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
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