David Lynch

REVIEW: Dune (1984)

After his family is attacked and betrayed on the planet Arrakis, Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan), leads desert warriors against the galactic emperor and his father’s nemesis Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan) to get revenge and to free their desert world from the emperor’s rule.

With the newest adaptation of the novel set to be released towards the end of this year (hopefully), I thought it’d be a good idea to see what David Lynch’s adaptation was like since I’d generally heard bad things about it. I read Dune a couple of years ago and as I was reading it I thought it’s a difficult story to retell in film as there’s so much politics, world building and character backstories to fit in in order to make the story make sense and to be compelling.

Dune tries to fill in the gaps of the viewers knowledge by having a narration setting up what Spice is – the much sought-after substance that is in time travel technology – and the prophesy. That’s shortly followed by a computer talking about the main planets and who rules each one. This sort of setup makes sense. It’s how there’s so much voice over of various characters thoughts throughout the film that gets grating. It fails to show and instead has all the characters telling (or thinking) their thoughts about what’s going on and what things mean. Some of the thoughts could’ve been said out loud, whether as a rhetorical question or explanation to themselves, or even as a question to people around them.

The cast of Dune is a real eclectic mix. A lot of people’s performances seem either wooden or too over the top. In some ways that almost suits the film as it’s so odd that it’s like it’s not sure what it’s trying to be anyway. Patrick Stewart is Gurney Halleck, Paul’s weapons and combat teacher, and I wasn’t expecting to see him in this film – especially carrying a pug into battle. The inclusion of dogs in this fantasy science-fiction adventure was a weird thing anyway. Sting plays Feyd Rautha, a ruthless enemy of Paul’s, and while he looks pretty cool in the costume and his electrified hair, he really can’t act. Kyle MacLachlan does a good job as Paul, balancing the vulnerability of the character with how resourceful he is. He is older (and looks it) than Paul in the book as there he was a teenager but whether it’s the floppy hair or his performance, he does come across more youthful than he is.

The set design and costumes were all interesting, the set design especially was quite unique, and while a lot of the special effects don’t hold up (I’m not sure if they would’ve been considered good in the 80s) the practical effects like a large alien creature in a moving tank were still impressive. The score, which is by Toto of all people, is actually one of the highlights of the film. There’s haunting tracks and more tense music, even when the action on screen isn’t that exciting, the music does a good job making you think it is.

Overall while it might have interesting elements to it, Dune isn’t a particularly interesting or compelling film. The plot moves so slowly and because there’s so many characters it’s hard to keep track of who’s who or for them to have decent character development. The action sequences are pretty generic, a load of explosions and people shooting from a distance. There’s not really any hand-to-hand combat and when there is, characters have these blocky CG shields that make the fight almost impossible to see.

Dune really is an interesting mess of a film. I feel like anyone adapting this story is fighting an uphill battle as there’s so much needed to make the story understandable, and to make the story exciting as the book itself was a bit dry in my opinion. A lot of the sci-fi elements of Dune do look cool, but that doesn’t make the film an entertaining watch. 2/5.