We rented Dune last week. Twice.
I’ve got fond memories of the 1984 David Lynch version. 1984 was just such a good year in so many ways. Role playing games were probably at their height of popularity and there were still interesting things to discover and perfect. Eight-bit computers were still the best thing going. You could still go to the mall and buy text adventures.
It was late one night when we rented the Dune VHS tape. We’d been playing Ogre and we were all sure that the cybertank was unbeatable. We’d heard that an all-G.E.V. force could win every time, but I don’t think we had stooped that low. We put in the tape half in frustration at the seemingly impossible little game and were soon barraged with all that is David Lynch. We didn’t have any idea who he was at the time, and we were slightly bored by the complexity of the plot… but we were convinced that Dune was somehow supposed to be really cool.
A year or so later I’d end up reading the book during Geometry class. I’d keep waiting for passages about the Barons weird facial disease and the sound weapon… but they never showed up. (I’d end up reading the next three books in the series, but could never quite get all the way through Heretics.)
So back to last week: I’m at the video store and I see that there’s two versions of Dune now. The second one is a four hour version that aired on the sci-fi channel. The overweight/bearded geek-clerk said it had lower production values (matte paintings and stuff), but it was more faithful to the book. I elected to take a chance and took it home.
Argh! The horror!
The cast was so… poorly chosen. Gurney was overweight. Keynes looked like a ghoul. The duke looked like he belonged on a different TV show. (Quantum leap, maybe?) The costumes were just plain silly– everyone had geometric sheets of fabric hovering over their heads. The acting was so flat. And the director had to alter scenes in annoying ways– lines from one character were moved to another– and new scenes were scrubbed together when leaving things as they were in the book would have done just as well.
Yuk. I couldn’t sit through more than an hour of it. It was terribly painful. Fancy computer graphics make cheap costumes look even cheaper than they really are. So I went back to the store and picked up the Lynch version. They wouldn’t give me my money back, unfortuneately. We put in the DVD and immersed ourselves into all that is… DUNE!
Lynch’s version starts off with Princess Irulan attempting to sum up the axioms of the socio-political of background of Herbert’s universe. Ha! Like anyone can do that in three minutes…. She begins to fade out more than once and then pops back and says, “oh, I almost forgot to mention.” She could keep popping back with her tidbits for half an hour and we’d all still be lost. (What’s an Orange Catholic Bible… one more time?)
Lynch is completely off the wall– he opens up with the bizarre guildmen confronting the emperor. Wow. It’s just completely weird. A bald guy with tubes sticking in his head speaking through an old fashioned microphone with a creepy voice… and somehow it translates. And its all contrasted with the emperor’s 19th century style. Then we’re off to witness a visit to the Baron’s session with his dermatologist. Wagh!
Watching this movie it is completely clear that it was done by the same guy that did Twin Peaks. It’s kind of appropriate, though. The 1965 novel is full of hallucinations of all sorts– and everything in that universe is powered by freaks on the strangest sorts of drugs. There was scene after scene that the director managed to slip in that just had me shouting, “that’s SO Lynch!” Where did he get some of this stuff, though? It doesn’t matter… the pace of the film keeps hammering along. It seems he throws out a lot of this stuff just to freak you out. (But Herbert’s future better freak you out….)
He takes a lot of liberties with the material… but he stays close to the text and the characterizations even when it hurts the cinematic elements. Characters dish out 100% Herbert dialogue… while strange dubbed over hushed wispers enlighten us to what they’re really thinking. A little unconventional, but this is Lynch we’re taking about after all.
Lynch’s bad guys are gruesomely despicably irredeemably evil. They’re on screen for just a short time, but we get the point– with loads of maniacal laughter. Anyone that makes their slaves wear reversed mohawks is bad enough, but check it out: a cackling floating fat man, an insatiable bug eating binge eater, and Sting playing Feyd Rautha… stepping out of a weird industrial sauna in a metal thong…? Rrruh?! But… they’re so evil! You may not understand anything that’s going on, but you know these guys are… evil!
Sting rocks, by the way. He has maybe two lines in the whole film, but his smirking and glaring are perfect. Compare him to the sci-fi channel’s version… sitting around in a dainty happy colored future-suit… grinning… with a geometric figure floating over his head… and a crowd of bored admirers. Bah! I’ll take metal thongs and weird saunas over that garbage any day! Metal thongs are obviously 10 times as evil as floating geometric figures.
Whatever might be wrong with Lynch’s film, it is in any case populated with a fine group of actors. They fit their parts perfectly and carry themselves well. (Except for when it’s an actress with 80’s rock star hair flowing around them as they artfully skip through the desert.) And the costumes change dramatically depending on the character types and their homeworlds. It’s a visual feast that doesn’t quit. Sure, he compresses two thirds of the book into about twenty minutes– making the Fremen sietch into practically bit parts– but it’s still an awesome film. Any film that has such powerful guitar riffs filling in during every pivotal scene can’t be all that bad. I mean really, there’s no incomprehensible moment in film that cannot be improved by triumpant Toto guitar chords thrashing out in an unrelenting march in the background.
1984. Dune. David Lynch.
Put your hand in the box. Pull out the DVD. Watch.
I will not fear bizarre Lynchisms. Fear is the mindkiller. I will face my fear of the sci-fi channel… and let it pass over me. And when it is gone, only Dune will remain.