Awesome ’80s in April: Dune (1984)

duen movie poster

I’ve had a copy of Dune, the Frank Herbert novel, on my bookshelves for years. I’ve never managed to read it. I’ve tried a couple of times but I can’t get past the first few paragraphs. It is so dense, so full of new words that I feel immediately lost and that it isn’t worth my time to dig in.

I’ve had a DVD copy of Dune, the movie directed by David Lynch on my shelves for years as well. Until recently I had never managed to watch it. I tried once, many months ago, but didn’t get past the first few minutes. It was so full of exposition and new ideas that I was almost immediately lost and it didn’t feel worth my time to try and dig in.

Last year I did watch Dune, the movie directed by Denis Villeneuve and quite liked it. I’m a big fan of his films in general, and he somehow made this dense world full of numerous people and clans and ideas seem understandable and manageable. So, I figured now was the time to give Lynch’s adaptation another shot.

It was a notoriously expensive bomb. Lynch’s original cut ran about four hours and the studio made him cut it down to just over two. Critics hated it, audiences mostly stayed away, and Lynch has since disavowed it and refuses to speak of it in interviews.

It continues to be reevaluated by new audiences, and the general consensus of it is an ambitious failure.

It was David Lych’s third film. His first was Eraserhead (1977), a really weird, surrealistic body horror flick that became a cult hit. Mel Brooks of all people loved it and hired Lynch to direct his next film, The Elephant Man. That was a much more straightforward film, and it became a big hit and an award-winner. This is how Lynch came to direct Dune, a big-budget sci-fi epic.

I love it. With caveats. The plot is near incomprehensible even with multiple characters explaining what they are doing and with our ability to hear their thoughts.

Most of it takes place on a desert planet, the only place where the people of this universe can get something called spice. Which is a mind-altering drug, it can extend a person’s life and it allows people to bend space so they can travel across the universe in seconds. Or something. There are various warring clans who all are fighting over this planet. But it all seems to be covert. Outwardly the Emperor of the Universe has given control of the planet to one family. Their son is named Paul (Kyle MacLachlan) and he’s apparently some kind of messiah figure.

Everyone has weird hairstyles, one guy can float, and Sting spends a lot of the time practicing fighting with his shirt off. There are cool electronic shields of some kind, people have to wear these weird nose pieces on the spice planet and, oh yea, the planet is full of giant sandworms.

There is so much going on in this film that it is impossible to explain and even more impossible to understand. But it looks really cool. And it is populated by loads of great actors including Patrick Stewart, Brad Dourif, Linda Hunt, José Ferrer, Dean Stockwell, Max Von Sydow, and Sean Young.

The style and look of the film are completely Lynchian. So even while I wasn’t always sure as to what was happening on screen, I sure enjoyed watching it.

5 thoughts on “Awesome ’80s in April: Dune (1984)

    • I think the new one is a better movie and its plot is actually (mostly) understandable. There will be a part two to that one coming soon as well. But the old one is worth watching just for the special effects and visuals.

  1. Great review. It was a ponderous movie made somewhat bearable by the photography and the fact the you got to see Kyle MacLachlan kill Sting. That made it all worth while. 🙂


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