Enjoying: Dune

I caught a pretty rare screening of David Lynch's 1984 film, Dune last night and really enjoyed it.

Dune was critically trashed at the time it came out after being savagely cut by the producers (including Dino Di Laurentis, famed for his work in the good and schlocky) and is the only film that Lynch is embarrassed to have worked on.

It had something of a chequered history in the leadup to it's making - Ridley Scott was attached to the project for a while and insane (but awesome - check out El Topo) Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky was also working on an epic 16 hour version of the film for a while with Salvador Dali before it all fell into a big heap and they thought David Lynch might be a saner option. (Presumably not having seen Eraserhead :)

There are evidently 3 versions of this film floating about now - the 2h17m theatrical version I saw last night, a 3+ hour version that was put together for tv which includes a bunch of prologue stuff to better explain the complex plot elements (which Lynch hated so much he took his name off the film as director, going with the popular Alan Smithee pseudonym instead) and there is apparently also a 4 hour Lynch preferred cut taken from the work print which reflects the version of the film that Lynch came up with in the first place.

Personally, I don't see what's so complicated about the plot - it's really just a standard 102nd Century space prince becomes messiah on a planet of space freaks that mine a drug called Spice that's made by 400 metre long giant worms. Simple really.

As a Lynch fan, it's always enjoyable seeing actors from the Lynchiverse crop up repeatedly in his work. The late great Jack Nance (Henry from Eraserhead and Pete from Twin Peaks) has a minor role as one of the evil baron's weird sons and Everett McGill (Ed from Twin Peaks)is the leader of the aforementioned space freaks on the drug planet. Of course, the hero/messiah Paul Atreides was played by Kyle (Jeffrey in Blue Velvet, Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks) MacLachlan

There's also a host of other acting (and geekdom) notables including Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap), Patrick Stewart (Capt Picard in ST:TNG), Sean Young (Bladerunner) and the list goes on. Sting even ponces around a little in a highly odd way.

As you're watching the film, you can sometimes see the creative battles between Lynch and the producers playing out - big sudden lurches in storyline that you can still accept if you just let the movie flow over you but which you know must have had scenes and scenes of set up and explanation originally and big sprawling, slightly cheesy Di Laurentine battle scenes versus some classic Lynchian wierdness (which at times took me back to Eraserhead more than any subsequent film has - more in tone than anything.)

Stylistically it's magnificent, pure Lynch all the way. Dealing with a story set so far in the future gives you so much license to do whatever the hell you like and the look and feel of the thing - most of all the massive sets is just out there. The guy doing the introduction before the film mentioned the Steampunk quality of the thing and he was so right. The good family (the House of Atreides) and the Emperor's pad had this particularly end of the 19th century Edwardian feel to them and the technology matched.

There were moments of genuinely weird, scary behaviour - the evil Baron Harkonnen pulling out some young pretty boy's heart plug and drinking the spurting blood with homoerotic overtones was up there, as was Paul Atreides doing the burning hand in the box pain test.

It was pretty interesting seeing a tale told about war in the desert too - jihad was mentioned specifically - I'm sure if you had the time you could make this into a whole, massively prescient parable about the current crises - but really, who does these days? :)

I hadn't seen this film for at least 10 years and I'm really surprised at how much I remembered - which I suspect helped the story to make more sense - but honestly, nothing really seemed that complicated.

I'd love to see the Lynch approved version. This is well worth seeing if you get the chance and don't mind the odd cheesy 80s special effect. (Some of the primitive computer graphics effects come up surprisingly well, all things considered).

Oh and music by Toto - how could I forget that :) (Actually, it was pretty good)

Here's the trailer

and here's a fanboi tribute

Update - I just read that around the time this was being pre-produced, Lynch was offered the gig directing Return of the Jedi - how fracking awesome would that have been.