Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, Jürgen Prochnow, Francesca Annis, Kenneth McMillan, José Ferrer, Max von Sydow, Patrick Stewart, Sean Young, Brad Dourif, Sting, Paul L. Smith
Director: David Lynch
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French 2.0
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
Features: Deleted scenes, four featurettes, photo gallery, production notes
Length: 137 minutes / 177 minutes
Release Date: January 31, 2006

"He who controls the Spice controls the universe!"

Film *** ½

In the mid-1960's, a unique award of recognition was presented to what was then considered the greatest work in science fiction literature. The highly prestigious award was eventually bestowed upon Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" Trilogy, but among the nominees were J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and Frank Herbert's "Dune."

While the Dune universe has since expanded far beyond Herbert's original vision, the original novel still remains one of the most popular science fiction novels ever. With its myriad sub-plots, endless supply of fascinating characters, and intense political intrigue, Dune created a richly diverse and highly complex universe that has enraptured generations of readers. Dune was hardly an easy or quick read, though, and its epic scope and concern with metaphysical matters made it a seemingly unlikely candidate for a film adaptation.

Nevertheless, in the winter of 1984, a version of Dune did indeed hit the big screen. Intended as Universal's response to the other high-profile science fiction film of the year, an adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's 2010, Dune was directed by none other than the truly unique if bizarre David Lynch. This was, after all, the same filmmaker who would go on to create such innovative if twisted cinematic fare as Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, and Mulholland Drive. More surprisingly, Lynch had turned down a chance to direct Return of the Jedi for Dune instead. Nevertheless, Dune would become a production of similarly epic scale, requiring eighty sets built on over a dozen enormous sound stages.

In hindsight, Lynch was perhaps too idiosyncratic to be helming such a big-budgeted, potential blockbuster, but there is no denying that he brought his trademark nightmarish touch to Dune's admittedly immense vision, at once one of the film's strong points as well as its weakness. Lynch's stylizations included the extensive usage of dream montages, internal thoughts, and dialogues, all rendered in nearly inaudible, half-whispered tones which made them difficult to understand. Undoubtedly for many audiences, these Lynch touches merely served to make the novel's already convoluted narrative obtuse to the point of utter incomprehension.

Not too surprisingly, Dune failed at the box office (for that matter, so did 2010). Clocking in at just over two hours, Dune was a work of lush and wondrous images sabotaged by a plot so byzantine that the film's running length could scarcely even hope to accommodate the complexity of the original novel. First-time viewers of Dune were hopelessly lost mere minutes into the film, while fans of the novel ultimately were disappointed with some necessary changes or omissions in the storyline.

However, the source novel's legacy as a classic of the genre has helped the film in turn to retain a devout group of admirers. Furthermore, for those viewers old enough to recall, Dune was broadcast on network television in the mid-1980's in a special two-night "extended edition" miniseries format aimed at drawing viewers who might have initially shunned the film in its original theatrical run. This version of Dune was re-edited for some content and boasted of an additional forty minutes of new footage and expanded sequences. While this re-edit of Dune still remained somewhat difficult to follow, it was decidedly easier for viewers who had not already read the novel.

Nevertheless, both versions present rather a bit of background information to be digested. In the Dune universe, thinking machines, or robots, have fallen long out of favor since a mechanic rebellion eons ago. Computations now are performed by Mentats, highly specialized humans trained to serve essentially as organic computers. In lieu of robots, specialized guilds have since evolved over time to serve humanity. Of the ancient guilds, two now remain. The priestesses of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood have greatly developed their mental capacities, and its members serve as Truthsayers and advisors to the most powerful of men, including the galactic Emperor and the various House leaders. For generations, the Bene Gesserit school has been trying to develop the ultimate human, the Kwisatz Haderach, or "one who can be in many places at once." This super-human will be one with immense mental powers far beyond that of normal mortals.

The other guild is the Spacing Guild. Its highly-mutated navigators, changed by the Spice Melange beyond any semblance to human form, employ this Spice as the catalyst to bend space and time for interstellar travel. The Spice must flow, or else all travel in the known universe will halt.

As Dune opens, the known galaxy is ruled by a galactic emperor, Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV (José Ferrer). Stewardship and the governing of regional star clusters is handled by various other Houses of power. House Atreides, headed by Duke Leto Atreides (Jürgen Prochnow), presides over the waterworld Caladan, while House Harkonnen, firmly in the scheming clutches of the diabolical Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan), holds sway over Arrakis, the vitally important planet also known as Dune. Only on Arrakis is the priceless Spice Melange harvested and produced.

Lately, the Padishah Emperor has become fearful of the growing power of House Atreides. Rumors abound of the new-found ability of the Duke's army to utilize sound itself as a potent weapon. The erstwhile Emperor decides to relegate House Harkonnen back to their homeworld on Giedi Prime and to bestow upon House Atreides the "honor" of governing Arrakis. It is a devious plot, one actually devised to enflame the ancient hatred between the two Houses; in the inevitable clash between these Houses, the Emperor plans to secretly support House Harkonnen in completely destroying House Atreides. Such are the machinations of politics and warfare.

While the otherwise-affable Duke Leto looms as an annoying thorn in the Emperor's side, in fact House Atreides harbors a much deadlier threat in Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan). He is the young son of the Duke and the Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis), the Duke's concubine and a Bene Gesserit priestess herself. Paul Atreides is likened to a sleeper, one whose vast and awe-inspiring potential will be fulfilled should he ever "awaken." Once House Atreides settles upon Arrakis, Paul gradually develops into the key figure in the interweaving power struggles and plots of intrigue among the known universe's warring factions.

House Atreides possesses a valuable Mentat, Thufir Hawat (Freddie Jones), considered one of the finest Mentats. His Harkonnen counterpart, however, is a cunning Mentat master of assassins. He has devised the ultimate Harkonnen plot to crush House Atreides despite Thufir Hawat's efforts to the contrary. Furthermore, what the Atreides do not realize is that there is a brainwashed traitor in their midst.

Once House Atreides settles upon Arrakis, the various sub-plots begin to coalesce. Arrakis is inhabited sparsely (supposedly) by Frenen, a desert people who have long clung to the prophecy of a Messiah who will one day free them from the oppression of the ruling Houses. The Frenen are led by the mysterious Stilgar (Everett McGill), and they slowly begin to suspect that Paul Atreides may be the embodiment of that prophecy at long last. Yet as the rare son of a Bene Gesserit, Paul Atreides is also of keen interest to the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, who fear the potential powers in this young man. The all-seeing Spacing Guild also recognize the danger that Paul Atreides represents to control of Spice production. In a clandestine meeting with the Emperor, a Spacing Guild navigator demands that Paul Atreides be killed.

Was any of this confusing? The plot doesn't get much simpler. These points are merely the tip of the iceberg, covered in the first few minutes of the film! In short, Dune is truly mind-boggling in the sheer scope of its various sub-plots. However, to summarize it in a sentence, the film concerns the clash between various self-interests of multiple factions in a crippling desert warfare to preserve or destroy the production of a resource so key to the livelihood of all humanity.

This brings us to the extended version of Dune. Interestingly, this extended version is "directed" by Alan Smithee, which is basically Hollywood code for an anonymous director. In this case, David Lynch had asked that his name be removed from the credits, as he had been unhappy with the "extended version" and did not endorse the many changes in it. As a result, the fictional Alan Smithee receives credit for directing Dune, a perhaps ironic example of Lynch's off-center humor.

This begs the question, of course, of whether the extended version is superior to Lynch's original cut? That is up to the individual viewer to decide. Certainly, the two versions are different enough to offer very dissimilar viewing experiences. Furthermore, the extended version not only presents new scenes but in fact deletes a number of old scenes; thus, the films really are different (although it should be noted that a small part of the new version's extended length is merely due to the repeated usage of the same footage or effect shots over and over again).

The extended version of Dune opens on a copy of the book Dune before diving into a nearly 10-minute narrative monologue about the background of the Dune universe. As the source novel was quite complex, reviewers unfamiliar with the novel will appreciate the movie better if they simply tolerate this mini-lecture. Unfortunately, the anonymous narrator has a strange twang in his voice and is not a very pleasant substitute for Virginia Madsen's Princess Irulan, whose much shorter narration opened the original film.

Truly, would you rather listen to a pretty princess or a drawling John Doe? In a few instances later in the film, the pacing virtually halts while this male narrator introduces various characters and their personal motivations. The original theatrical version of Dune may have frustrated viewers while they attempted to piece together the plot's enormous jigsaw puzzle, but the extended version sadly sacrificed narrative flow and pacing for the sake of "dumbing-down" the story for better comprehension. Choose your poison.

There are numerous new scenes. Among the more interesting scenes, we see Duke Leto penning a reply to the untrustworthy Baron Harkonnen's request for a meeting of truce. An intimate scene between Duke Leto and the Lady Jessica alludes to the conception of Paul's sister, Alia. Her role in this film is rather minor, except for an extended sequence involving her "capture" by the Emperor's stormtroopers; Alia has a much more significant role in later Dune novels. Patrick Stewart's character, the Duke's trusted military advisor, gets an opportunity to play a musical instrument during a quiet dinner with the Atreides. In an intriguing example of how seemingly minor cultural differences (in this case, Atreides and Frenen) can drastically alter the perceptions in inter-relational policies, we see how the spit from one's mouth can be interpreted as an insult or an honor (for the Frenen, the "offering" of bodily fluids, whether in spit or in tears, is an honorable gesture). An entire fight sequence between Paul Atreides and a Frenen warrior has also been added, including the fight's bittersweet aftermath. This is a rather interesting action (and character development) sequence that apparently was cut for pacing purposes.

And as stated, oddly enough the extended version has cut several scenes, too. For instance, a murder of a young boy by the Baron Harkonnen has been excised. A nighttime escape sequence in the desert has been significantly altered. Some dialogue has been changed, either by redubbing (as in the initial scene with the Emperor) or by removal altogether. Presumably, these changes were made to either clarify the film or to make the film more family-friendly and appropriate for network television broadcast.

In short, the two versions of Lynch's Dune should probably be considered separate films. In essence, Dune is the tale of the ascension to power of a Messiah, one Usul Muad'Dib, who will free a belabored people and restore the land to them. Or, Dune can also be regarded in light of author Frank Herbert's own views on environmentalism and preservation of the natural world. Or, maybe it's just a darn fun space epic yarn.

Dune can also be interpreted as a parable of the geopolitical arena of Frank Herbert's day, not that so much has really changed in the intervening years since Dune was first published. One need only examine the name "Arrakis" (say it aloud) to discern an obvious resemblance to a certain Middle Eastern state possessing an abundance of a highly valued world commodity. To further accentuate this analogy, Arrakis is the source of a "Water of Life" and a resource of utmost importance for travel (in this case, space travel).

Dune is really a film that people either completely love or hate, although this is a common trait applicable to many of David Lynch's films. At least the extended version may help to convert more viewers. As such, fans of the novel have three viewing options. For a comprehensible and straight-forward if visually bland and indifferently-acted rendition, go with the Sci-Fi Channel Dune miniseries. For a visually stunning if slightly muddled adaptation, stay with David Lynch's original theatrical release. For something in between, the extended version of Dune is a good option. It retains most of the epic spectacle of Lynch's Dune while elucidating plot twists (or perhaps just adding more obfuscating plot details to confuse the viewer, depending on one's point of view).

In summary, of the three versions of Dune, David Lynch's original theatrical release is the best. It is difficult to follow but is also tightly paced, epic in scope, and very well-acted all around; it is also the most rewarding on re-viewings. The extended version is great for first-time viewers but suffers from pacing problems, choppy sound mixing and editing, and variable image quality (more so in the added scenes). The recent Sci-Fi Channel version, by far the longest of the three versions, is the most faithful to the novel and should please fans of the novel in that aspect, but this version also boasts awful acting, awful special effects, a dreadful color scheme (think of the campy primary colors of the Adam West Batman TV series), and molasses instead of pacing.

Imagine, all that, and I didn't even mention the most spectacular thing about Dune - those marvelous and majestic sandworms!

BONUS TRIVIA: Dune was one of the first films to receive a PG-13 rating.

Video ***

"The Spice must flow!"

The film is offered in either the original theatrical release or the extended broadcast version. Both versions are shown in widescreen, with the theatrical release looking the better of the two versions. The extended version has more defects and debris in the frame, and some of the "new" scenes are grainier or have unfinished special effects (this is most noticeable in the lack of blue eyes for the Frenen). At least it is not pan-and-scan as it was during the original television broadcast.

Audio ***

Audio is decent, with a pounding bass for the thumpers used by the Frenen (to summon sandworms). The sound mix during the battle scenes is quite nice, too, and is well complemented by great Brian Eno theme music as well as a surprising good score by Toto (yes, the rock band).

While the original release of Dune sounds fine, there are problems with the extended edition mix. The score cuts out unexpectedly at times, and visual-audio synchronization is poor during the long introductory background sequence. While this sequence contains only matte paintings, it is disconcerting to hear the narrator repeatedly speak about something that is clearly not on-screen. Fortunately, most of these problems only occur early in the film, although the initial sequence between the Emperor and the Spacing Guild also contains some dubbing gaffs.

Features **

This extended version of Dune comes in a special, sepia-toned metallic case. However, as there is only one disc inside, the case's cool and distinctive appearance is more cosmetic than functional. Be sure to check out the handy insert page; it provides a list of Dune terminology, and for novices to the Dune universe, this page will prove to be invaluable!

The disc itself is a rare flipper disc. Side A holds the original theatrical release. Side B holds the extended version, which clocks in at an additional forty minutes in length. All the bonus materials are located on Side A.

The Deleted Scenes (17min.) are provided with a brief introduction from producer Raffaella De Laurentiis. Most of these scenes revolve around the Frenen legend of a Messiah and the corresponding Bene Gesserit multi-generational quest to create the Kwisatz Haderach. A couple of the more intriguing scenes show the fate of the Atreides Mentat and the Princess Irulan. Raffaella De Laurentiis also dispels long-standing rumors of a viewable four-hour version of Dune. Some of the rough early working cuts, with missing scenes and vastly incomplete effect shots, approximated this length but were never meant for public screening.

The remaining featurettes are each about 6-8 minutes in length. Designing Dune showcases original sketches and artwork for the film. Production designer Anthony Masters discusses the conceptual artwork and the final sets themselves, many of which were highly ornamental and decorative in appearance.

Dune Special Effects focuses on the impressive special effects, such as the flying sequences for the Baron and the usage of models. Many of these effects hold up quite nicely and are in fact superior to the dreadful CG rendering in the Sci-Fi Channel's version of Dune.

Model unit supervisor Brian Smithies recalls the challenges of visually recreating Arrakis in Dune Models & Miniatures. He describes some of the harsh working conditions in Mexico, where many of the arid and extremely hot exterior desert scenes were shot.

Costume designer Bob Ringwood talks about the thousands of costumes used for the film in Wardrobe Design. We get to see how some of the more elaborate designs were made, from actual body bags used for the Spacing Guild costumes to the wondrous costumes for the women of the film. We even see some designs, such as Frenen hats, not used in the final film (but viewable in the deleted scenes).

There is also a photo gallery with a collection of one hundred behind-the-scenes photos (mostly of David Lynch and various cast & crew members) and original conceptual artwork.

Lastly, there are eleven pages of production notes re-iterating or expanding upon some of the fun facts mentioned in the earlier featurettes.


For a truly epic and sumptuously photographed visual experience, David Lynch's Dune is the only way to go. With the viewing option of the original theatrical release or the extended version, this disc is a must-have for fans of the film!

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