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David Lynch tackles Frank Herbert's sci-fi tale of spice, nobility and giant sandworms
Mammoth, unwieldy and completely ahead of its time, David Lynch's beautifully flawed attempt to bring Frank Herbert's sci-fi tome to the big screen is a world away from the space opera simplicities of George Lucas's Star Wars. Turning down directorial duties on Return Of The Jedi in favour of taking the reins of this whopping $45 million outing, Lynch walked into a cinematic disaster zone that damned his naive hopes of making an arthouse sci-fi blockbuster once and for all.
As the budget spiralled towards the $60 million mark (hardly small change in the early 1980s) and increasingly irate studio heads dabbled with the final edit, Lynch eventually took his name off the project, opting instead for an Alan Smithee credit on the longer network TV edit.
The 137-minute version of the film is dark, fitful dream of a movie. Grand, baroque and poetically brilliant, it entices and bores in equal measure. Delivering huge chunks of plot exposition amid startling sequences brimming with Lynch's trademark nightmare lyricism, it's the story of Paul Atreides (MacLachlan), a young member of the House of Atreides and his struggle against the machinations of the rival House of Hakonnen for control of the vital spice melange of planet Arrakis. (The spice is essential for interstellar travel.)
Delving through author Frank Herbert's dense web of family trees, noble birthrights and mythic rumours of a coming messiah, Lynch discovers a hallucinogenic sci-fi oddity that offers much scope for moments of ravishing visual power. While some of the science fiction elements have dated badly - this was after all the pre-digital era of rotoscoping and mechanical effects - the film's masterful production design is a triumph that has stood the test of time. It's no surprise to discover that production designer Anthony Masters learned his craft on 2001: A Space Odyssey, although the aesthetic here is completely different from Stanley Kubrick's sterile vision.
A grungy glimpse of a mythical future, Dune makes for a truly remarkable viewing experience. Full of Lynch's dark sexual perversity, it's a subversive epic in which characters wear fetishized rubber sand suits and tussle with thunderously phallic sandworms while the buff, barechested form of pop star Sting screams "I will kill you!"
It may be the Heaven's Gate of sci-fi filmmaking, but Dune is a monstrous beast that holds great rewards for anyone willing to tackle it's unwieldy form.
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