The theatrical cut of Dune (1984) was directed by David Lynch. However, the extended television cut is directed by the one and only Alan Smithee; indicating that Lynch hated it so much that he wanted to use the notorious pseudonym for directors who wish to distance themselves from their projects.
The story is quite convoluted, but I’ll try to summarise. The film is based on the first book in the Dune series by Frank Herbert. Thousands of years into the future, the Atreides family travels to the planet Arrakis (also known as Dune) in order to become the caretakers of the only source of spice in the known universe. Spice is important because it is used for space travel, for certain important groups of people to see into the future, and also to extend an individual’s life. Controlling the source of spice means that the Atreides essentially control these interest groups. There is a delicate political balance in this world, and the Atreides family finds that they are attacked almost immediately. Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) and his mother Jessica manage to escape, and find themselves at the centre of an ancient prophecy that has the potential to change the entire universe.
Here are the reasons why I adore the theatrical cut of Dune.
1) I’ve seen the extended television cut, and it is truly horrible. Anything looks better by comparison. The editing is choppy, and despite having more time to explain things, it is paradoxically more confusing than the theatrical cut. There are also some issues with the special effects and inconsistent eye colouring; a significant plotpoint in the film. During battle scenes, it is obvious that some shots are repeated and have been flipped on screen to make it look as if they’ve shot extra content. It’s just bad. Plus, it’s about three hours long as opposed to the 90-ish minutes of the theatrical cut.
2) I’ve read the book series, and as a result, I am completely biased. By having an inherent obsession with the world and its mythology, I have the base knowledge to understand elements of the plot and my passion for the story and characters has already been established. The film does a good job of making the mythology of the world interesting, but it does not do a good job at explaining it or giving it the time to develop.
3) It is a beautiful film. Despite being made in the 80s, a time of questionable aesthetics and special effects, the world is richly illustrated and the sets are amazing. At the beginning of the film, the scene at the Emperor’s palace has one of the most lush set designs that I’ve seen in 80s sci fi – gold everywhere, taking inspiration from art deco design. The costumes are particularly beautiful, especially those of the Bene Gesserit women.
4) Sting is in this film, as one of the main villains. He is half naked for a majority of his screen time. Also, my favourite person in the universe, Max von Sydow, is in the film for a small amount of time. I think the casting is excellent. Kyle MacLachlan is not necessarily a stellar actor in this, but his character is meant to have a certain woodenness which means this is sort of appropriate.
5) The soundtrack is by Toto – synthesizer magicians. The soundtrack has a sense of grandiosity, which is a good representation of the sprawling world that Lynch attempted to represent.
6) A side note to the grandiosity of the soundtrack – when watching this film, the world feels expansive and impossibly large. You get the feeling that Lynch wanted to do a lot more with the world than what he was able to do.
So, that’s why I love it. My main problem is that I can’t separate my love of the books from my perception of the film.
There are certainly some things that are very wrong with this film, and with the mythology of the book series in general so it’s not really Lynch’s fault. The concept of knowledgeable white people coming to save the ‘noble savage’ is a common film trope (cough.. Avatar), but that doesn’t make it any less problematic. There are also significant issues regarding the portrayal of the main villain, which can be read as completely homophobic. The 10-odd minutes of exposition at the beginning of the film don’t really do it any favours. Also, I am 100% sure that if I hadn’t read the book first, I would have no idea what was going on.
There is one moment in the film that is completely ridiculous, and when I watched it with a group of people everyone burst out laughing. Paul Atreides, after mysteriously (one might say, psychically) knowing that his father has been murdered, looks up into the night sky with a look of confusion on his face. Then, his internal monologue poses the question, “Where are my feelings?”
This was hilarious. I wish I could find it on Youtube. It was just absurd, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t in the book. Thank you David Lynch for this moment of comic relief.
Spoilers no more.
The 2013 documentary entitled Jodorowsky’s Dune explores surrealist director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to make Dune into a film which initially would have had a runtime of 14 hours, and would have involved such visionaries as HR Giger and Salvador Dali in the production. This doco is a must-see for people who have seen Lynch’s Dune. I’ll probably write a review on it at some point in time.
Ultimately, I’ve learned that I love this film because it is flawed. I’ve always had a vague obsession with films that are considered “the worst ever”, and this is an excellent example of a film that has garnered a lot of hatred but a lot of secret fans as well. Despite its obvious problems, I find this film intriguing. The world is set up in a beautiful way, it’s just a shame that it wasn’t explained in a clear way.
Watch the trailer here.