Reviewed by Steve Crow
Rating: 6.5 Beans
irst of all I should preface this with the note that I saw the Director's Cut. There seem to be so many versions floating around that who knows for sure. But yes, I saw the version with the Baron killing an assistant by pulling his heart plug and bathing in his blood, among other things.
In some ways, Dune is a great m"epic" ovie, particularly in the first half. The scenery is initially very impressive. Just look at the care taken with the sequence of the Guild members arriving to visit the Emperor. The scenes on Caladan. These are big shots, with a big budget, and definitely convey an epic feel.
Some of the initial stuff on Caladan is also pretty good. I don't see it commented on much, but I like the first dueling sequence between Gurney and Paul. The shields and the fighting style they employ to bypass them is fascinating. In fact, Patrick Stewart as Gurney Halleck manages to bypass the limitations of being in an "epic" and actually brings some meat to his character.
Unfortunately, then it all goes down the tubes. The added sequence at the beginning of Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen) is hilarious. She starts spouting off some history, then her face fades out, then it fades back in and she says, "Oh did I forget to mention...?" yada yada yada. It's like she's one of Ed Wood's opening narrator's or something. You're the narrator: how can you forget stuff?!? Go back and rehearse and try it again and re-shoot the scene, for pete's sake! You just want to shout back, "Hell if we know if you did!" when she asks.
There's also the dubious "inner monologue" dialogue that Lynch uses throughout. Granted, Herbert's writing style and subtlety was undoubtedly hard to capture on-screen. On the other hand, that's why screenwriters and directors get the big bucks: to translate that kind of stuff.
Although Kenneth McMillan as the Baron manages to convey some sense of menace and political savvy, it's pretty bad when even the writers (via Jose Ferrer) call him a "fat flying fool." Okay, Herbert had the Baron wear an anti-gravity harness, but it just looks silly here. Sting never does anything. Paul Smith (Bluto in Popeye) pulls off chunks of cow meat for lunch snacks. Basically the Harkonnens are an excuse for lots of lovely Lynch grotesqueries on display. That and the dogs and cats. What the heck is it with the dogs and cats?? Patrick Stewart's only silly moment involves his holding a dog in one hand, a flag in the other, and trying to shout with a straight face, "Long live Duke Leto!" This scene is sure to induce giggles.
Linda Hunt, Sean Young (sans Catwoman outfit), and Freddie Jones are among the actors wasted here for the sake of including big-name stars for small parts in a manner reminiscent of John Wayne and Jamie Farr in "The Greatest Story Ever Told". Meanwhile, Lynch favorites like Dean Stockwell and Everett McGill get more screentime, and can actually do a little with their characters. Unfortunately, even the writers can't seem to remember Jones' character, Thufir Hawat, and he just disappears at the end.
The special effects also take a steep decline in the back half of the movie, where what little characterization we've had is totally dropped so we can get to big battle scenes, big worms, more of Lynch's big-time dream sequences, and making sure all the Harkonnens (including the very big Baron) get their just desserts.
Dune certainly tries to be a hard-core science fiction movie. For the most part it doesn't cater to a mass audience. However, since it couldn't possibly be a faithful adaptation of the novel (and was ultimately no more or less successful as an adaptation then the recent Sci-Fi Channel mini-series), it really ended up appealing to no one.
There are many moments of enjoyment to be found here, and directorial touches and costume and set design to gaze in awe at. Overall, though, at the end of the day you're just left wondering how silly it all really looks. You can but admire and respect the effort that went into this attempt to adopt Herbert's novel. However, Some s.f. novels just shouldn't be adapted.
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