The film has a mystical element involving priestesses, known as the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, the all-knowing Water of Life, and a prophecy of a better world — which, if you know anything about prophecies, they should be called movie spoilers instead. Naturally, suspicion surrounds Paul Atreides as that savior. The story is pretty much Paul’s hero journey to lead the inhabitants of Arrakis to take control of their destiny and destroy the spice once and for all.
In 1984, Dune was considered an event film. As the Star Wars trilogy was coming to an end, the entertainment economy was forced to wonder who would take its place. This was Universal’s attempt at the next big franchise. They pumped money into big sets, expensive special effects, and an inexpensive cast of unknown actors in Kyle MacLachlan, Sean Young, Virginia Madsen, the ageless Patrick Stewart, and Sting.
“…the final product feels like a film made for fans of the book.”
As a film, it is definitely a product of the 80s. All the sets are practical as well as special effects. There’s an extensive amount of rotoscoping with quick edits that are done quite well, though it’s easy to see the physical line between reality and movie magic. Creating an interstellar world of aliens races is done brilliantly through the make-up effects and costuming. The make-up design of Harkonnen Baron Vladimir (Kenneth McMillan) is a Dr. Pimple Popper wet dream. The only thing that bothered me about the costumes and make-up is the trope that the pretty people are virtuous and the ugly people are evil. It’s just too easy to know who falls on what side.
What falls flat to me is the rushed storytelling. Written and directed by David Lynch, whom I’m assuming was a fan of Herbert’s novel, the final product feels like a film made for fans of the book. I mean that it felt like there were narrative gaps, not just in the story but in the mythology. Such gaps could quickly be filled by those who knew the story beforehand but leaves the rest of us lost. The entire film seems to be the book’s narrative highlights strung together but rarely spotlights any of its themes or subtext (if there are any). I don’t think this Lynch film is Lynchian in any way. To me, Dune is a straightforward adventure with very little depth or character motivation outside the genre’s tropes.
Dune was fun to watch, but it’s incredibly dated and, for me, not worth a second viewing. As I’ve recently reviewed many epic films of the 80s, Dune makes me wonder what an Albert Pyun adaptation would look like. I trust Denis Villeneuve knows what it takes to make a proper film adaptation of the classic sci-fi novel for 2021.
"…if you know anything about prophecies, they should be called movie spoilers..."