Film (1984). Dino De Laurentiis/Universal. Directed by David Lynch. Written by Lynch, based on Dune (fixup 1965) by Frank Herbert. Cast includes Francesca Annis, Kyle MacLachlan, Kenneth McMillan, many others, Sting and Sean Young. 137 minutes. Colour.
Seldom has a big-budget genre film been so execrated by fans and film critics alike. Certainly its narrative is confused to the point of incoherence, showing signs of last-minute, lunatic cutting. Certainly the many-layered story of Herbert's original, with its complex (and occasionally also vague) intellectual structure, is here largely reduced to melodrama. Certainly the distilled grotesquerie with which Baron Harkonnen and his nephew Feyd-Rautha (McMillan and Sting) are envisaged as monstrous beyond mere Villain-hood belongs to a world more disgusting than anything invented by Herbert. Certainly the final three-quarters of a long novel is reduced to a ludicrously fast-moving half-hour or so. Yet the film was, after all, made by David Lynch, master of weirdness, whose previous films had been Eraserhead (1976) and The Elephant Man (1980), and whose subsequent works would include Blue Velvet (1986) and the pilot of Twin Peaks (1989) – remarkable movies all. It may be time to reappraise Dune, which Lynch clearly conceived in terms of emblematic tableaux, like scenes from some stately, hieratic pageant. Much of the production design – with the notable exception of the sandworms – was wonderfully original and exotic; the camerawork (by Freddie Francis) made confident, artistic use of light and shade, glowing golds and deep shadows. However bad the film may have been in some respects, the neo-Baroque of the whole thing, not least in the Harkonnen sequences, is one of the most interesting attempts yet to capture a look and a feeling for sf that does not simply depend (as Herbert's original did not) on technological gimmickry. Bits of this bad film are close to masterful. [PN]
see also: Steampunk.
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