“He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing”: ‘Dune’ Review

Posted in Screening Room by - January 15, 2018
“He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing”: ‘Dune’ Review

David Lynch’s filmography is electrifying but if there’s one odd entry into his eclectic body of work is his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal science fiction classic, Dune. While it has several Lynch staples and regulars including Kyle MacLachlan, Jose Ferrer, Jack Nance (all Twin Peaks stars) to name a few, Dune is an incredible misfire in an otherwise brilliant film career.

The story set in the future and a distant planet in the far reaches of the galaxy is about the intergalactic war between two families fighting in control for a powerful substance while the young warrior Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) is caught in the middle of it.

That’s just a tiny portion of Dune’s otherwise incredibly complex and convoluted plot; written and directed by Lynch Dune feels grand and epic and wonderfully constructed with beautiful sets and stunning visuals but it also lacks the Lynchian touch and signature style that has come to distinguish his most accomplished films. Lynch’s films always have a wonderfully complex narrative but in the cases of Dune it just never comes together satisfyingly; I’m thinking of Mulholland Dr.’s multilayered noir story that is all about character and centers around character development and motivations. In the case of Dune the storyline never quite resonates on a deep or emotional character level.

While its story is not as memorable as other space operas Dune does have a beautiful production design that renders this science fiction world in breathtaking fashion; it also has a striking visual palette courtesy of legendary cinematographer Freddie Francis (The Elephant Man, Cape Fear, The Straight Story) that allows Lynch to paint a gorgeous side of the planet Arrakis – the vistas with Atreides and the sandworm are distinctly surreal and memorable.

Another wonderful aspect of Dune is it’s delightfully synth-y and unabashedly 80s score by Toto and Brian Eno which lends the film a mysterious and dreamlike sensibility that is impossible not to enjoy. Even though Lynch has distanced himself from the film (citing creative differences with the producers as a result of not letting him realize his artistic vision) there’s still some of that weird touch that Lynch is known for including the really grotesque presentation of Baron Harkonnen (a sleazy Kenneth McMillan) or the bizarre visuals like the glowing blue eyes on kids.

While Dune is a stunning piece of science fiction and it features a remarkable ensemble cast that also includes Virginia Madsen, Max Von Sydow, Everett McGill, Dean Stockwell and many much more it just never quite gels together as a complete work of art. Its muddled plot and storytelling are not as strong as some of Lynch’s other works or even other works of science fiction. One of its fascinating aspects and one of the reasons why it never worked for me is its jarring shift in tones which ranges from incredibly disturbing to pure adventure escapism and it never quite balances both.

Before Lynch, acclaimed cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, The Holy Mountain) was set to direct animation of Dune, but it fell through and never came to fruition, but its influence is felt throughout the science fiction film world including Alien, Star Wars and many more. The subject is brilliantly chronicled in the wonderful documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune which I highly recommend if you want to learn about that version of Herbert’s novel and the insanity that it would’ve been.

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He is an avid movie fan and loves to write about movies perhaps a little too much. He also considers Casino Royale to be the best James Bond film ever made and he's ready to defend at any moment.
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