Dune (1984)

Going into this movie for me was like jumping in the middle of World War II with a sword and shield. My preparation was woefully inadequate. Not only had I never read the evidently dense Frank Herbert novel and was thus entirely unfamiliar with the story, I had also never seen a David Lynch film before. To be honest, I don’t feel as though I can legitimately review this film, but knowing that there are probably other viewers who enter under the same conditions, I’m going to review it from that perspective, for them.

It is indeed an unfortunate perspective to see Dune from. The world of Dune is obviously very developed and complex. This type of epic, populated by an enormous amount of strangely named characters, simply fails to transfer to the screen. Without any background knowledge for all the political turmoil going about, it’s very hard to keep up with during a first viewing.

If the movie confuses you, you’ll get no sympathy from it at all. It’s mercilessly serious, always marching forward drily and indifferently, telling its story and offering no levity. There are no moments of tenderness, no instances of humor, and I may be remembering unfairly, but possibly not a single smile in the entirety of the near 3 hour film. It feels less like entertainment and more like actually reading a novel – it demands your attention entirely, which still might not be enough to understand it.

People often cite the visual effects of the film as a major strength. To be certain, there are many uses of make-up and costumes, as well as a fair population of interesting and well-made creatures. Unfortunately, many of the larger special effects look dated. Considering that the film was made after the entire original trilogy of Star Wars, and that it actually went over budget by a considerable amount, it’s disappointing to see the results. There are poorly done projected backgrounds, such as when the hero hides from a sandworm. Also, despite the awesome idea behind the block suits, the implementation is comical because of how primitive the effects look.

I realize that there is a lot of history behind the making of this film. David Lynch is certainly a more experimental and independent filmmaker, and he was placed at the helm of this large sci-fi blockbuster. In addition, the source material is very intense and could probably never be compacted to a three hour film. From a perspective blind to Lynch’s work and the epic story, however, none of these things matter, and what they get is a movie that takes itself far too seriously and doesn’t look nearly good enough to make up for its befuddling story.

I fully intend to watch this movie at a later time, when I have familiarized myself better with Lynch, and even possibly read the Frank Herbert novel. However, until then, these are my feelings about Dune.

Final rating: 3/10

–James A. Janisse





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