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DUNE(director/writer: David Lynch; screenwriter: from a Frank Herbert novel; cinematographer: Freddie Francis; editor: Antony Gibbs; cast: Jose Ferrer (Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV), Brad Dourif (Piter De Vries), Kyle MacLachlan (Paul Atreides), Francesca Annis (Lady Jessica), Sting (Feyd Rautha), Linda Hunt (Shadout Mapes), Max von Sydow (Dr. Kynes), Jürgen Prochnow (Duke Leto Atreides), Silvana Mangano (Rev. Mother Ramallo), Francesca Annis (Lady Jessica), Freddie Jones (Thufir Hawat), Dean Stockwell (Dr. Wellington Yueh), Patrick Stewart (Gurney Halleck), Virginia Madsen (Princess Irulan), Paul Smith (The Beast Rabban), Richard Jordan (Duncan), Kenneth McMillan (Baron Vladimir Harkonnen), Everett McGill (Stilgar), Siân Phillips (Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam), Sean Young (Chani), Leonardo Cimino (Baron’s Doctor), Alicia Roann Witt (Alia), Jack Nance (Nefud); Runtime: 140; Universal; 1984)
“Most of the film is faithful to the book.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

I must say this big-budget (around $50 million) sci-fi film is an acquired taste. It was adapted from a novel that the prolific sci-fi writer of the 1970s Frank Herbert had done — whose many popular books on the planet Dune, starting with this one, played an important part in the pop culture scene of the time. He who grasps this rather stiffly played but imaginative spectacle, that is touching on all kinds of subjects ranging from environmental, biblical, to political terrorism, is indeed capable of understanding the incomprehensible in the world of sci-fi. I happened to enjoy this mess–warts and all. It was like watching a likable but senseless epic that was visually stimulating and aesthetically arousing. That it was confusing, with too many irrelevant characters being introduced and forgotten, adds to the film’s mystery and does not completely detract from its plusses: its uniqueness and the vibrancy given to it by director David Lynch (Eraserhead), who is a master at providing auteur touches.

It’s a film that failed to please the many cult fans of the book and the audience that was unfamiliar with the book, and it couldn’t quite come to terms with the complex story and the many characters in it to please many film critics. Lynch himself was not pleased with the film, but it is actually much better than he thinks it is and with the passing of time the film has been better received in certain quarters.

Most of the film is faithful to the book. It is broken up into two parts–with the first half being used to introduce its many characters and its complex plot. The second half of the film is what leads to its possible failure, as it veers away from the novel and turns into a Flash Gordon-type action vehicle that never answers the many questions that arise from the story; but, it, at least, comes to some kind of temporary solution to the main plot point.

The plot, in its simplest terms, is about a warrior Messiah figure, the film’s hero, Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan), and how he leads the defeated residents of the planet Dune by use of supernatural powers to victory over an evil emperor, Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, played with regal style by Jose Ferrer. He is aligned with the film’s most colorful and amusing villain, a floating and bloated Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan), who is mocked by having terrible boils over his face. The emperor gets his marching orders from a floating beast (Paul Smith) who resembles a vagina, as the beast tells him in no uncertain terms what he must do.

To try and explain what is about to take place, a voiceover introduces us to the events leading up to the present situation. It takes place in the year 10,191 and tells of the planet known as either Arrakis or Dune and how valuable that desert planet is to the universe because its natural resource is a spice guarded by monster worms, that is mined only on that isolated planet. The spice drug is used for space travel, as the recipient travels by mind without physically moving. The spice also extends life and consciousness.

The Padishah emperor causes a situation of political intrigue when he takes control of the planet Arrakis from the House of Harkonnen and gives it to their arch enemies, the Atreides family. But this is only a ruse to catch the Duke Leto of Atreides (Jürgen Prochnow) off guard. His real plan is to send in his army to help the Harkonnens wipe out the Atreides. Duke Leto is killed by a traitor among his trusted three elite men of Atreides (Gurney, Thufir, and Dr. Yueh), but his wife Jessica (Annis) and their son Paul escape into the desert and seek refuge amongst the native Fremen. Jessica, who belongs to the Bene Gesserit sisterhood that secretly dips into the bloodlines of the empire, discovers that Paul is really the messianic Kwisatz Haderach, the perfection of the sisterhood’s breeding aims, who is able to use the spice to see into the future. With these supernatural powers Paul defeats all his enemies, as he stops the production of spice upon Dune and this brings the empire down. In the battle we hear such slogans as: “He who controls the spice, controls the universe.” “He who can destroy a thing, can control a thing.” “The worm is the spice, the spice is the worm.”

In many ways this cult classic is a fascinating film and even at times a great one. It should be of special interest to sci-fi fans in particular. For them, I would say this is a ‘don’t miss film.’ It was certainly a beautiful film to watch and the special effects are stunning. They include the monster worms created by Carlo Rambaldi, as in one amazing shot there’s a worm emerging from the sand and crushing a spice miner in its jaws.

REVIEWED ON 10/19/2001 GRADE: B +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”