David Lynch’s DUNE

“It took DUNE about nine minutes to completely strip me of my anticipation. This movie is a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time. Even the color is no good; everything is seen through a sort of dusty yellow filter, as if the film was left out in the sun too long. Yes, you might say, but the action is, after all, on a desert planet where there isn’t a drop of water, and there’s sand everywhere. David Lean solved that problem in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, where he made the desert look beautiful and mysterious, not shabby and drab.” – Critic Roger Ebert’s original review of DUNE: Theatrical Cut

“Elephantine adaptation of Frank Herbert’s popular sci-fi novel set in the year 10,991. You know you’re in trouble when a film’s opening narration (setting up the story) is completely incomprehensible! Visually imaginative, well cast, but joyless and oppressive-not to mention long…” – Critic Leonard Maltin’s original review of DUNE: Theatrical Cut

THE REVIEW: Based on Frank Herbert’s sci-fi saga, Dune was directed by David Lynch who had previously made the cult classics Eraserhead and The Elephant Man. With Dune, Lynch completely took his craft to a new level. Dune was later edited several times, the original theatrical version (released in 1984) was re-cut and the producers added on around 30 minutes more footage with narration that was not used in the original release. This time, Lynch took his name off the film and instead put the ‘Alan Smithee’ pseudonym on it, which was a way of removing any association he had with the new presentation of the film.

Dune is an epic story (taking place in the year 10,991) about a war to control a mystical mineral known to all in the universe as “Spice Melange” which is found on the Planet Arrakis also known as DUNE. Arrakis is also the home of desert dwellers known as Fremen and gargantuan creatures known as Sandworms. The sandworms of Arrakis are a guard of sorts and they are approx. 1500 feet long and 125 feet high. They live a long time unless they are drowned in water, which is poisonous to them.

NOTE: Dune utilizes the voiceover in a unique fashion. The characters in this film are heard to whisper their inner-monologues so we can hear them. So this clues us in to some of their reasons for acting in certain ways. This is an aspect of Dune I always liked a lot.

The theatrical cut of DUNE opens with a introduction by Emperor Shaddam IV’s daughter Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen) telling us about the two warring families trying to control the spice on Arrakis. They are the House Atreides (who are the rulers of Planet Caladan). The Atreides family is headed by the Duke Leto (Jurgen Prochnow), his bound concubine Jessica (Francesca Annis) and their son Paul (Kyle McLachlan). The rival family is the House Harkkonen, the ruling family of the Planet Geidi Prime. They are lead by Baron Vladimir Harkkonen (Kenneth McMillan). His two nephews Feyd (Sting) and The Beast Rabban (Paul L. Smith) are his two henchmen. You will notice that The Baron is so fat he cannot walk so he wears a suspensor belt which lifts him into the air so he can move freely.

At the beginning of the story, one of the Guild’s navigators visits the Planet Kaitan and warns Paddishah Emperor Shaddam IV (Jose Ferrer) that Paul Atreides must be killed. The Emperor sends one of the Bene Gesserits to look at Paul Atreides and find out why the Guild wants him dead. Paul Atreides is being trained in the “weirding way”, which is a weapon used by the Atreides to destroy objects using their voices. Paul is tested when Capt. Thufir Hawat (Freddie Jones), Gurney Halleck (Patrick Stewart), Dr. Wellington Yueh (Dean Stockwell) set a fighting robot to spear Paul, but Paul is too fast and destroys the test robots weaponry. Paul is summoned by one of the Revrend Mothers to be looked at. After placing his hand inside the Reverend Mother’s truth box (which creates a feeling of burning flesh) and sustaining the imaginary pain, she can see that he is very strong in mind and will. Paul is let go but later he is attacked in his room by a Hunter Seeker (an assassination device) but staying still he is able to destroy it before it kills his housekeeper, a Fremen named Shadout Mapes (Linda Hunt). This is a great sequence in which David Lynch shoots some of the scene as if we are inside the Hunter Seeker needle looking out. Paul now knows hes been marked for death and he must stay sharp. He begins having visions of a water drop and other strange images. He doesn’t know what any of them mean, but he suspects the Spice may be part of the puzzle slowly unfolding in his mind. Meanwhile, The Harkkonen are planning to strike against the House Atreides, killing Duke Leto Atreides and kidnapping Capt. Thufir Hawat. The Harkknonen don’t know that Duke Leto’s wife Jessica happens to be pregnant with his child who will play an integral part in the future of the Universe.

The Atreides meet with a Fremen named Dr. Kynes (Max Von Sydow) who shows them how to use the “stillsuits” (a suit which is worn on the planet Arrakis to help preserve life. The suits are equppied to turn bodily waste back into nourishment) The Atreides travel to Arrakis and they take a Orinthopter across the planet to check on the Sandcrawlers which are collecting the spice. Paul meets the rest of the Fremen people, who are led by Stilgar (Everett McGill), he also meets a young beautiful girl named Chani (Sean Young). The Fremen take him to the Sietch (the caves the Fremen live in) he later Paul becomes their leader after showing them the weirding way. He is then given the Fremen nickname “Usul” (meaning base of the pillar). During the fights between the Harkkonen and The Fremen, Paul Atreides climbs onto a Sandworm and inserts maker hooks into the creature which helps him steer it through the immense desert landscape. The battle between The House Atreides and House Harkonen rages on. After Paul has a vision, he decides to drink The Water Of Life, and through doing this he awakens from his sleep. He now has extraordinary powers and can kill with the sound of his voice without any weaponry. The Fremen know now he is The One and they call him Muad Dib. Now, Paul “Muad Dib” cannot be stopped by the Harkkonen or The Emperor. GEEK NOTE: Look for a young Alicia Witt as Paul’s baby sister Alia.

THE EXTENDED CUT: The opening of Dune’s Extended Version doesn’t have the introduction by Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen) instead it is a storyboard montage narrated by Robert Loggia which gives more backstory to the world of Dune. The narration continues throughout the film as well. This cut contains approx. 30 minutes of story added on to the original cut. I think even though David Lynch took his name off this version, it is a more in depth explanation of what DUNE is about. As you can tell, there’s a lot of strange lingo and characters which are introduced in the film, with the Extended Cut you get to find out more about the world DUNE takes place in.

Buy DUNE on BluRay



Editor-In-Chief of The Grindhouse Cinema Database/Furious Cinema contributor. Pete is a rabid movie geek who enjoys everything from wild n' crazy exploitation/cult flix to big budget mainstream classics. His other interests include: graphic design, cartooning and music.

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2 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have seen this movie ‘numerous’ times. There is something about it, that draws me in and keeps me there. No, it’s nowhere as good as the book. But, I still enjoy the film. Except for Sean Young.

  1. November 24, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Grindhouse Database, Grindhouse Database and Furious Cinema, Planet GCDB. Planet GCDB said: – RECENT UPDATES – ONE SPICY SPACE EPIC: DAVID LYNCH’S DUNE: “It took DUNE about nine minut… http://bit.ly/fDywiu #film #movies #music […]

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