In David Lynch’s milieu, there lurk many twisted visions. People lost in dreams within dreams, suburbia’s dark underbelly exposed, the hidden, dark parts of ourselves that we all deny. Then there’s Dune.
Long before David Lynch busted out his version, Frank Herbert’s landmark sci-fi novel had been attempted a good few times. Maverick nutcase film maker Alejandro Jodorowsky had a crack, getting so far into pre-production that he had a team of artists, including legends Jean “Moebius” Giraud and HR Giger, beavering away conceptualizing the world of Dune. Oh, and Salvador Dalí was going to play the Emperor of the known Universe. This all collapsed though, Jodorowsky saying that their film wasn’t “enough Hollywood.” Jodorowsky’s vision was not to be.
Up to the plate stepped Italian Uber-producer Dino De Laurentiis. After a stalled attempt to get the project under way with Ridley Scott at the helm, De Laurentiis brought in David Lynch, fresh off the acclaim of The Elephant Man, to write and direct. Lynch hadn’t read Dune, nor did he have any deep love of Science Fiction. After bashing out the screenplay, Lynch took his actors and crew down Mexico way. When they’d finished, they had a 190 minute monster on their hands. It was poorly reviewed and did even worse at the box office.
Watching it now, it’s still readily apparent what the problems are. The film assumes a lot of the viewer (special ‘crib cards’ explaining the obscure references and words used in the film were handed out to some test screenings and audiences) and a lot of the effects are absolutely terrible. Kyle Maclachlan’s Paul Atriedes is an annoyingly precocious man-child, who’s whole character arc is an inevitable, relentless march to victory.
But there are reasons this is a shameful pleasure. Max Von Sydow is in the film, for one. And so is Patrick Stewart. Al from Quantum Leap. All of these are bonuses. There are also parts of the film where you can see David Lynch chiming with certain elements of the source material. The awakening of Paul’s latent abilities give Lynch a chance to throw in his symbolism and explore ideas of fate, personal de-construction and re-birth. All of this is ultimately hemmed in, however, by the need to push forward a sci-fi epic, leaving the moments of dwelling exploration that Lynch loves few and far between.
This is one of the reasons that Dune is a guilty love of mine. Conversely, by being Lynch’s most ‘Studio’ picture, it is also his weirdest. When I watch it, I always find myself thinking how odd it is that it’s a David Lynch film. Then, for a brief moment, he’ll punch through, and I remember it is one of his movies. All of that, and I find it very soothing to fall asleep to.