For a long time, the thought of watching Dune felt like a betrayal to director David Lynch. He famously didn’t have final cut on the feature and has generally avoided talking about the movie since. A chapter in Lynch on Lynch (1997) is an exception — and Arrow includes an excerpt in their essay booklet, but, in the end, all it took was Arrow announcing a souped-up release of the film for me to cave and watch it.
Starting with the physical extras, Arrow’s release comes with the aforementioned booklet, some postcards, and a double-sided poster that’s a little underwhelming. Instead of using the image of Paul (Kyle MacLachlan) and Chani (Sean Young) that’s been used for DVD releases in the past, the one side of the poster [seen above] is just an image of two planets, while the other side is Arrow’s cover art by Dániel Taylor (which looks great on the box but isn’t something I’d necessarily want on my wall).
Dune follows Paul as he and his family move to Arrakis (also known as Dune) to take over spice production from their enemies, the Harkonnens. Spice is precious in the year 10,191, when the film takes place, and it’s hard to imagine the Harkonnens giving up control. But, as the Emperor (José Ferrer) has no qualms revealing to the Spacing Guild navigators, he wants Duke Leto (Jürgen Prochnow) and his family gone. Paul is the Duke’s son and, sure enough, they walk right into his trap, but there’s a prophecy that says Paul will be the next messiah so, of course, he has to survive somehow.
As comes up in both Christian McCrea’s essay and Mike White’s commentary, Dune is a very top-heavy movie. That Lynch wasn’t able to have the runtime he wanted certainly didn’t help, but besides the exposition, the first third of the movie is where a lot of the political intrigue and backstabbing goes on, with actors like Brad Dourif and Dean Stockwell giving their characters more depth than is necessarily in the script.
Kenneth McMillan as the main villain, Baron Harkonnen, is legitimately gross. Many villains are supposed to be gross, but he really is. Between the makeup, where there’s at least one hair sticking out of a boil, and the food spilling out of his mouth, it is grossness turned into an artform. Like, if you’re going to be gross, do it well — and that’s exactly what McMillan does. Although, the homophobic critique that’s been leveled at Giedi Prime, the Harkonnens’ home planet, does carry weight.
Besides MacLachlan (who makes his film debut), Dune is filled with future Twin Peaks alums, like Everett McGill, Jack Nance, and Lynch himself in a cameo. The romance between Paul and Chani is nonexistent, and while battles usually play out in stages, Dune’s final battle is monotonous. None of the female characters get much to do and some of the film’s scarier concepts, like heart plugs, are underutilized.
The production design is pure sci-fi and it’s easy to see how later shows, like Stranger Things (with the demogorgon) and Doctor Who (with the Judoon’s uniform), might’ve taken inspiration. Some of the better bonus features are archival featurettes focusing on specific departments, like costumes (you don’t want to know what the guild navigators were wearing) and special effects (like getting the Baron to fly). Sometimes a commentary feels redundant after so many extras, but White has no problem filling the time and finding new things to say, like pointing out how the ending differs from Frank Herbert’s novel. Paul M. Sammon’s commentary is more unusual and doesn’t correspond with what’s going on onscreen. Sammon was the producer of Destination Dune, a featurette included on this set which was used in 1984 to promote the film at conventions. He speaks openly about some of the things that went wrong during production, but he also admits that in Dune, the David Lynch Files, he isn’t described very flatteringly — which makes him a somewhat ambiguous source. There’s also some overlap between his commentary and Andrew Nette’s essay.
Brian Stillman’s new featurette on the Dune toy line is surprisingly entertaining and specific, while the new featurette on Toto’s score uses audio interviews instead of talking heads. This could’ve been detrimental, but all of the clips and images are thoughtfully selected. Nobody seems to have an explanation for why “chaakra” is Dune’s “abracadabra,” but some mysteries aren’t meant to be solved…
Dune is available on limited edition Blu-ray from Arrow Films.