After a Duke takes over a rich desert planet, forces around the galaxy descend in attempt to dethrone him. Meanwhile, a mysterious prophecy concerns the Duke’s son.
I had heard this film was bad, but I was not prepared for this.
In my mind, even the worst David Lynch (“Eraserhead”, “The Elephant Man”) film would be something that I could watch and enjoy, and as I had just finished reading Frank Herbert’s amazing novel of the same name, I was eager to see one of the only adaptations available (there is also a four-and-a-half hour Sci-Fi Channel miniseries from 2000 starring William Hurt, but I figured I’d review this one first). In doing a small amount of research pre-screening, I found that there were several versions of the film, and I decided to go with the one most readily available to me: the extended cut. I have not seen the theatrical version, so I can’t tell you if that one is any better (this cut was so horrendous I really have no intention of ever returning to it in any variation, no matter what the runtime).
“Fear is the mind killer.”
Even as the opening scene played out before me, and I saw that it was Alan Smithee’s name (a pseudonym used by directors not satisfied with their work) not David Lynch’s under the director banner, I knew I was in trouble. This movie opens with a nine-and-a-half minute exposition dump over paintings, explaining who people are, what kinds of races and planets there are in this world, how space travel works, what the spice means to the people of this universe… As I watched this opening scene I thought to myself, ‘if I had not read this book, would I understand or retain any of this info they’re throwing at me right now?’ Probably not. I wondered how anyone would be able to follow this film as they had done such a poor job explaining even the basics of this universe I had grown to love.
It seems to me that Lynch probably thought the same thing when he saw the cut of his film, for throughout the movie, from the opening scene until the very end, there is a narrator that holds the hand of the viewer, walking them through what the bizarre images we’re seeing mean. If it weren’t for that narrator guiding us through some of the scenes, even I, who had just finished the book, would’ve been completely lost. This film does a horrible job of building the world and explaining it. Lynch seemed to want to convey every little aspect of the book, but in an attempt at doing so he only succeeded in creating a jumbled mess of a storyline.
It feels to me that the least important parts of the story were given the most amount of time. While Paul’s (Kyle McLachlan, “Blue Velvet”) time on Caladan is important in the book, not a lot of time is spent there. Why then does Lynch choose to devote almost one third of the film to Paul’s time on his home planet, before the inciting incident even happens? To give you a hint of how strangely paced this film is compared to the book, the first chapter shows Paul facing a test from the Reverend Mother- he has to stick his hand in a pain box, a gom jabbar. Within twenty pages (in my copy) Paul has accomplished this and moved on. In the film, that scene does not come until almost forty minutes into the movie. There’s just so much exposition and back story thrown at the viewer in the opening scenes that it’s almost suffocating.
I’m honestly going to avoid giving too many details of the plot away from here on out, because this movie does such a terrible job of conveying the story that it feels nonsensical at times. Why ruin a perfect story for you in the name of such an awful film?
As we struggle through into the second act, I found myself painfully bored. Major events in the book were rushed over, while little details, like the importance of a jewel in one character’s forehead, are given lengthy expositional explanation. Arguably, the most exciting part of the book, acts two and three, are condensed into about an hour runtime that feels so rushed its impossible to keep track of what’s going on. There’s a scene when the narrator quite literally just lists a string of events that happens, and in that time he probably skimmed over two hundred pages worth of great material.
What’s worse, as the film drew to a close, I found that they had drastically changed the ending so that our protagonist Paul becomes Godlike in his powers, not just Godlike in his legend. I was irritated and bored, angry with myself that I had decided to sit through the three hour cut instead of the two hour and fifteen minute version, and honestly just happy that I had made it through to the end so I could write this bloody review (when you’re a critic, there are perks to watching a movie that sucks!).
This movie was an abortion, and I can absolutely understand why Lynch wanted his name taken off this movie, but at the same time, I can’t give this one star.
Having just read the source material I know how incredibly complex this story is. This is an eight hundred page book that Lynch tried to distil down into a working two hour film, of course there will be some issues. Some of the production design for this movie was great! I thought Kyle McLaughlin, while not perfect, was a decent choice for Paul. Some of the lines from the book were used directly in the film, some of the scenes were similar to how I had imagined them, but overall it just falls apart. This story is notoriously difficult to tell- even Alejandro Jodorowsky tried and failed, as documented in “Jodorowsky’s Dune”. The love for this story is there. Its obvious Lynch loved this book as much as I do, and I appreciate the fact that he himself knows this is a failure. I will never watch this film again, but it was a very valiant effort.
Review Written By: