Dune (1984)
R1 - America - Universal Pictures - Extended Edition
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (30th April 2006).
The Film

People have always loved big sagas and epics when it comes to literature, but transferring them onto the movie screen is far from simple. Quite recently J.R.R. Tolkien´s “Lord Of The Rings”-trilogy successfully made its way onto film, and C.S. Lewis´ “The Chronicles of Narnia”-series is also on its way. If these two gentleman were the masters of fantasy, Frank Herbert created his masterpiece in science fiction; the “Dune Chronicles”, where the original series consisted of 6 different novels. First “Dune” was the book with a very complex and wide storyline and with over 500 pages, it was considered as “impossible to film” by many. The first film rights from the book were bought by American producer Arthur P. Jacobs in the early 1970s, but before anything really happened, Jacobs passed away. After that the eccentric director Alejandro Jodorowsky was committed to making the film, but when he eventually got his script made, it was quite clear that it was not something that could be transferred to the movie screen. In 1976, heavy weight producer Dino De Laurentiis finally bought the rights of the book, and asked Frank Herbert himself to write the screenplay. Even this didn´t work, and after that Ridley Scott was hired to direct the film, finally stepping away from the job himself. Finally in the early 1980s, De Laurentiis got his director, when director/writer David Lynch agreed to make the film. Lynch, who was a hot name at that time after making “The Elephant Man (1980)”, first hired some writers to make the screenplay, but eventually he was the person that finally made a script that could be actually filmed. It still took him 6 different drafts to get there (and even one in the post-production). Over 10 years had passed, and the film with over 50 speaking parts, thousands of extras, and the budget of 50 million $ was finally in production. During that time, it was a big production.

There´s no point in trying to dive too deep into the story of “Dune” in a review like this, but it´s of course essential to tell the basics. The film is set in the year 10 191, where the “known universe” is ruled by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV (José Ferrer) from the planet “Kaitain”. Under him are the “great houses of the Landsraad” (royal families); “House of Atreides” on the planet “Caladan” (ruled by Duke Leto Atreides (Jürgen Prochnow)), and the “House of Harkonnen” on the planet “Geidi Prime” (ruled by Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan)). In the end it all comes down to the substance and spice called “Melange”, which has some very important advantages; it extends life, expands consciousness, and most importantly is vital to space travel. “He who controls the spice, controls the universe”. There´s only one planet in the whole universe, where this precious spice can be found - planet “Arrakis” (also known as the planet “Dune”). This completely dry planet has a difficult atmosphere and wide deserts, hiding huge and hostile sandworms, which can be as long as 450 meters. When the “House of Atreides” and “House of Harkonnen” are heading on a serious collision course due to the Emperor and his power struggle - and of course because of the spice - it raises Duke Leto´s son, Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) in a completely new light. He´s the chosen one, a messiah, who´ll have to lead the “Fremen people”, who are now hiding in the undergrounds and the city in their planet “Arrakis” and are gathering strength to fight over their home. Soon Paul Atreides will be known by another name; Usul Muad'Dib.

“Dune” is a film that has grown over the years to be a perfect example of all the difficulties that film adaptations can have, when you try to move the huge and epic story to the big screen. At least it quite clearly shows, that you simple couldn´t make the film in this magnitude in the 1980s, since special effects were not in the same level as they are now. As “Lord of the Rings-trilogy (2001-2003)” showed us over 15 years later, you need the perfect combination of good screenplay and adaptation of the book, talented and visual director, and different special effects that all come together, supporting each other. You can´t do a great movie with relying on CGI-effects alone as George Lucas lately proved, but there´s no question that with the films like “Dune”, you´ll need bigger CGI-effects in selected scenes, and those were absent in the 1980s. Don´t get me wrong, “Dune” is a fine example of different craftsmanship and some fine “old school” effects (like one person from the crew says in the extras; effects were cutting edge for that time), but there´s no denying that some scenes and effects simply don´t work how they should. Some of the real professionals were working on the effects, and many miniature and big model shots work great, but the bigger battle scenes leave plenty to be desired, and would look very different when done with todays technology. Producers of “Dune” would have to think carefully what they could actually do, when now with CGI-effects you can do pretty much everything, and make wide battle scenes, where thousands of people can be seeing on the screen.

I personally haven´t read the book, so I can´t make any comparisons between the visions of Herbert and Lynch, but I have a feeling that the film version of “Dune” was too difficult and surreal, even “strange” to make its core audience happy - meaning the masses and teenagers (I believe this was one of the first films to get the new “PG-13”-rating). A film like this needs time and patience from the viewer, no doubt, but it´s not hard to see why Lynch´s vision and complex narrative probably made many people unhappy and confused. It also lacks scenes that you could call “action” or “fast paced”, scenes that would take the viewer away from the heavier narrative tones and long dialogue scenes. Scenes that would let the audience breathe for a while, and just enjoy some well executed “entertainment”. In this sense, sandworms are a great addition to the story, and there are a few battle scenes, but in the end the film is quite heavy and hard to swallow for many casual viewers. Some fans of the book didn´t like all the creative decisions that Lynch (or the producers) made, losing some plot elements, but for me e.g. “inner monologue”-aspect worked well for the movie. If you get past the fact that the film version of “Dune” won´t be that sci-fi ride that some people thought it would, you can start to see its many strong points. It´ll take the viewer deep into the different universe, which is often dark, but which still gives hope and generally believes in the “better world”. If you let it, you´ll find yourself enjoying the wide range of different and weird characters, surreal sidelines, strong visuals, and all the ingredients from various strong emotions to politics and religion. It doesn´t take the “mainstream route”, nor is the most easiest film to follow; hell, it can be even confusing and dull, but it´s still a film that I openly recommend to see, a product of its own time. It´s a vision that is flawed, but it´s still in most parts a vision from David Lynch. In this sense it´s something of a unique vision.

If the screenplay and effects are partly a mixed back, actors are very good throughout. Some talented young actors and respected character actors are on board, also several European based. To the ones listed earlier we can add several names; Francesca Annis (Lady Jessica), Brad Dourif (Piter De Vries), Linda Hunt (Shadout Mapes), Freddie Jones (Thufir Hawat), Virginia Madsen (Princess Irulan), Everett McGill (Stilgar), Patrick Stewart (Gurney Halleck), Sting (Feyd-Rautha), Dean Stockwell (Dr. Wellington Yueh), Max von Sydow (Dr. Kynes), Sean Young (Chani), and Jack Nance (Capt. Iakin Nefud). Kyle MacLachlan is near perfect in his role, but my personal favourite still is Jürgen Prochnow, a very underrated German born actor. Generally, nearly every actor works very well, which is not actually a surprise when it comes to Lynch and his way with actors. Sting was rather vague in his role, perhaps doing some over acting occasionally, and of course some characters can be too “weird” for some people. Cinematographer Freddie Francis, who got Oscars for “Sons and Lovers (1960)” and “Glory (1989)” does his best to bring the dark beauty of “Dune” to the screen, and creature creator Carlo Rambaldi (co-Oscars for “King Kong (1976)”, “Alien (1979)”, and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)”) did a very good job with sandworms, better than expected perhaps. When it comes to music, the main “prophecy theme” by Brian Eno is great, but generally the music from “Toto” is not my cup of tea. That type of electric guitar sound doesn´t work for a movie like this - if any movie for that matter. Along with mediocre optical-effects, the music is another bad resemblance from the 1980s. I also find it kind of amazing, that relatively young Raffaella De Laurentiis was the only person to serve as a producer in the film (her father was executive producer), when you think of all the problems that the movie faced before, during, and after. The film was mainly shot in Mexico and the principal photography lasted almost six months. Still, various troubles of heat, logistics and bad connections were overcome, and the movie was finished. It wasn´t always easy with Lynch either, and in the interview in the “Rolling Stone”-magazine (No.436, by DeChris Hodenfield) De Laurentiis tells that they storyboarded the film twice, and finally Lynch didn´t shoot any of those storyboards.

The post-production was a story of its own, since the “rough cut” was around 4 hours (based on Raffaella De Laurentiis, 4 hours and 20 minutes). It was then when Lynch and the producers realized that some scenes didn´t work, and Lynch then made his final draft, 7th, where some scenes needed to go, and Lynch also shot one extra scene (apparently the one where he confronts the worms). During this time it was clear that Lynch didn´t have the “final cut” for the movie, so he had to make some compromises. In the “Cinefantastique”-magazine (Vol. 16, No.4. October 1986, by Tim Hewitt) Lynch said that "There´s something wrong with that movie, I don´t really know what it is, and I´m not certain you could “fix” it”. It shows that eventually even Lynch admitted that the film wasn´t what he originally hoped for. Would the film been any better if Lynch have had the final cut is the question that is sometimes raised, and I guess we´ll never know the definite answer. Would it actually been even more complex, and even stranger? Or maybe it would´ve been a better film adaptation than the current version, which was undoubtly completed with certain pressure and demands from the studio and producers? It would´ve been a dream come true to many fans if Lynch would´ve made his own “Director´s Cut” for this DVD, but unfortunately that didn´t happen. Maybe at some point, when Universal also does the full restoration for the film. An interesting anecdote also is that I believe both David Lynch and Kyle MacLachlan agreed to do 2 sequels for the film, but after “Dune” flopped at the box office, these plans were quickly forgotten.

The new R1 “Extended Edtion” still includes two versions of the film on one “DVD-18”-disc. On “Side A” is the original “Theatrical version”, running 136:19 minutes (NTSC), and on “Side B” is the controversial “Extended TV-version”, running 176:48 minutes (NTSC). I won´t start listing all the differences from these two versions, since that is already been done HERE by Sean Murphy. It can be said, though, that Lynch hated this 1988 attempt to make a new version of the film, and drew his name from the movie. Now the director of the “TV-version” is listed “Alan Smithee”, and writer “Judas Booth”. Along with around 40 minutes of new material from various sources, the prologue is now longer and done by the male narrator. Several scenes are being re-arranged, and some shots are even used twice in the film, which gives a very unprofessional look. Some of the more violent scenes are also missing, mainly the death of the “flavour boy” and some other shots from the first time we visit the planet “Geidi Prime”. Also the scene later on where Baron Harkonnen spits at Lady Jessica is gone. Some effects on the new scenes are not finalized, so in certain scenes “Fremen eyes” are not blue (like they should be). I personally don´t hate the “TV-version”, since it has some advantages. The longer prologue helps to get in the complex world of “Dune”, and some scenes gives the film more space and additional time for the people who want to get more into the story. The major problem is, apart from the fact that Lynch didn´t oversee this new version, that the editing is sloppy, and gives the movie a rushed look. I´m sure this has looked truly horrible in a rough looking pan&scan -version on 15” TV back in the days, so the new 2.35:1-print makes this version clearly more watchable (the new prologue was originally done in 4:3, so that´s actually cropped in this DVD). In the end, I´m sure that most people prefer the “Theatrical version”, since with all the minor editing etc problems in the “TV-version” it doesn´t really give the story a full justice, and most of all; can the version made by the studio be better than the original one from director? Since the “TV-version” is not approved anyway, they actually could have put as much footage back as they could find, and make the longest version available. Anyway, now these “alternate versions” are done all the time and are more accepted, so I´m sure that people are more open minded also towards the “TV-version” of “Dune”.

Video

Both versions are presented in Anamorphic 2.35:1, and to me they were quite equal. In the “TV-version”, some added scenes seemed to have slightly different colour tone and brightness level, and probably were grainier, but nothing that major, and I quite frankly couldn´t keep up as to what is an added scene and what is not, since I watched the “TV-version” first (it had been some time since I watched the “Theatrical version”). Depending on the reviewer, some people might find “Theatrical version” better and vice versa, but in the end there are no huge differences. That being said, the transfer is fairly good, but some softness and murkiness can be detected, along with line shimmering. Compared to at least the R2 French UE, the transfer is somewhat darker, but it´s hard to say which one is actually closer to the original vision. Still, in a certain sense, French-release looks better. A certain amount of grain can be seen (unavoidable due to some optical effect shots) and some scenes have also film artifacts and dirt. In the end this is not the “definitive” version of the film, nor a pristine transfer, but presentation is still fairly good. “Side A” has 16 chapters, and “Side B” has 18 chapters, and the disc is coded “R1”. Note, that there have been some playback problems with this release due to the “DVD-18”-disc (which has a generally bad reputation), but my copy played just fine. Disc was made in Mexico, and has ISBN 0-7832-5537-3, if that makes any difference.

Audio

“Theatrical version” includes English Dolby Digital 5.1 and French Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround -tracks, while the “TV-version” has only English Dolby Digital 5.1. No DTS. Both versions have English HoH, Spanish, and French subtitles (there are no Closed Captions). Again, depending on the reviewer, some feel that there are some differences with the audio on these two versions, but generally they sounded quite equal to my ear (then again, I didn´t spend hours comparing them). I would say that the audio mix is fairly good and gives some good surround activity, but the mix is not fully coherent. Some directional sounds seemed too loud and rough, not blending fully on the overall sound field like they should. This time certain directional sounds were just too directional, too obvious. It still probably comes down to taste whether you like the track or not, and I find it fairly adequate for the film. Some scenes in the “TV-version” could´ve been slightly out of synch, but this is something that you need to look for rather than it jumping out in your face. There´s also one strange audio bit starting from the timecode (approx.) 00:20:30, when you can hear some of the Princess Irulan opening narration from the “Theatrical version” in the background (based on the forums, same thing happens in the R2 French UE, so maybe this is a deliberate decision).

Extras

All the extras can be found from the “Side A” of the disc, and they don´t include any subtitles. A series of “Deleted scenes” and featurettes are very good, but at least one longer documentary on the film is sorely lacking, considering the interesting history of the project, and the fact that many from the cast & crew are still with us. It would be great to hear what David Lynch would say about the project now, but that is probably as realistic as him doing a proper “Director´s Cut” of the film. The disc comes in metallic gatefold packaging.

- First there are 13 deleted scenes, and this section opens with an introduction by producer Raffaella De Laurentiis. Section runs 17:18 minutes. In here I don´t try to give any lengthy notes about the scenes, only to briefly point them out (1-2 happens during the introduction)..
1) Fremen Monk and Paul.
2) One deleted segment under the Raffaella De Laurentiis´s interview, involving Paul Atreides.
3) Extended introduction by Princess Irulan.
4) Alternate introduction by Rev. Mother Ramallo.
5) Duke Leto Atreides and Thufir Hawat having a discussion.
6) Alternate scene of Shadout Mapes and her knife.
7) Extended scene of Paul Atreides and his mother, at the desert.
8 ) Alternate scene of Paul Atreides after his first fight.
9) Extended scene of The Beast Rabban and Dr. Kynes.
10) Extended scene of Alia explaining.
11) Paul Atreides dreaming.
12) Paul Atreides meets Thufir Hawat at the end.
13) Paul Atreides, Chani, and Emperor at the end.

Next are a series of well made featurettes, which include new interviews, some behind-the-scenes -footage, and photos and concept drawings.

- "Designing Dune" -featurette runs 8:54 minutes, and is focusing on the design. It shows how international the crew was, and that Lynch did many early drawings for the film, being a good artist himself.

- "Special Effects" -featurette runs 6:01 minutes, and tells about the different special effects-techniques, as well as pyrotechnics. It also shows how they did some of the scenes where characters were “flying” in the air. Very interesting, and makes you think how much more work there was before the CGI-effects.

- "Models & Miniatures" -featurette runs 7:02 minutes, and shows how they shot some scenes with different sizes of models and miniatures (some of them are very large). Again, it´s interesting to see that similar techniques are still used in the films like “Lord of the Rings”, and properly executed miniature shot is more realistic than pure CGI-image.

- "Wardrobe Design” -featurette runs 4:50 minutes, and we learn that 8-9 000 costumes were made in just four months. A funny anecdote also is that the suits by the “Guild Navigators” were done from the old body bags. All the stillsuits were also handmade.

- Photo gallery includes 100 photos; 43 color and B&W stills from the set, and 57 concept drawings. Very nice.

- Production notes includes 11 pages.

-4-page booklet includes info from the extra-features, and also “Dune Terminology”-notes.

Overall

After many rumours, R1 “Extended Edition” is not entirely what fans had hoped for. It still gives two versions of the movie, and the “TV-version” is now presented in 2.35:1, for the first time. The quality is not perfect, but still fairly good, and some interesting extras are also included. For the serious “Dune”-fan, and people who want to own both versions, this release is probably a “must” buy.

This DVD is available at Loaded247, the UK based supplier of R1-releases.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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