“A world beyond your experience, beyond your imagination”
Directed by Alan Smithee (David Lynch)
Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis and Jürgen Prochnow
After a long and rambling prologue, accompanied by a bunch of piss-poor watercolours, explains how men overthrew the thinking machines, and that everything is about the spice Melange that is only found on Arrakis – aka Dune – we are treated to a massive condensation of Frank Herbert’s sprawling, socio-political, Sci-Fi epic, which refuses to cut anything out, yet can not give due time to everything it needs to. The result is a shambles; a convoluted mess that makes less sense than the shorter version.
Harkonnen, Atreides, Fremen, Sandworms and Moa-dib. If you don’t know the story, I sure as hell can’t explain it without running to several hundred words. Read the book, watch the movie, or even the more recent mini-series. Just, dear God, don’t watch this one.
What’s wrong with it?
Make no mistake here: I’m not talking about David Lynch’s rambling, semi-coherent film here. This is the even more rambling, utterly incomprehensible TV mini-series extension that David Lynch refused to allow his name on (hence the Alan Smithee director’s credit). By reinserting all edited footage, the mini-series manages to say nothing more than the film, but to say it three times; literally. In general, someone will say something, then we’ll hear them think it in voice over, and then someone else will either repeat it back to them as a question, or think the same thing again, or they’ll say it to themselves.
Even the score – the great strength of the film – is here screwed up. In order to fill in the reinserted scenes – which also lack the visual effects editing that gives the Fremen their blue-in-blue eyes – it is as if the cassette was just left running, even in the pre-existing scenes, so that at times there are quite literally two separate sections of soundtrack playing at the same time! This also means that there are no tense silences, there is always a soundtrack, even when there shouldn’t be.
Also, Sting’s steel underpants, but they’re in the film as well.
What’s right with it?
Astonishingly little. The performances aren’t bad, but tend to the stilted, and I suspect Jürgen Prochnow was pretty much pissed throughout filming. The big exception comes from the Atreides retainers – well, three of them anyway, since Duncan Idaho isn’t much to write home about – Gurney Hallek, Thufur Hawat and Dr Yueh, played with great and campy aplomb by Patrick Stewart, Freddie Jones and Dean Stockwell. And then there’s Sting, who’s surely just taking the piss.
The music is keen, but annoyingly jumbled. The sandworms remain a high-point, although they have dated a little, and the shields likewise. There are some nice ideas, but with the added length they look even more lost than in the original.
Also, it is at least not the Jodorowsky version.
How bad is it really?
Well, it’s not terrible by the standards of this blog, but leave us not forget that the standards of this blog are mind-numbingly low. The big, extended Dune is really just dull, but at some three hours plus, that’s a lot of dull, and borders on the tedious; especially when anything interesting is mitigated by the mess that is the soundtrack and the repetition.
Probably the scene when the massive spice harvester is swallowed whole by the sandworm. It was probably the absolute bomb in 1984, and it still looks pretty good.
What’s up with…?
- The random soundtrack?
- The failure to edit the restored footage for SFX?
- The crass use of recycled footage that makes no sense? The same ship docks like ten times, and there’s one long shot that it clearly a drawing.
- The script in triplicate? “You must kill Paul Atreides.” <thinks>Why do they want Paul dead?</thinks> “Why do you want Paul dead?” <later> “Why do they want Paul dead?” <Paul psychically eavesdropping> “Why do they want me dead?”
Production values: Actual Hollywood standard production values, although some of the rubber suits and unexplained accordions are a little weird. This version is let down however by the crappy prologue, crass soundtracking and failure to blue the eyes in the restored scenes. 10
Dialogue and performances: The dialogue isn’t really bad per se, there’s just too much of it; or maybe the right amount repeated over and over. It’s also phenomenally serious about itself. The performances tend to be either camp or stilted, but that’s the fault of the script’s excessive earnestness. The narrator bites on a level not even matched by Virginia Madsen in the original version. 12
Plot and execution: Just to reiterate, this is an Alan Smithee film once directed by David Lynch. This is a film that was such a jumbled mess that David Lynch took his name off it! Also, the editing sucks. 20
Randomness: Mostly in the editing, but it’s here in spades. So many of the re-editing decisions seem to have come down to ‘people want a longer version, cram this back in even though it serves no additional purpose’. 16
Waste of potential: Dune is a book that would be nigh impossible to film well as anything less than an epic mini-series – and tough even then. By extending the running time, and making the film less comprehensible, this must rate as one of the biggest wastes of the time and talent of everyone involved in living history. 19