The opening phases of a new year lend themselves very well to looking ahead, which means movie fans often gravitate to science fiction greats even more in the first quarter. Last time we looked at a very optimistic sci fi masterpiece, and this time we’re exploring a rather controversial chapter in the annals of the cinematic genre.
David Lynch’s 1984 version of Dune may have been a middling box office performer, but to say it’s since become a cult favorite would be an understatement. Much like Blade Runner, this movie has so many versions and cuts you’d need an Excel sheet to keep them in order. Also, it doesn’t help that Lynch himself doesn’t want much to do with the film, claiming that none of the versions released reflect his vision for the picture. None of that changes the reality of Dune 1984 being a masterclass of photography, makeup, set design, locale creation, and acting. Despite all the drama associated with this movie, almost four decades later it still stands as a classic, and even though there’s no 4K HDR disc, it looks spectacular and should be enjoyed by science fiction-minded cinephiles.
Besides, watching or re-watching Dune 1984 on a big home cinema screen is a good way to prepare for the coming soon 2021 version by Denis Villeneuve, scheduled for a simultaneous cinematic and streaming release.
When Frank Herbert wrote Dune, which released in 1965, he was mostly interested in talking about climate change, desertification, resource exploitation, and rebellion against oppressive governments. Herbert didn’t want a big sci fi opera with lots of spaceships and laser rifles. In fact, the novel explicitly explains why those aren’t even viable in the universe of Dune, in which a desert planet called Arrakis is the only place where spice is found. This spice, a not too subtle reference to crude oil and other vital resources, enables space travel and extends life, so every major faction in the rather corrupt Human Empire wants spice. Which leads to constant struggles over Arrakis.
When a young David Lynch was entrusted with making dune following his success with The Elephant Man, he had different ideas in mind. He also had to contend with studio executives that definitely wanted spaceships and laser rifles, because this was during the height of Star Wars mania. And while Frank Herbert’s vision of the distant future was retro-simple in most regards, Lynch’s surreal tendencies and love for the baroque and grotesque took over. The end result is a beautiful but often disturbing picture that’s very, very different from the source material. This retelling of Dune was off-putting to purist fans of the book, but if you’re into great-looking movies, then you’re a beneficiary.
Dune 1984 stars pretty much half of Hollywood circa the early 80s. This was Kyle MacLachlan’s first leading role, and he formed a lifelong friendship with David Lynch, going on to appear in the director’s Blue Velvet and of course the Twin Peaks franchise. Listing the whole cast would take forever, but highlights include Sting, Sean Young, Francesca Annis, Jose Ferrer (father of future David Lynch collaborator Miguel Ferrer), and Patrick Stewart. This is a movie buff’s dream lineup, as befits a sci fi epic. Whatever you may think of the changes the movie makes to the supposed look and feel of the book, there’s no denying the talent on screen.
There’s also no doubt Dune 1984 looks amazing to this day, and will continue to look grand forever. This is a beautiful, richly-layered, heavily textured movie with very distinct locations. There’s the wet and windswept Caladan, home of the well-intentioned House Atreides. The post-industrial hellscape of Geidi Prime, where the villainous House Harkonnen resides. And of course the gorgeous desert planet Arrakis. All were realized in very memorable ways, even if they all lead to complaints from avid readers of the book (and from Frank Herbert himself). That’s because Lynch and his cinematographer Freddie Francis ended up with something that looks very unlike what most imagined the Dune universe as looking, but again, that’s not a problem if you love beautiful motion pictures.
And before we forget, there’s the sand worms. A staple of science fiction and prominent figures in Dune mythology, sand worms were a big selling point of Dune 1984, appearing in promotional materials and helping create some of the most impressive effect-focused scenes in the movie. Overall, Dune 1984 doesn’t just look great with regards to sets, costumes, and landscapes, it also has impressive practical effects that still look fantastic, and were certainly jaw-droppers back in the mid 1980s.
We certainly recommend David Lynch’s Dune if you haven’t watched it yet or are keen on getting ready for the soon to be released 2021 remake . Whatever the case may be, it’s still a wonderful movie, if one not entirely recommended for younger audiences or the easily squeamish!