Dune (1984) David Lynch
The David Lynch Project Part III
Let’s just get this out of the way right now: David Lynch’s Dune is a mess. It contains some enormous talent, spectacular isolated scenes, exquisite sets and design work, and some incredible action sequences, but it’s still a mess. Yet it is a mess I enjoy watching.
The reasons the film is a mess are legion. First, I have to concede that Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel (which I love) may just be unfilmable. It contains simply too many characters on too many worlds, too much philosophy, too much religion, too much of just about everything. (Even the SyFy Channel’s 2000 miniseries couldn’t adequately do justice to the novel.)
I’m not even sure if a summary of the plot is in order here; if I gave you a synopsis, it probably wouldn’t help. (You can find several online anyway.) In fact, even if you’ve read the book(s), I’m not sure that would help, either. When the film premiered, one reviewer wrote that the person sitting next to him leaned over after the first 15 minutes and said, “I’ve read all the Dune books, and I have no idea what’s going on.”
Second, film adaptations soon turned into a developmental nightmare, with Alejandro Jodorowsky’s famous attempt (with some of the music to be provided by Pink Floyd) never getting off the ground. (There’s a documentary on the failed Jodorowsky attempt – pictured above – which I’d love to see.) When Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis bought the film rights to the novel, he initially had trouble getting a screenplay out of Herbert, which delayed hired director Ridley Scott from getting started. Scott finally had to move on to other projects including Alien and Blade Runner. After watching The Elephant Man, De Laurentiis decided to hire Lynch to direct the film and co-write the script with Eric Bergen and Christopher De Vore.
Other factors also contributed to the failure of the film: Lynch was limited to a two-hour running time (for a 500-page book). 80 different sets were built, 16 sound stages were used, and the budget ballooned to $40 million (the equivalent of almost $91 million in 2015 dollars). Yet the biggest problem with the film is that Lynch did not have the authority of final cut. I’m not sure that would’ve made a huge difference, but the loss of total directorial control devastated Lynch.
When the film was released in 1984, a good friend of mine saw it and said, “It’s really not that bad. Once you watch it eight or nine times, it starts to make sense.” I really wasn’t up for watching it eight or nine times, but I watched it once, which I thought was enough. I saw it again several years later and found it a bit more intriguing.
Now, viewing it a third time, I’m able to notice many of Lynch’s trademarks. Lynch is a huge fan of all things industrial, which comes across in the many gadgets and sets, many of which are not only industrial, but also otherworldly and massive. The pity is most of these elaborate sets are only onscreen for a few seconds.
Lynch also loves to delve beneath the surface of what we see, which could’ve been a real treasure here, since there’s so much corruption to be exposed in the mining of spice and in finding the source of deception hidden in House Atreides. The novel contains many more secrets to be explored, but these are just a couple.
In Lynch on Lynch, the director talks about how Dune was the lowest point in his career, yet he seems to have taken away many positives from it, one of those being the people he worked with for the first time and would work with again, including Kyle MacLachlan, Everett McGill and Dean Stockwell. Yet you know the wounds suffered from Dune still smart.
My friend and partner in this David Lynch Project and I both believe Dune will be the lowest point in our endeavor. We shall see. Next will be either Blue Velvet or the first season of Twin Peaks. I hope you join us for the discussion.