Thursday, November 05, 2015
Dune (1984 film)
Based on the novel by Frank Herbert, Dune is the story of a conflict between rival noble families in a futuristic planet over the control of that planet because of a mysterious melange that is the most valuable commodity in the universe. Written for the screen and directed by David Lynch, the film is an ambitious sci-fi story that plays into a young man trying to do what is right for his family and the universe as he also deals with evil forces driven by greed. Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis, Leonardo Cimino, Brad Dourif, Jose Ferrer, Linda Hunt, Freddie Jones, Richard Jordan, Virginia Madsen, Silvana Mangano, Everett McGill, Kenneth McMillan, Jack Nance, Sian Phillips, Jurgen Prochnow, Paul Smith, Patrick Stewart, Sting, Dean Stockwell, Max von Sydow, Alicia Witt, and Sean Young. Dune is an extravagant yet messy and drab film from David Lynch.
Set in a futuristic universe, the film revolves around a conflict over control of a planet that contains the most valuable commodity in the universe known as the spice. On the one side, you have the most powerful authority figure in the universe in Emperor Shaddam IV (Jose Ferrer) who has asked Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan) of the planet Giedi Prime to handle the situation. On the other side is the House of Atreides led by Duke Leto Atreides (Jurgen Prochnow) who has become popular in his stance to do good with the world. Yet, the Emperor realizes through the guild that it is Atreides’ son Paul (Kyle MacLachlan) that is the threat due to his powers as it is believed that he is the prophet that can take control of the planet Arrakis and the spice itself leading to a conflict that involved assassinations and other devious things. These events would force Paul to lead a rebellion for the universe and give the people in Arrakis hope.
While it’s a story that is interesting, it is one that feels like there is more to say in this condensed version of a book that has to be complex but also very dense. Notably as David Lynch’s script tries to create some exposition into what is going on and what are the motivations of these characters. While Paul Atreides ponders his role as he wonders if he is everything this prophecy is, he is just a young man that is loyal to his family while is aware that he does have powers that very few possess. The script does acknowledge Paul as a threat to the Harkonnens and their desire to control the spice. They’re treated more as just sadistic buffoons as the Baron is a big fatass that has devices that makes him float in the air. There are some spiritual elements in the story that seems to be hinted but either it got condensed or simplified as it gets many of the motivations of the characters lost.
Lynch’s direction is definitely vast and filled with elements of surreal imagery as well as some extravagant set pieces that are interesting to watch. Yet, it’s not enough to keep things engaging as some of the visual effects come off as silly as well as moments that are overwhelming. While Lynch does create some unique compositions and some inspired usage of the camera angles, it is an attempt to try and keep much of the action and sci-fi elements engaging. Unfortunately, many of the complexities in the film do keep the film from moving along where it would plod along as there is so much happening as well as so many characters to keep track of. Though Lynch’s attempts to get the film’s climax to be exhilarating, it sort of falls flat where it is clear that there are these temporary alliances and such where a few characters would often switch sides and would pay for their movements. At the same time, there’s some moments that are unintentionally comical such as the character of the Baron’s nephew Feyd-Rautha who comes across as a nitwit with a thirst for blood. Overall, Lynch creates a very dull and often confusing film about a conflict over some commodity in the universe.
Cinematographer Freddie Francis does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography with some of the windy and dusty exteriors in the Mexican deserts as parts of the planet Arrakis to the lighting in some of the interior settings. Editor Antony Gibbs does nice work in the editing with its usage of dissolves for the dream-like sequences as well as some rhythmic cuts for the action. Production designer Anthony Masters, with set decorator Giorgio Desideri and supervising art director Pier Luigi Basile, does brilliant work with the set design from the look of the spaceships to the fortress in Arrakis in its interiors along with the look of the Emperor‘s palace. Costume designer Bob Ringwood does wonderful work with the costumes as it plays to some of the extravagance of the production as well as some of the darkness of the Harkonnens.
Special makeup effects artists Etsuko Egawa and Christopher Tucker do terrific work with the makeup in the look of the Baron as well as the look of the Bene Gesserit priestess that Paul‘s mother was a part of. Creature designer Carlo Rambaldi does fantastic work with the design of the sandworms as well as other creatures in the universe. Sound designer Alan Splet does superb work with the sound in creating some unique sound effects as well as textures to play into the world of the universe. The film’s music by Toto is amazing for some of the themes that are created that mixes rock with symphonic arrangements and ambient textures that includes contributions by Brian Eno who would create a thematic piece involving the prophecy as it‘s one of the film‘s highlights.
The casting by Jane Jenkins is good despite the fact that the great collection of actors assembled for the film don’t really get much to do. Among the individuals who appear in small roles that seem to suffer by their lack of screen time include Paul Smith as one of the Baron’s nephews in the Beast Rabban, Jack Nance as the Baron’s assistant Captain Iakin Nefud, Leonard Cimino as the Baron’s doctor, Brad Dourif as the devilish doctor Piter De Vries, Linda Hunt as a Bene Gesserit hostess in Shadout Mapes, Alicia Witt as Paul’s young sister Alia, Silvana Mangano as an elder Bene Gesserit who would transfer her powers to Lady Jessica, Virginia Madsen as Princess Irulan, and Max von Sydow as Arrakis engineer Dr. Kynes as they have some moments that are good but not enough to make them standout. From the House of Atreides, there’s some notable performances from Freddie Jones as Paul’s mentor Thufir Hawat, Richard Jordan as Paul’s friend Duncan, Dean Stockwell as Duke Leto’s advisor Dr. Yueh Wellington, and Patrick Stewart as a defense teacher of Paul in Gurney Halleck who would later join Paul in the rebellion.
Everett McGill is terrific as an Arrakis rebel leader named Stilgar who takes Paul and Lady Jessica into his secret base where he would become Paul’s most trusted ally. Sean Young is OK as an Arrakis rebel named Chani whom Paul would fall for as she would help him in the rebellion as she isn’t given much to do. Francesca Annis is wonderful as Paul’s mother Lady Jessica as Duke Leto’s concubine who is part of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood as she would aid Paul in becoming a leader. Jurgen Prochnow is excellent as Duke Leto Atreides as a leader who represents the good of the universe though there’s aspects of his role this severely underwritten. Gordon “Sting” Sumner is horrible as the Baron’s sadistic nephew Feyd-Rautha as he just looks like a fucking idiot in the film where he would wear this metallic underwear that makes him look dumber while he spends half the time overacting throughout the film.
Sian Phillips is alright as the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam as the Bene Gesserit leader who realizes that Paul is the prophet as she aligns herself with the Emperor in control of the universe. Kenneth McMillan is lame as Baron Harkonnen as this antagonist who just craves power as he floats around the air as it’s a very over-the-top and idiotic performance that never takes itself seriously. Jose Ferrer is OK as Emperor Shaddam IV as the leader of the universe though it looks like he’s sleepwalking through the film as he never does anything to make the character memorable. Kyle MacLachlan is good as Paul Atreides as a young man who learns he has the power to do something as MacLachlan tries to bring in that sense of gravitas but is hampered by the weakness of the script.
Despite some of its technical brilliance, Dune is a terrible film from David Lynch. It’s a film, in its shortened theatrical cut, that tries so hard to be something big but manages to falter with its lackluster script and attempts to be something more than a typical sci-fi film. Especially for a story that is considered very challenging as Lynch and producer Dino de Laurentiis were unable to rise to the occasion. In the end, Dune is just a dull and un-engaging film from David Lynch.
Related: Jodorowsky's Dune
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The Short Films of David Lynch Pt. 1 - The Short Films of David Lynch Pt. 2 - The Music Videos of David Lynch
The Auteurs #50: David Lynch: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 - Pt. 4
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