by Ken B.
In a way, Dune is a movie that almost defies classification. Is it good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is inexplicable, a movie that is comically overstuffed, attempting to load Frank Herbert’s famed 1965 sci-fi novel into a 136 minute movie, and director David Lynch’s screenplay fails miserably at this. Or maybe, as many have noted, it isn’t fair to blame Lynch for this… thing. He doesn’t like to talk about this movie, referring to it as the end of a time where he was willing to shill out for the big studios, so to speak. He didn’t have final cut privilege on this movie. Whoever did had clearly never seen a movie before. Here is a film that is incredibly, laughably perplexing, despite the fact that the dialogue feels like it is about nine-tenths voiceover at times, a film that is at times hideously ugly to look at, and has not earned enough of our respect to justify grossing us out, and most fatally, a film that is boring, even though there’s so much plot packed in here.
Now comes the point where I’m supposed to tell you what Dune is about. I may as well produce a cure for cancer. What I know for sure is that it’s set in the year 10191, in a universe under the control of Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV (José Ferrer). There is a great lack of a vital substance, a “spice” known as Melange, whose current supply is restricted to one planet known as Arrakis, or Dune, because of a climate which is mainly desert. Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan), member of the storied House Atreides, and the only son of Duke Leo Atreides (Jürgen Prochnow) and Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis), leads a growing uprising against their longtime enemies, the Harkonnens, fought largely amidst the backdrop of the treacherous planet, and its sought after commodity.
This movie is terrible. The script is a trainwreck. It is overstuffed to the breaking point, with impenetrable jargon (to the point that when the film was released in 1984, a small glossary filled with the film’s terminology was handed to moviegoers before each showtime), presumably only decipherable to those who have read Frank Herbert’s novel. And that is the worst crime an adaptation of a book can commit – if a newcomer can’t even remotely break the surface, than the movie has utterly failed at being a movie, and is simply an accessory to its source material, instead of a project that cares to exist on its own. Every other stationery object in the room I was in when I watched it suddenly became infinitely more interesting than the events happening onscreen, which not only failed to grasp my attention for a supermajority of it but seemingly didn’t even want to. Sooner or later, it becomes a series of battle scenes interspersed with people spouting funny sounding names. I was starting to get lost around 10 minutes in. I started to lose interest after about 20. The damage was done soon after.
But the cast tries their best. It’s a great cast, from MacLachlan to Linda Hunt to Patrick Stewart to Max von Sydow – the list goes on and on (Sting is in this movie too, so you’ve got that as well). You can’t blame them for not trying. And you can’t blame Lynch and his team behind the camera for doing a shoddy job visually – Dune is jam-packed with big giant sets that are quite meticulous, but are part of a movie not only not worth watching, but one that is contemptible to think it is. Usually it is a supplement, a blanket to further complaints, but in Dune’s case, the phrase I am about to say is the key flaw: this movie is unwatchable. Befuddling, toothless, lumbering, and nauseating – absolutely unwatchable. Even though the acting is solid, the set design is interesting, and the music is reasonably well done, the execution of the plot itself is so horrible and the editing of Lynch’s alleged four hours of total footage is so incompetent that it does not even come close to redeeming anything.
According to basic calendar math and a handful of regular retweets about the fact from various friends on my Twitter feed (usually following the number of days until Christmas), I believe that January 1, 2015, the new year, is 28 days away from when I am writing this, on December 4. If I can see a movie as inept as Dune is at being remotely entertaining, engaging, or understandable in that time span, it will be several things: The only conceivable way that this movie is falling off the #1 spot on my bottom 10 list of the year, serious consideration for me to take a hiatus from reviewing, and a dark, twisted, cinematic miracle that such a travesty on that level could exist. David Lynch doesn’t like to talk about Dune anymore, and seems to have a fair degree of contempt for the film’s entire troubled production. And when I heard this, I had a general sense of curiosity about how bad a big, sci-fi film with such a respected director, stellar cast, and iconic source material could really be. So I watched it.
Well, you know what they say about curiosity.