May 18, 2012

[Movies] Dune (1984)

One random day in my younger years, the family was watching, of all movies, Tremors (on Laserdisc no less!) when a relative of mine mentioned that if the giant worms in that movie seemed scary, then I should out the giant sandworms in Dune. And by this point, I was already playing Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty on the PC, so the thought that there was actually a Dune movie seemed phenomenal to me.

But it wasn't until a few years later that I finally got the chance to watch this David Lynch creation, which was probably a good thing since by then I had also read at least the first three books.

Despite my love for Frank Herbert and the Dune franchise as a whole as early as that time, the movie was a bit of a struggle to get through. And looking at the general consensus on the web whether we're talking about reviews by critics or just random internet users, it's clear that most folks didn't exactly like the movie.

And yet the movie remains highly iconic in terms of its look and feel and one cannot argue against the influence it has had on many other Dune-related incarnations such as some of the Dune-themed video games. Plus we'll never see Sting in quite the same way ever again.

Synopsis: Dune is the 1984 movie adaptation of the Frank Herbert book of the same name. The movie went through an arduous process as the rights to the movie passed through several hands including one version to be directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky and starring Salvador Dali and H.R. Giger designing some of the creatures for the movie. But that never happened and this final version was written and directed by David Lynch, who now refuses to discuss this movie was part of his creations.

The movie begins with a quick summary of the Known Universe - the Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV rules and the most precious substance is something known as the spice melange. House Atreides has been assigned to take over the mining of the spice on Arrakis from their sworn enemies, House Harkonnen. Arrakis, also known as Dune, is the only planet in all known space that has the special substance. But all this is an elaborate trap set by the Emperor to destroy House Atreides - a reality that the Atreides are pretty much suspecting from day one.

Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) wielding a Wei...
Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) wielding a Weirding Module in David Lynch's Dune (1984) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
House Atreides is led by Duke Leto Atreides (Jürgen Prochnow). He has one heir, Paul (Kyle MacLachlan) by his concubine Jessica (Francesca Annis), who had been trained by the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood. Just before they leave their home planet of Caladan, Jessica receives the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gauis Helen Mohiam (Siân Phillips) as a guest. The Reverend Mother has come to "test" Paul to determine if he is truly human - a statement that will make more sense if you watch the movie. Needless to say the Sisterhood suspects that Paul may play a vital role in their plans, assuming they survive the dangers of the desert planet Dune and of course House Harkonnen.

Admittedly it's hard to summarize Dune in just two paragraph - and this is whether we're talking about the book or the movie. And given the raw footage of this movie was over four hours long and one of the first cuts was closer to 3 hours long, you can imagine how much the production team had to deal with here. And this is all fair considering the original Dune consisted of several books that were eventually merged into a single one once it started to gain some degree of success among readers.

To start, the movie was suitably epic. The costumes and sets and pretty impressive. The special effects and make-up for things like the Guild Navigator and the giant sandworms of Arrakis themselves were definitely impressive and often awe-inspiring. And add in a rather powerful soundtrack by Toto, and you do end up with a pretty fantastic movie setting indeed.

But the movie's biggest challenge is probably the story itself - it's just too much material for a single movie. that leaves anyone adapting this book with the hard decision of either cutting down the story significantly or expanding the filming options to make the movie part of a series of movies or adapt it into a television mini-series, like what the (then) Sci Fi Channel did. What killed this movie is that it tried to capture most of the book (laudable goal, yes), but within your standard film time of 2 hours (what a constraint!).

And given how wordy the book was, we end up with a LOT of voice-overs and narration to reveal to us the thoughts and fears of the various characters, just like in the book. And that can get pretty boring / dragging over time, that much I'll admit. I think I only appreciate it a wee bit more than most since I love the books so much and thus I could understand why everyone had 3-act plays going on in their heads with all the other action taking place.

And the acting was a mixed bag, despite the impressive resumes attached. MacLachlin was decent, but at times a bit too unemotional. Plus who would believe that he's just a boy as Paul was in the original story (stop comparing the movie with the book, Rocky!) To be fair, the Baron Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan) was suitably disgusting and we'll never, ever, EVER forget Sting as Feyd-Rautha coming out of the steam in just his leather undies. Never.

But I suppose I can understand the challenge presented to the actors, especially given how many of the characters were originally described as either being hard to read emotionally, in perfect control of their emotions, stoic or just plain cold and calculating. Thus you get a lot of acting that tends to lean more towards being flat and monotone.

At least it looked like Patrick Stewart had a fun time as Gurney Halleck. Go Gurney!

In the end, the Dune was a generally faithful adaptation of the original book but one that just didn't work as a movie. It went on too long and we had way too much dialog - most of which was done in the manner of voiceovers. Lynch could have exercised more "show instead of tell" in his approach, but to be fair we don't know what kinds of creative constraints the studios placed on his shoulders, especially given the quest to make this movie started in 1971.

Even as a Dune fan, I have a hard time re-watching the movie, but I'll admit that I can only imagine the characters wearing the same costumes when I do re-read the books. Funny that. thus the movie still rates 2.5 sandworms storming the Emperor's ship out of a possible 5.

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  1. i cannot NOT comment on Dune. Also, the other edit was hella better, IMO. did you see the other edit?

  2. I am not sure what edits I have seen na, hahaha!