Dune (1984): Now with More Spice   2 comments

german dune

Dark, alien, and plagued by a period in development Hell that would make Terry Gilliam shudder, David Lynch’s 1984 film Dune endured a lot of false starts before making it to a theatre near you. The film tells the story of two warring factions: House Atreides and House Harkonnen. House Atreides (Jürgen Prochnow, Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis) rule the beautiful ocean planet Caladan. They’re attractive, intelligent, and noble. House Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan, Paul Smith, Sting) dominate the desert planet Arrakis. They’re ugly, barbaric, and cruel. OK, Sting’s not ugly, but he’s so nasty you think he is. Filled with political intrigue, spirituality, and even references to the Middle East’s control of oil, Dune is an ambitious film. It aims high, and while it doesn’t hit all of its targets, it hits enough to make for a bizarre and entertaining experience.

close
Don’t stand so close to me.

Though Lynch’s Dune premiered in 1984, attempts to film it started in 1971. Arthur Jacobs, who produced Planet of the Apes and Play It Again, Sam, gave it a shot first. He asked David Lean to direct. Lean said no. Jacobs searched for a director and worked on other projects. He died in 1973 before production began.

computer says
Computer says no.

Jean-Paul Gibon’s company took over after buying the rights from Jacobs’ estate. They hired Alejandro Jodorowsky, who brought in the dream team of Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Dan O’Bannon, Mick Jagger, H.R. Giger, Moebius, Pink Floyd, and Shirley Temple Black. All right, not Black; I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. Cost overruns abounded, and the producers, afraid of what would have been a 10-14 hour film, wrestled the script from Jodorowsky’s hands.

japanese dune
Japanese poster for Jodorowsky’s Dune

Producer Dino De Laurentiis bought the rights, asked Dune author, Frank Herbert, to write a screenplay, and hired Ridley Scott to direct. Now the film would be made in two parts and last a more manageable four hours. The death of Scott’s brother Frank caused him to reassess his life and career. He left the production to make Blade Runner.

sean
Either way, Ridley, you’re stuck with me.

De Laurentiis scrambled to secure the rights again, and his daughter, producer Rafaella De Laurentiis, hired David Lynch to direct Dune. Fresh from the critical success of The Elephant Man, but with no science fiction background or knowledge of the Dune series, Lynch began writing a screenplay. He wrote another screenplay. And another. Lynch wrote a whole bunch of screenplays; then he made the film we know and love. Well, some of us love it. Some lump Dune in the same category as Cimino’s 1980 film Heaven’s Gate: an expensive, rudderless epic. I don’t. For me, Dune has everything a good science fiction film needs.

heaven
Enough already with the abuse.

First, it has space. The two feuding houses don’t live on either side of the Adige in Verona. They live on different planets. It’s the year 10,192 and space travel is a snap. This is especially true if you’re in the Spacing Guild. Spacing Guild members travel the same way Carlos Castaneda did. They drop a little spice and fold space. It beats walking.

spice ad

guild
Hey man, come over and we’ll fold space. It’ll be epic.

Next, it has cool futuristic weapons. House Atreides invents these awesome weirding modules that can kill a guy with the right wavelength. Also, Patrick Stewart and Richard Jordan, clad in transparent armor, train Kyle MacLachlan in hand-to-hand knife fighting. Stewart and others refer to atomic weapons, and remote-controlled hunter seekers armed with poison darts float from room to room.

weird
Pew pew pew!

Then, it has nomadic desert troops waging jihad against their Harkonnen oppressors. The allusions to Arabic culture don’t end there. The character name Thufir means victory in Arabic and Kyle MacLachlan’s tribal name, Mu’adib, translates to teacher. Herbert made comparisons to the Middle East oil crisis and environmental issues throughout his Dune series.

sun
I hope they’re wearing sunscreen.

Then, it has worms and spice. Is there a relationship? The worms are rather large and have accompanying lightning. People fear and worship them. The spice mélange expands consciousness, changes eye color, and helps with that space folding thing.

worm
I don’t think the heavy stuff’s gonna come down for quite a while.

Last, it has an alien aura like no other film. Dune looks like a post-apocalyptic steampunk S&M club’s rendition of Lawrence of Arabia. Vast deserts, steam-powered weaponry, red mohawks, burqas, goggles, leather Speedos, and dimly lit rooms contribute to the overall atmosphere of Victorian future space Bedouin chic. The sweeping theme by Brian Eno and Toto reinforces Dune’s epic status. With a supporting cast that includes the Lynch repertory company of Dean Stockwell, Brad Dourif, and Jack Nance, Dune is well acted and fun to watch. I even like Alan Smithee’s two-part televised version even if David Lynch doesn’t. I’m not alone either. Quite a few of us find the strangeness of Lynch’s vision appealing. Recently, the topic of guilty pleasure films came up on Twitter and I named Dune as one of mine. Immediately, people came out of the woodwork expressing their love for the much maligned film. The praise for Lynch’s odd science fiction gem surprised and delighted me. I guess I’m not the only fan of worms.

A version of this essay appeared first in the Brattle Film Notes, the blog for the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts and my favorite theatre in the world. Here’s a link to that piece. http://www.brattleblog.brattlefilm.org/2015/02/25/dune-now-with-more-spice-2654/#more-2654

baron
What’s up, Baron?

This post brought to you by…

melange

Advertisements

2 responses to “Dune (1984): Now with More Spice

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. “Dune looks like a post-apocalyptic steampunk S&M club’s rendition of Lawrence of Arabia.” I don’t think it’s possible for me to love this sentence any more than I already do.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

How many assholes does it take to review a movie?

Fade To Black

Movie & TV Reviews - Because everyone is entitled to my opinion.

Monstrous Industry

Whirr. Clank. Grr.

Musing to Myself

Pretty much what it says on the tin, my musings

Dance Dance Party Party Akron

Maniacs on the dance floor

raulconde001

A topnotch WordPress.com site

The Love Bungalow

a thoughtful lifestyle blog

Monkey Bread And Popcorn

Picking at Pop Culture

Pearls Of Blissdom by AntheasChronicles

It's the little things that make life blissful!

BooksAbound

Random musings from an extreme bibliophile.

immabelike

Its all about me that I know......rest you all can let me know

CURNBLOG

Movies, thoughts, thoughts about movies.

%d bloggers like this: