fi, like the original Alien, works and can be fun to watch and still be eerie and compelling.

The characters are difficult to like, including our lead, Paul Atreides played by Kyle MacLachlan who unfortunately dry and bland in the role, which could be attributed to the script or just him. The only other noteworthy role I've seen him in is the bad guy in that first Flinstones movie where he hammed up the part appropriately, so I'm really not sure. The villain is totally uncharismatic, and while that is intentional as he is meant to be disgusting, I just can't stand watching him. I suppose I like my villains to be sympathetic, or at least seem remotely human. His part is disturbingly homoerotic, in such a way that will likely offend the gay community. I don't understand why it was played out that way. Sting, while broadening his career outside of the music industry, played one of the bad guys, the Baron's nephew, Feyd-Rautha. In the marketing, they really played up his involvement and while Sting does appear to have a natural screen presence, as near as I can figure, he serves virtually no purpose toward the story other than showing up in flamboyant attire... or sometimes almost nothing at all.

Do I have anything nice to say about Dune? I feel like I should, but nothing springs to mind. Any credit goes toward the concepts which is mostly thanks to the books. I feel that if anything, I like the idea of this movie and what it could have been rather than what it turned out to be. Supposedly there was a lot of footage cut, though there is no finalized director's cut or anything of that sort to compare to the theatrical cut. Perhaps it would have worked if it was expanded into a couple of movies? Or maybe just another couple rewrites of the script? Apparently David Lynch isn't too proud of his involvement of the project and doesn't like discussing Dune anymore. And why should he? Trust me, apart from Uwe Boll and Michael Bay, I think that most directors are uncomfortably aware of when they've made some mistakes, especially when they've had 30 years to think it over. I would be done with the questions too. I'm not going to say that you shouldn't watch this film, I'm just going to say that you should go in with low expectations. You might find yourself along for the ride because apparently this movie does have its fans. I will say that you shouldn't be afraid to turn Dune off if you find yourself bored or even disgusted by it. It won't get much better.

1.5 Stars

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