Do not mistake me – I love a bit of David Lynch. Eraserhead is one of my favourite films and I’m a big fan of The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet. His is a unique artistry with instantly identifiable aesthetics and ideas, deserving of much credit for getting the mainstream movie-going public to appreciate the “weird shit”. I’m also a huge admirer of Frank Herbert’s Dune novel; as a lover of science-fiction I find it to be quite definitive, the lore is amazing, the Baron Harkonnen is one fat fuck of an iconic villain and, speaking of iconic, the sand worms of Arrakis are among the all-time great representatives of the genre as a whole. With all that being said, now’s the time for some blatant contradiction because David Lynch’s cinematic rendition of Dune is bad, bad, BAD!
I haven’t really been feeling the drive to review anything these past few months but with Denis Villeneuve’s new version on the sandy horizon – an adaptation that I am indescribably excited for; why not revisit that pesky Lynchian attempt? Tainted by a stupefying lack of creative freedom for it’s director, marred by a negative critical reception upon release, and disowned by Lynch himself – strap yourselves in folks! You see, Dune is a story that runs on expansive lore and world-building like the human body runs on blood; just imagine if Game Of Thrones took place in a galaxy far far away and you pretty much get the picture. It’s big, very big – to the point in which the efforts made by the executives to force Lynch to keep the runtime as short as possible (inserting out-of-nowhere narration to fill the gaps, Blade Runner style) become more and more infuriating with every second I give them thought.
Adapting such a story to a more succinct medium like film was never going to be an easy mountain to climb because you have to include all that malarkey while still telling a coherent story; that’s why splitting the new film into more than just one part seems wise without even seeing it yet. That’s also where, of all things to reference, M. Night Shyamalan’s Last Airbender movie went wrong the most: it doesn’t tell a story so much as explain one, nothing flows naturally- it’s all just exposited from one small scene (that’s meant to represent a bulk of information) to the next. And that is where I find myself with David Lynch’s Dune, an unfinished-looking load of expositional nonsense that moves through its narrative as smoothly as an operation to reconstruct a collapsed urethra, only vaguely making sense if you’re familiar with the book.
But that’s just the big problem at the film’s core, it’s also diabolically over-the-top and cheap-looking. The characters are weak in both personality and representation, they’re just kind of there because they’re in the book and wouldn’t be if Lynch wasn’t working with pre existing material; I’m looking at you, Duncan Idaho! The Harkonnens too are very disappointing, coming off more like a band of mean-spirited clowns than a notoriously unethical and relentless family of beasts to be feared. The SFX are comically unconvincing even for the time – the visual of Paul Atreides riding a sand worm is among the worst offenders, I mean Star Wars came out seven years before and looked light years better. Some scenes put me more in mind of a BBC production of a Tom Baker-era Doctor Who than an expensive cinematic space opera.
Sure the Navigator we see at the beginning is cool, Francesca Annis does a decent job as Lady Jessica, the worms are the best thing about the whole endeavour and I appreciate that Lynch did everything he could to do justice to source material he apparently didn’t even like all that much. But, in the end, I don’t think that justice was properly served; like I said before: it doesn’t tell a story – it explains one, and just when you think it’s going to sit down, shut up and take some damn breaths, it flashes the scars where missing body parts used to be and jumps to the next exposition scene like a suicidal depressive to the bottom of a cliff.
I know it has developed a cult following in the years since, but it is one I am not a part of. Unlike the book I find little to latch onto, nothing to care about or get invested in, despite a potentially interesting style and the inclusion of an unbelievable amount of information from its source novel – I just can’t with this one. Nevertheless, I am still so incredibly excited for the new version, from what I’ve seen in the trailers and read in reviews and articles thus far – it appears exactly as I imagined the story since I first read Herbert’s work, come on Denis, if anyone’s got this it’s you!