Review: DUNE (1984) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Review: DUNE (1984)

RATING: 0.5/5

In the language of cinema, there are two types of bad movies -- one that falls on the "so bad it's good" category, and another one is reeked of a rotten egg. Among the latter misfortune falls on DUNE. Based on a beloved sci-fi novel of the same name by the legendary Frank Herbert, this highly-anticipated big screen adaptation is a complete mess of an epic proportion. What's more, this is supposed to be a highly-ambitious effort for director David Lynch, who was up to that time considered one of the most promising avant-garde filmmakers in Hollywood especially after he made the cult classic ERASERHEAD (1977) and the critically-acclaimed mainstream effort THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980). But his following effort on DUNE is a polar opposite altogether.

So just how bad DUNE is? Let's just say the movie has already botched right from the beginning with a lame and confusing introduction by Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen).

The opening narration sounds like this: "A beginning is a very delicate time. Know then, that it is the year 10,191. The known universe is ruled by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam the Fourth, my father. In this time, the most precious substance in the universe is the spice Melange. The spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness. The spice is vital to space travel. The Spacing Guild and its navigators, who the spice has mutated over 4000 years, use the orange spice gas, which gives them the ability to fold space. That is, travel to any part of the universe without moving. Oh, yes. I forgot to tell you. The spice exists on only one planet in the entire universe. A desolate, dry planet with vast deserts. Hidden away within the rocks of these deserts are a people known as the Fremen, who have long held a prophecy that a man would come, a messiah, who would lead them to true freedom. The planet is Arrakis, also known as Dune."

If you read between the line, she mentioned the sentence, "Oh, yes. I forgot to tell you", which is sounded so silly it's just hard to take it seriously. What follows next, is hardly recovered from its misguided start and continues miserably with a series of exposition-heavy narration.

Here's the summary of the story: DUNE takes place in the year 10,991 on four planets which are consisting of Geidi Prime, Kaitain, Caladan and Arrakis. In particular, Arrakis is the desert planet best known as Dune. As it turns out, Dune is the only beneficial planet in the universe that produces "melange", also known as Spice. This all-important Spice is a unique life-extending and awareness-expanding substance that the Harkonnens (from the planet of Geidi Prime) which is controlled by the lunatic Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan).

Enter the young Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan), a bright and skillful warrior who is set out to free Dune from the tyranny of Harkonnen by the scheming emperor of Kaitain known as Padishah Emperor Shaddham IV (Jose Ferrer). Paul is joined by his father, Duke Leto (Jurgen Prochnow) and his mother Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis). But it's not an easy task since Dune is infested with gargantuan and hungry Sandworms.

Up to that time, DUNE was one of the most expensive movies ever made which cost an enormous budget of $40 million. Apart from its fairly impressive production design and elaborate costumes, the budget is not particularly well-spent. In the age of STAR WARS (1977) and its subsequent sequels, it's natural to expect that a sci-fi epic like DUNE would have been a visually spectacular experience altogether. Unfortunately that is hardly the case at all, because just about everything here are painfully dull. The supposedly expensive-looking special effects (particularly on the gigantic Sandworms) are hopelessly dated and shabby. Freddie Francis's cinematography is drab and murky, which also badly filtered with brownish-yellowish tinge. Toto and Brian Eno's inappropriate rock soundtrack is terribly awkward, while Anthony Gibbs's messy editing is simply unforgivable. Even the action sequences are poorly put together and hardly generates any sort of excitement.

As for the actors, none of them really holds a candle. Kyle MacLachlan is one painfully boring lead actor to watch for, while the rest of the supporting actors are either too cartoonish or too pathetic worth investing at all.

But the biggest blame of all falls on David Lynch himself. Don't get me wrong, he is a unique filmmaker but executing a sci-fi epic as massively dense and complicated as DUNE is clearly out of his element here. While there are few trademarks of his filmmaking style (e.g. the grotesque and controversial nature of the Harkonnen), most of his direction is spirally goes out of control that Lynch seems more like a poor man's work-for-hire than a committed filmmaker. His adapted screenplay, in which he shared the co-writing credit with Christopher DeVore, is poorly constructed that those with the little knowledge of the novel will find the movie such a frustrating experience to understand for. It doesn't help either when the movie is also overlong, clocking at a 137 minutes that feels like an eternity to sit through. The pacing is so slow that I admit I have tough time staying awake throughout the course of the movie.

Another glaring weakness that plagued with this movie, is the way how characters are depicted in a series of annoying voiceovers whenever they need to think out loud of explaining their motivations, action and so on. Yes, it is that irritating I wouldn't blame those audiences back at that time where they might choose to walk out of the theaters halfway.

Regrettably, this was the final mainstream effort David Lynch has ever worked with the big Hollywood studio system. However, two years later, he would go on directing his first true masterpiece which was none others than BLUE VELVET (1986).

A Place Beyond Your Dreams. A Movie Beyond Your Imagination, as the tagline reads on the promotional poster? It actually sounds right about that, except it's not for the good term. No doubt DUNE is one of the worst movies ever made, and a real disgrace to Frank Herbert's source material.

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