Science fiction and fantasy                                            


directed by David Lynch

Dune poster  
The world of Frank Herbert's Dune is a richly imagined space opera set in a far future that melds elements of medieval fantasy with technology and a religion that centres on drugs. The film condenses Herbert's vision somewhat, and it begins with an introduction to the universe, narrated by the Emperor's daughter.

Melange is the most precious commodity in the known universe, since it's the spice that somehow enables Navigators to travel great distances by folding space. Spice is the key to power, and "whoever controls the spice controls the universe". To begin with the Emperor seems to hold sway, but he's afraid of the great houses, and in particular House Atreides.

The Emperor devises a plan to set House Harkonnen against the Atreides in the hope that the rival houses will destroy each other. So the Atreides move from the sea world of Caladan to the hostile and waterless deserts of Arrakis, or Dune.

Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan), Jessica's son, is surrounded by all sorts of portents and prophecies. Whilst the native Fremen of Dune foretell a messiah, the Bene Gesserit witches have prophecies of their own. All of these are dealt with in a blunt and heavy-handed manner in this movie, so there's not really any room for doubt about the "chosen one". MacLachlan plays Paul Atreides with a kind of wide-eyed earnestness that's unconvincing for the role he is supposed to play in this story. Although more than once he thinks "fear is the mind killer", he rarely gives the impression of being afraid to fail.

Problems with this film include the lack of suspense, and the predictability. We aren't allowed to believe that Paul may fail for long enough for the feeling to have any impact.

Pitted against House Atreides are the Harkonnen, led by their fat, boil-ridden and sadistic Baron. It's not subtle. They dress something like Nazi space gimps and enjoy nothing better than to gloat whilst glorying in their own cruelty. Sting, as the Harkonnen Feyd Rautha, grins like a madman as he takes part in the general gloating. Perhaps he's supposed to be menacing as the Baron's favourite, but like many things in this movie is doesn't have the desired effect.

Perhaps the only things that do come across as intended are the special effects, which were good for their time. Although that isn't saying a lot now that seamless CGI is commonplace, this film captures some of the alien richness and colour that the book evokes. From the mutated Navigators to the enormous sandworms, there's plenty to look at (and all too often, to feel queasy about).

However the visuals are spoilt by a glut of long, slow close-ups, and some badly choreographed fighting. The pace is slowed right down by a lot of dreaming, whispering, and by the narration of Paul Atreides' thoughts. That sort of thing may work in a book, but a film needs to be more immediate, and as a result Dune drags. Yet at the same time it skips forward too fast, plunging the main character into a romance before we know anything about his love interest. So this movie manages to be both too fast-moving and too slow, mainly because David Lynch has skipped some of the more interesting parts of the story whilst dwelling on the obvious. A lot of the story is told in summary form by the narrator, which is perhaps the least engaging way to tell any tale. This film is full of repetition, and it works its way towards an ending filled with over-melodramatic poses and easily-guessable outcomes. Dune is far duller than its source novel.

Film Details

Decade: 1980s

Categories: Films

  Science fiction

Classification: 15

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2 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson