Dune (1984) : Lynch's Worst Film?

Arguably his weakest film, David Lynch’s screen daptation of Frank Herbert’s cult science fiction novel is dramatically misconceived and only decently executed.

In theory, the project sounds ideal for Lynch’s eccentric sensibility, but in actuality, what unfolds on screen is a dull, univolving tale, which sporadically contains some good moments.

In condensing Herbert’s admittedly sprawling and complex book by eliminating characters and combining events, Lynch has made the story incomprehensible even to those who have read the novel, but untirely unengaging to those unfamiliar with the source material.

Sketchy and episodic in the worse sense of these terms, “Dune,” which was also written by Lynch, is set in the year 10,191, when the universe is dominated by a feudal rule.

The system is presided over by Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV (José Ferrer), who seems to take his orders from a bizarre object that some critics described as a “talking vagina.”

Two houses are in rivalry in the empire: the House of Atreides and the House of Harkonnen. Each house is trying to gain dominion over the universe, but that goal could be achieved by the house that controls the Spice, a special substance that permits the folding of time.

Problem is, the Spice is only available on the desert world of Arrakis, or Dune. Tired of the feuding between the two houses, Padishah allows the Atreides to take over the Spice production on Dune, while secretly working with the Harkonnens to launch an attack on the Atreides and destroy them.

The leader of the Atreides is Duke Leto (Jürgen Prochnow), who rules with the help of his concubine Jessica (Francesca Annis) and son Paul (Kyle MacLachlan). The rival Harkonnens are headed by the degenerate Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan) and his two nephews, Rabban (Paul L. Smith) and Feyd (Sting).

When his father is murdered by the Harkonnens, Paul escapes to Dune, where he is greeted by the Fremen as the messiah foretold in Fremen legend. Paul is soon perceived as the messiah, leading the Fremen in a rebellion that dangerously changes the universe’s already fargile balance of power.

There is not a single performance in “Dune” which is decent, and so many good international stars, such as Swedish Max von Sydow, British Sting, Italian Silvana Mangano, and American thespians, such as Dean Stockwell and Sean Young, which are totally wasted.

Beware: There are different versions—none comprehensible–of the movie. One adaptation, which is longer than the original theatrical release by an hour, has been shown on TV, but Lynch has removed his name from it.

Lynch is an idiosyncratic director, who depends on critical response.  Having watched the movie twice, I find it hard to defend this particular work by an otherwise brilliant director, whose outpuy I have admired for decades, ever since I saw the 1977 “Eraserhead” at a midnight screening.

Needless to say, “Dune” was both an artistic and commercial flop, and the only good thing about it that ir provoked Lynch to make two years later, in 1986, “Blue Vlevet,” one of his masterpieces.

 

Oscar Nominations: 1

Sound: Bill Varney, Steve Maslow, Kevin O’Connell, Nelson Stoll.

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Sound Oscar was the muiscal biopic “Amadeus,” which swept most of the awards in 1984, including Bets Picture and Best Director for Milos Forman.

Credits

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running time: 137 Minutes.

Directed By: David Lynch

Released: December 14, 1984 Wide

DVD: March 16, 1998

Cast

Francesca Annis Lady Jessica

Leo Cimino as The Baron’s Doctor

Brad Dourif as Piter De Vries

José Ferrer as Padishah Emperor Shadda…

Linda Hunt as Shadout Mapes

Freddie Jones as Thufir Hawat

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