Running time: 137 min.
Release date: December 14, 1984
Dune was written and directed by David Lynch and was adapted from Frank Herbert's 1965 novel of the same name. For some time after the novel's publishing, movie studios had made attempts to have a film version hit the big screen. In 1978, producer Dino De Laurentiis had acquired the film rights and decided that Lynch was the right man to bring the story to life. The novel was quite expansive in its scope and Lynch had his work cut out for him in condensing the story into one film. The end result is a film that has some awe-inspiring visuals but gets bogged down in a confusing narrative and an all-around lack of levity.
In the year 10191, melange ("the spice") is the most coveted substance in the universe. It can extend life and expand consciousness. It also aids the Spacing Guild with folding space, allowing them to safely and instantly travel through the universe. The only source of the spice is the planet Arrakis, also known as "Dune" due to its desert surface. Emperor Shaddam IV (Jose Ferrer) awards the stewardship of Arrakis to House Atreides over their bitter rivals House Harkonnen. Baron Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan) plans an attack with the help of someone on the inside with House Atreides. Meanwhile, Duke Leto (Jurgen Prochnow) and his wife Jessica (Francesca Annis) have been preparing their son, Paul (Kyle MacLachlan) for big things. Paul has been having prophetic dreams about his rise, something known to the Spacing Guild, who want him murdered. After Harkonnen attack, the Duke is killed and Paul and his mother left in the desert. They befriend the natives of Arrakis, known as the Fremen, who believe Paul to be their messiah, who will lead them to freedom. Also of note is the fact that spice mining is constantly threatened by the presence of giant sandworms, something that Paul must also overcome if he is to avenge his family.
Summarizing the plot for this film is very difficult to do because there is just so much going on at once and not a lot of it is explained in great detail. That is one of the issues plaguing Dune: it has taken the main points of the novel and put them on the screen with some context left out. The film contains a lot of its own language that might be deemed inaccessible to the average viewer, especially if they have not read the novel. Characters weave in and out of the plot with a few lines of exposition. Also making interpretation difficult are some of the surreal imagery that David Lynch incorporates. Is this really necessary to the narrative? The structure of the story is jumbled and it felt very thick to wade through. There is also a noticeable lack of energy from the cast on-screen. There doesn't seem to be any joy in the craft and there is a dour tone throughout.
What does work, however, are the awe-inspiring visuals throughout the film. The special effects, the settings, the production design, the costumes; they were all interesting to watch and very well-crafted. Lynch does an excellent job executing the technical side of the film and giving the viewer a sense of time and place. It actually does look and feel like a distant planet in the future. However, that is all at the surface. Lynch deserves credit for developing Frank Herbert's universe from a physical sense but perhaps Dune is best left to be a multi-part TV mini-series where the plot and characters have time to be introduced and developed. Condensing everything into a two and a half hour film just do not provide it with much breathing room.