I was prepared for Dune to be a terrible movie, and it was a good thing I did, because I wasn’t disappointed at all. In fact I was slightly surprised, I thought I was going to have to sit through the 190 minute television version, but luckily I ended up getting the theatrical cut instead, which runs at a mere 137 minutes. Even that felt too long though, as Dune is a movie that fails in the worst way possible: it’s just plain uninspired and boring.

Dune, based on Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel of the same name, is about a young hero, Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan), whose father (Juergen Prochnow) is killed by an enemy house, the Harkonnens, just after they move to their new home on Arrakis, the Dune planet. Paul and his mother, the Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis), hide out in the desert, and eventually join up with the native people, the Fremen, in a rebellion against the Harkonnens and the Emperor (Jose Ferrar), by controlling the galactic trade in the spice produced only on Arrakis.


Though I suppose the Emperor is the big baddie in all of this, really that title goes to the Baron Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan). His character is probably the most interesting deviation from the book (and there are suprisingly not many, just a lot of stuff is understandably cut out). Lynch goes from making him an figure of fear more to one of revulsion, and his scenes are the portion of the film that feel the most like Lynch’s other work. He is very concerned with making the Baron as gross as possible, he has a horrible skin disease on his face and has an even grosser treatment for it. There’s also some strange kids in the background draining blood from a cow, and the Baron leers at his newphew (Sting), just a bit too often for comfort. All in all, the way Lynch portrays his character is just as disturbing and disgusting as his first feature, Eraserhead, but without the poetry. Instead of grossing us out to illustrate a deep anxiety and fear of fatherhood, it feels like he’s just doing it because he can. Likewise, the special effects do not stand up to Eraserhead‘s early promise.


While the book can at some times be confusing, I am almost certain that next to none of this movie will make sense to those going in cold. This is remarkable given that the film devotes so much time to explaining itself. Lynch employs the laziest of all techniques used when adapting novels to the big screen; instead of having actors act out their emotions, have voice overs that explicitly tell us what they are thinking. Most of the time the information this conveys is redundant and laughable, because the actors barely emote. There is an entire character, Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen), whose sole purpose is to explain the plot to us. There are good reasons based on the source material that these things are in the movie, but that doesn’t make it any better. Worst of all, the film is still confusing. Because so much material is cut out from the book (which is of course is neccessary to get it down to a watchable length), events often seem disconected and characters are seldom introduced well.

Dune is an incredibly hard book to adapt, and Lynch doesn’t really suceed. The film doesn’t even really work on an “it’s so bad it’s good” basis. Most of the visuals are too gross to be funny, and the acting is too flat and boring to stay awake for. There are some interesting things about Dune (Paul’s sister legitimately freaked me out, and this must have been when Lynch discovered many of the actors that would later go on to star in Twin Peaks), but in the end, it’s hardly worth the time it takes to watch. Just read the book.


Long story short: 1.5/4 stars

For Further Reading:

Cinematic review
Roger Ebert review
The New York Times review

7 responses to “Dune

  1. I think the biggest problem with Dune is that it’s so ridiculously uneven. It feels like they started at the beginning, tried to include everything, and then at some point realised they were running out of time and money.
    Basically, the first 90-110 minutes managed to cover about 90-110 pages of the book. Which leaves about a half hour for the 400 pages where almost everything happens.
    The 190 minute TV movie, if it’s what I’m thinking of, is a totally different production that pages itself much better.

    Lynch’s movie has its charms, but it’s definitely for people that know the book already and want to see a spectacle. Without some advance plot knowledge, they might keep up for awhile but it’ll all fall apart eventually.
    A super detailed introduction to the world and characters, followed by what is essentially a highlights reel with no context. Grin.

    • “A super detailed introduction to the world and characters, followed by what is essentially a highlights reel with no context.” that pretty much sums up this movie. The beginning sets everything up, but somehow it doesn’t make it any easier to follow. I appreciate that the book is hard to follow, but even so, the movie makes little to no sense, especially towards the end.

  2. LOL, this is like the stain on Lynch’s career, right? I won’t bother to ever see this. The unanimous dislike for it really sours me to ever wanting to give it a look. Like, if you’re going to suck, at least be entertainingly sucky, right?

    • Yeah, I would say so. I think I’ve seen about half of his stuff at this point, and this is definitely the worst. It’s not very entertaining and if you want to look into the themes you’re way better off reading the book. I guess it sort of has a cult following and I know people who enjoy it, but I’m personally not in that boat.

      • Oh, I definitely enjoy watching it once in a while; I’m just very aware that the likelihood of an individual enjoying the movie hinges to a ridiculous degree on their familiarity with the book (and that even that factor in no way guarantees a positive experience).
        As to the book, it was an early favourite of mine. I read it in about seventh grade the first time, and then annually for several years (eventually life grew busy enough that I couldn’t keep rereading books that regularly, grin). I have no complaints about Herbert’s Dune; I think it’s brilliant. That said, I only really loved the first one (and I slogged through several before abandoning hope that is find its equal among its sequels).

  3. Honestly, I still kind of like it. I’m not sure if it’s because there’s something critically appealing to me (if there is, I haven’t identified it yet) or if it’s just because I saw it when I was pretty young and a few of its images stuck with me.

    I tend not to be too wild about Lynch. I like a lot of his films, but I don’t always think he’s massively successful in his presentation. His conceits are brilliant, but the memes that develop inside each of his movies become just a hair too navel-gazing for me to maintain interest.

    The thing I still like about Dune is that, if you’ve read some of the other books Frank Herbert’s written, many of them waffle between too esoteric to grasp and detailed to the point of tedium. And that’s what Dune is…in it’s own weird way, it perfectly captures the rather unfulfilling experience of plowing through a lot of Herbert’s work. That’s not exactly high praise, but it keeps Dune alive as an experience I revisit now and again.

    (I’d still have preferred a Jodorowsky version.)

    • I do think a lot of Lynch films are like that, the idea behind them is great but the execution gets so abstract that it’s almost divorced from the original idea (however cool that original idea was). Lost Highway is a good example of that I think, the idea behind the movie (dissociative fugue states and so on) is pretty cool, but the movie just makes no sense. Though I do tend to like most of Lynch’s work, in moderation.
      I did struggle a bit to get through Dune (the book), but somehow that’s not as much of a problem for me when I’m reading. Like I don’t have to get through the book all at once, and I’ll still be able to think “oh that’s a good book.” Dune had its dull moments for sure, but I sort of give it a pass on that because it is a book. I still see what you’re saying though, however I think Lynch should have done a better job trimming it down to fit in one movie, or maybe making it in installments (which I don’t think anyone would have wanted, but on a purely hypothetical basis it probably serves the story better).
      Jodorowsky’s at least would have been more interesting, presumably, because Lynch himself admits to selling out on Dune whereas Dune was more of a passion project for Jodorowsky. From the doc though it seems as if the film would have deviated quite a bit from the source material and almost certainly would not have been as accessible (given Jodorowsky’s cult status). I’m sure if it would have been a movie I would have enjoyed more personally, but at least it would have been good to know that more enthusiasm and craftsmanship went into it.

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