A world beyond your experience, beyond your imagination
Director: David Lynch
Starring: Kyle MacLachlan. Sting, Patrick Stewart, Francesca Annis, Kenneth MacMillan
Based on the best-selling novel by Frank Herbert, Paul (MacLachlan) the young hair to the House Atreides must raise an army of desert warriors with the hope of avenging the death of his father at the hands of Baron Harkonnen (McMillan) and toppling the corrupt galactic emperor in the process.
Although a commercial failure when released back in 1984, Dune has grown somewhat of a cult following over the years because of its smart and complex storyline, so much so that it is now inline for a big-budget remake due out next year, because of this I thought it was about time I take another look at the film that was best described as Star Wars for adults.
Unlike Star Wars, Dune isn’t a simple tale by any stretch of the imagination and this is one of the reasons it struggled to attract a big-enough audience to make it a success. The film is filled with layers upon layers and within the first 10 minutes of the film you are confronted with some rather complex thoughts and sayings that without reading the books is most likely to go over the head of most casual watchers, something that leads to Lynch relaying on voice-overs so much to provide most of the much-needed exposition.
Not only is Dune a complex film to follow but I argue that it’s also not completely a science fiction film, filled with dukes, barons, religion and power grabs between noble families, the movie feels almost as if it’s set in the medieval times rather than taking place in the distant future on an alien planet and although a lot of the film takes place on either space ships or surrounded by giant alien creatures, technology is never used to the extent that other science fiction films would have done.
However these very same issues that meant if flopped back then are also the reasons why it continues to be watchable today, yes the story is bloated and some of the lore is never fully explained, it’s not afraid to treat the audience as adults, wanting to challenge them to new thoughts and ideas, with the desert planet of Dune rich in a precious fuel source exploited by rich industrial planets an easy a stand-in for the politics of the Middle East and control of the oil fields.
Not only this but the film doesn’t shy away from showcasing the strange and bizarre, with strong acting throughout, especially MacMillan whose portrayal of the evil and campy Baron Harkonnen made every scene he is in a delight.
From the giant sandworms on the desert world of Dune to the industrial homeworld of House Harkonnen some of the visuals and practical effects still look impressive today, even if the CGI looks dated even by 1980’s standards, all of which works well to make the worlds feel more lived-in than the polished and uniform planets in the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises of the time.
Overall Dune is a complex mixture of religious and political themes that takes some times to get your head around and although it’s easy to see what some dislike the film, including the director Lynch, it’s also easy to see what made it an undisputed cult classic with audiences that want their science fiction to be a little more than cowboys in space.
If you like: 2001: Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Krull, Pitch Black