Golden Oldies On the Big Screen Golden Oldies On the Big Screen

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 21, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: After ‘The Elephant Man’ but before ‘Blue Velvet’ and ‘Twin Peaks,’ David Lynch tackled his first and only big-budget, studio-restrictive work, an epic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi work, ‘Dune.’ The film was a major flop and Lynch cited studio interference as the reason, since it was taken from him before the final cut. Several recut versions now exist and a cult following has developed but the film remains controversial among sci-fi and especially Herbert fans, and even among Lynch-philes. Now, ‘Dune is being revived on the big screen as part of the Salt Lake Film Society’s ‘Summer Late Nights’ series at the Tower Theater this weekend, Friday and Saturday at 11 p.m., and Sunday at noon. My review below was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 14, 1984.

There’s little doubt that “Dune” is one of the most eagerly awaited movies in many a moon, but how well you take to it may have a lot to do with whether you have read the nearly 20-year-old novel, which has spawned several sequels and devoted cult following.

And though it is well-documented by now that “Star Wars” owes much to “Dune” in terms of plot turns and its pseudo-religious mysticism, moviegoers unfamiliar with “Dune” may simply feel too familiar with some of the material here.

But where “Star Wars” was really little more than a simple shoot-’em-up adventure yarn, laced with outer space, other-worldly trappings, “Dune” is a much more complex parable with much stronger religious parallels.

And the film’s writer-director, David Lynch (“The Elephant Man”), has obviously taken pains to make his movie quite different stylistically than the “Star Wars” trilogy.

     

Kyle McLachlan, left, is engaged in battle by Sting as Patrick Stewart looks on in 'Dune' (1984).

This is a moody, dark and very violent drama about a young man destined to become a messiah to the universe, who must first undergo a series of torturous rituals before he and his rebel army can overthrow the evil tyrants who rule.

The effects, the acting and direction are all interestingly laid out, but there is a major problem here that dogs the entire production. Lynch has simply filmed too much, then apparently tried to edit it down to a reasonable running time (2 hours, 10 minutes), which makes for underdeveloped characters, confusing plot juxtapositions and in the end, an emptiness that left me rather cold.

Characters come and go so speedily that those who have been introduced with a flourish, which would seem to promise major dramatic moments from them later on (i.e. Sting, Linda Hunt, Max Von Sydow), have their onscreen time cut all too short.

In addition, the language used here — that is, the complicated names for planets, people and creatures — is so foreign that it’s hard to keep it all straight. For that reason there is a voice-over narration that clumsily repeats the same information so often it becomes irritating.

“Dune” the movie is just so lumbering and cumbersome that it reveals its rough edges. Although, if you are a fan of the novel, you will no doubt have an advantage, filling in the gaps with your prior knowledge of people and events in this complicated, multi-leveled story.

The special effects are all quite good, although when the enormous sandworms are shown they just look like giant worms — nothing particularly special about that. Some of the other creatures are much more imaginative, such as a bizarre, embryonic-like being called the Spacing Guild Navigator.

     

Filmmaker David Lynch, left, is greeted by author Frank Herbert on the set of 'Dune' in 1983.

For some reason, Lynch chooses to take an oddly claustrophobic approach in certain scenes, as when a ship is lifting a machine from a sand pit. We see it from the point of view of those in the ship, with no long shots to give us a frame of reference.

The performances are also quite good generally, though, as mentioned, too many actors disappear far too quickly. The lead actor, Kyle MacLachlan, is personable enough as the fresh-faced boy who must become a man, but most notable in the very large cast are Francesca Annis as Lady Jessica and Kenneth McMillan, excellent as one of the most despicable villains the screen as ever produced, the Baron Vladmir Harkonnen. In fact, McMillan may be too good. His hideous, slobbering, deformed, blatantly homosexual and perhaps incestuous character, a fiend with an insatiable bloodlust, is so repulsive you may find yourself cringing every time he comes on the screen.

Working with color for the first time, Lynch has chosen a rather muddy, brown look, which, despite its being in keeping with the murky themes of the film, becomes less atmospheric than it is simply hard to watch.

In general, “Dune” is a brave attempt at something different, replete with bizarre, dreamlike imagery that will be somewhat familiar to those who have seen Lynch’s two other films — “Eraserhead” and “The Elephant Man.”

But as a whole, “Dune,” rated PG-13 for some extreme violence, along with some brief partial nudity and a couple of brief sex scenes, is just too empty and uninvolving to be the epic that was obviously intended.