Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted December 19, 2000
Long criticized by both fans of the novel and movie-goers in general, David Lynch's Dune is not that bad as SF adaptations go, and even Frank Herbert gave it his approval. Certainly there were giant chunks of the story left out and other elements added that were not present in the book (the "weirding modules" for instance), but there are other factors which make it one of the better SF films in my movie library. There are several versions that you may have seen; the original theatrical release, the "Alan Smithee" television version which added a lot of narration and graphics at the beginning, supposedly to help explain the complicated plot, and finally the director's cut which restored some missing footage. Even with that last version it is evident in many places that portions of scenes were probably edited out due solely to time constraints. The last time I watched it I got the feeling the story was being propelled along at much too quick a pace. I can completely understand anyone not familiar with the book complaining that much of it did not make sense.
The best thing about the film is its overall look; the sets and costumes are richly detailed and the model work and other effects are impressive enough to give the feel of a truly alien place. The caliber of the cast is excellent, with just a few exceptions (Brad Dourif as Piter de Vries for instance). Unfortunately they do not fare as well as they should due to several abbreviated scenes that prohibit much character development. My Leonard Maltin Movie Guide describes it as "elephantine" and entirely too long, but it is my opinion it is not long enough. Subtracting both opening and closing credits it runs less than 2 hours, 11 minutes, hardly enough to encompass the complicated plot of a novel of more than 500 pages. Thirty more minutes, or even twenty, devoted to plot points and character development would have made a world of difference.
There has been a lot of talk about this film lately due to the recent Mini-Series aired on the Sci-Fi Channel. The consensus opinion of both seems to be evenly split down the middle, with opposing sides nit-picking both versions to pieces. We all must keep in mind that a filmed production will display the sensibilities of its director and producer(s), whereas we all have a very unique view of the story that was built up by our own imaginations as we were reading.
I am reminded of something Kurt Vonnegut once wrote: "The worst thing about film, from my point of view, is that it cripples illusions which I have encouraged people to create in their heads. Film doesn't create illusions. It makes them impossible...For example: there can only be one A Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick. There are tens of thousands of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, since every reader has to cast, costume, direct and design the show in his head."
It is my opinion that David Lynch did an excellent job with all of those elements and only failed with what was omitted, not with what was included, with one exception. Even the weirding modules can be easily explained - to my satisfaction at least. The book never fully described the "weirding ways" Jessica learned from the Bene Gesserit sisterhood and taught to her son Paul, but there was considerable mention of the use of the "Voice" in controlling an adversary. The Emperor supposedly feared Duke Leto due to his popularity among the other houses of the Landsraad, but why should he have been frightened of that when his Sardaukar army was the most feared force in the galaxy? Combining the "Voice" and the "wierding ways" into a weapon based on one of sound created a definite threat to the Emperor's stability. The only element I felt was completely out of place came at the very end of the film, when Paul causes it to rain on Arrakis, a planet that had never experienced such a phenomenon. Certainly this was one of the eventual goals of the ecological plan being developed by the Fremen inhabitants, but such an event would have been impossible until much later in the saga.
I have also written a short review of the Sci-Fi Channel's Mini-Series version of this story.
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