ONE OF FILM’S most fascinating failures. It seems as if Lynch (directorial and screenplay credits) was so preoccupied with hitting all the major plot points that he never allowed time for the actors to persuade the audience that it was worth their while to keep up. Exposition is relentless, crucial terminology is included but rarely explained, and what ought to be shattering revelations are hastily presented and shuffled aside for the next chapter. It is a skim-through recounting of the novel, obviously made by loving fans, but without the depth and diversity that made Herbert’s original novel actually worthwhile. With the original book, the auxiliary content—ecology, theology, philosophy, geopolitics, class warfare, sexual revolution—was almost even more important than the actual chronicling of the houses Atreides and Harkonnen. But a re-novelization based on this film would be vapid and virtually unreadable.
And this is a shame, given a dream-team cast that connects so many threads of sci-fi and paranormal cult classics as to be almost unbelievable: a virtual pre-union of ‘Twin Peaks’, Patrick Stewart, Brad Dourif, Dean Stockwell, Jürgen Prochnow, Sean Young, Max Von Sydow. And suddenly, Sting. Alas, the actors are so swiftly put through their paces that they hardly ever have time to simply be, much less act, and exist more as set pieces than characters in this dash towards the quasi-godhood of Paul Muad’Dib. In short, it is a film that gives credence to the criticism that Herbert’s characters are cold, distant, and unnatural. Perhaps this is why Lynch chose to make it—he is something of an emotional oddity himself, diving deeply into human traumas and delights, but always with an air of emulation, not experience.
But then there are ‘Dune’s triumphs, which save it from total collapse. Some of its visuals, for instance, are indelible: the titanic tides of Caladan, seen only in dreams; Baron Harkonnen, depicted accurately as an unfathomable and utterly sardonic human sore; the massive majesty of Shai Hulud; the almost ‘Alien’-like profiles of the Bene Gesserit. And Toto, always Toto.
Yet even Toto’s affecting themes are not enough to set ‘Dune’ aright. Those who have not read the books will likely be utterly baffled; those experienced in Herbert may appreciate the homage, but regret its haste. And those experienced in Lynch might wonder whether the biblical sprawl of ‘Dune’ would have made a better miniseries, and a leaner, less mawkish ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’ the better film.