Vintage Science Fiction Month: David Lynch’s Dune is gorgeous and weird and epic and I love it

I already talked about rereading Dune.  But Vintage Science Fiction Month also led me to watch the 1984 David Lynch adaptation of Dune for the first time in a group watch.  Well, it was supposed to be a group watch, but I couldn’t make the originally scheduled time.  Instead, Andrea from the Little Red Reviewer and her husband came over and we had a group watch of our over (Mark from Kaedrin also joined in virtually).  You can find our tweets from the group watch here.  So what did I think?  Maybe I don’t love it (it does have its issues), I liked it a LOT.  In fact, I like it more than the book.

Alright, let’s get started.

And…the movie is dropping a ton of stuff on us in the opening monologue that the book doesn’t reveal until end.  Dune is, quite frankly, a damn fine successor to the original Star Wars trilogy, and the opening monologue is sort of the Star Wars opening scroll on drugs.  It’s much longer, and Princess Iruna’s face, in a nice hat tip to the chapter openers in the book, fades in and out throughout.

Some people who shall remain nameless insist that the movie is incomprehensible without having read the book.  I didn’t see it until after having read the book (twice), but I’m not so sure.  The movie goes to great lengths to lay out exposition very clearly (much more clearly than I think is generally necessary, at least for a science fiction audience, though professional critics may differ).

Some of the effects are hokey—the shields, for example—but in general they hold up pretty well.  Especially the worms.

And I love the set design.  Every planet is so distinct and odd and cool.  The whole thing is outlandish and super baroque and very H.R. Giger-esque.  Some of it is just bizarre, sure—Baron Harkonnen flying, the wild Mentat hair and eyebrows—but weird is good.

Perhaps taking a page from the book, the movie makes heavy use of internal monologue.  Like, weirdly heavy.  Characters frequently think that we they could easily say.  It was probably necessary in parts, but Lynch uses it way too much.

The romance with Chani could easily be cut entirely.  It adds nothing and is hilariously underdeveloped.

Alia provided the only real ‘Holy shit!’ moment for me reading the book.  The weirdness of her character works because it isn’t simple weirdness but is instead a result of a child talking and acting like an adult when everyone expects otherwise.  The more straightforward weirdness of movie Alia is meh.

The fights scenes, and especially the final fight, are awful.

Paul’s time with the Fremen is given short shrift.  The climax is a bit abrupt as well, if not as bad as the book.

The Dune movie works well enough—very well—but it cuts several plot threads to the bone or rejects them entirely.  If Lord of the Rings gets nine hours stretched over three movies, then surely Dune deserved a full three hour movie.  I have the 2-hour blu-ray cut.  I understand there is a 3-hour cut, but I haven’t heard good things about it.  Just because a movie deserves three hours doesn’t mean it benefits from the extra hour.  The biggest part of the movie in need of more time and development is Paul’s time with the Fremen.  It is maybe the best part of the book, and it gets short shrift here (heck, it gets short shrift in the book).  The romance with Chani and the return of Gurney in particular would benefit from this.

All in all, it is gorgeous and weird and epic and, you know what?  I do love it—enough to overlook all the flaws.

Oh, and the most over the top part?  The credits.


4.5 of 5 Stars.

About H.P.

Blogs on books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday (speculative fiction) and Hillbilly Highways (country noir and nonfiction).
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8 Responses to Vintage Science Fiction Month: David Lynch’s Dune is gorgeous and weird and epic and I love it

  1. pcbushi says:

    I love both the book and this film for different reasons. The whole “sound weapons” plot thread was an odd and unnecessary addition, and I think to reconcile it you need to just consider the movie its own thing – not really the film version of the book. But maybe that’s just for uber nerd fans of Dune like me.

    I also love the casting. I don’t think there were any weak actors in the bunch (though Sting was certainly a weird choice) and I mean Brad Dourif, Freddie Jones, Patrick Stewart, Max von Sydow? Yessssssss.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Redhead says:

    “I am . . . THE HOUSEKEEPER!”, and “My name is a killing word” have become inside jokes in my house. The 1984 Dune movie is such a blast! a very, VERY different experience than the book, but still buckets of fun. the end of the movie is so rushed!! they spend 90 minutes on the first 150 pages of the book, and then 25 minutes on everything else, and it is so rushed that it doesn’t make much sense. Such a fun movie!!

    If you’re looking for something that is truer to the source material, track down the SciFi channel miniseries that came out about 15 years ago. it is nowhere near as epic and generally less fun, but it is closer to the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John Boyle says:

    I find I like the movie more now than when it was released. I look at it as different from the book now; when it was first shown, it was too odd compared to the book.

    Like the special effects, love the casting and the music (the credits and the music played for each actor is what sticks most in my mind for the movie as a whole, along with the worms.)

    The SciFi channel miniseries puts more into developing Chani and Paul’s time with the Fremen, and is closer to the book, as Redhead says.

    Liked by 1 person

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