DUNE (!984)

In light of Dennis Villeneuve’s upcoming DUNE movie (part one!) I figured I should revisit David Lynch’s infamous 1984 version of DUNE. If for no other reason than to get reacquainted with the story and the characters. I had thought I would make a 1984 vs. 2021 video… but I’m not going to bother at this point, just keep reading.

Now, I know, and you know (right?) that there was a longer “extended edition” that took the time to dig into some of the details and backstories, etc. I think it did anyway, its been so long since I’ve seen either version that I couldn’t actually say what’s in it.

But it turns out, I don’t actually have a copy of the extended version, and I thought I did. Did you know that the extended edition of DUNE 1984 is NOWHERE TO BE FOUND ON ANY STREAMING SERVICE? I mean, I couldn’t even find a copy of it on … well, the site that shall not be named. It’s like its been erased from history or something. If you know where I can find it, PLEASE let me know! As it turns out, that “extended” version is also not any type of “official” version, and Lynch himself didn’t want his name attached to it. (Why stop there, just sayin)

But anyway. So I had to “settle” for the 2hr 17min version, and that’s OK.

Look, some people swear up and down that Lynch’s DUNE is a masterpiece of 1980’s scifi.

“A world beyond your experience, beyond your imagination.”

I’m gonna have to disagree with you there.

Like I said, its been way too long since I’ve seen this movie, and I thought I remembered it differently.

1984’s DUNE is just, well, strange. Released the year after Return of the Jedi, and the same year as such SFX gems like The Last Starfighter, comparatively speaking DUNE just looks terrible. Awful. Like something out of the early 1960’s.

And you know what? I honestly think that’s what Lynch wanted, a “throwback” to the days when scifi films were just a cheesy waste of two hours.

Because that’s kind of what this is. Sorry guys, I sat for two hours and seventeen minutes just in jaw-dropping awe of how bad Lynch’s Dune actually is. Was it on purpose? I don’t know. I hope so, because I’d hate to think a visionary like Lynch would make something so bad on accident.

Let’s start with the god-awful “inner dialog” stuff. I get it, I mean in the books… and I vaguely remember reading Herbert’s DUNE a couple of times after this movie, I think I even started Children of Dune, maybe the rest… hey its been a while. …in the books you can get away with just sticking a line of inner dialog in there in italics and its cool.

On film, though, this just looks and sounds stupid. It’s mostly spelling out plot points that we should be able to infer from context and from the actual dialog in a scene. If you can’t direct your actors to portray the feelings or situation you want in a given scene, and have to have them blank-faced sit there taking up screen time *thinking* about it…. You’re doing something wrong. I just don’t get this. So many of these lines *could* have just been spoken and talked about, the context would have allowed for it. If nothing else, a well-timed facial expression or comment leaving a room, etc. Anything but 😐 “I wonder if there’s a relation between the worms and spice.” Ya think there professor? Isn’t that kinda the point?

Then there’s the writing, the lines are just stilted and sound forced, nearly all of it. In fact most of the scenes with people talking just *feels* like a low budget community theatre play. Sub-par writing paired with the same in acting, direction, set dressing and props….

Let’s get back to those special effects. Like I said, in an era where RotJ and TLS also exist, there’s no excuse for these absolutely atrocious effects. You can almost see the strings attached to the just-awful models. Even the greeblies on the models look sloppy, rushed, and not thought out. It’s just every part of the production screams “cheaply thrown together at the last minute” from the costumes on up. They honestly *look* like they could have come from a cheap bubblegum 1959 matinee UFO movie. And maybe that’s what they were shooting for, I don’t know.

The cast, though, couldn’t be more stellar for the period, and it STILL manages to be a colossal failure. From such renowned names as: Max von Sydow, Patrick Stewart, Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, Jose Ferrer, Freddie Jones, Richard Jordan, Jurgen Prochnow, Dean Stockwell, Sean Young, and yes, even Sting…. even if you don’t recognize the names, you recognize the faces. And I have a feeling they ALL did they best job they could, given the direction and script they received… I just watch these expert actors almost painfully deliver these terrible lines and I genuinely feel awful for them.

Let’s take Sting’s Feyd. Dear Lord, I don’t know what it must have been like on set, other than somebody yelling “just look crazy, I don’t know, just try… yeah that’ll do I guess.” And the same goes for pretty much everyone. “OK. now you’re just gonna sit there and think about something for 15 seconds. No its cool we’ll record the lines later just act like you’re thinking.” Just eh.

Can I recommend 1984’s DUNE for anyone who is looking to do what I did? Namely just get a Cliff’s Notes version of the story and characters before we see another take on Frank Herbert’s classic?

I think I can say, yes. With a big caveat. It kinda sucks. Not gonna lie. If it didn’t suck at any point in the last 37 years, it hasn’t aged well, and sucks now. There are some movies that can uphold their classic nature and still remain so after so many years, and a lot more that just don’t.

But, if you need a decent short refresher course, where you’ll be sitting there going “oh yeah, that’s right” the entire time, then by all means, watch it.

If you’ve NEVER seen it, and never read it…. Don’t watch this. Just stay away. You will likely be tainted by it and your experience of Villeneuve’s version will be viewed differently.

I actually envy you if that’s the case.

2.5 / 5. Yeah, I thought I remembered DUNE being better on screen than this. I was wrong. I wonder what sort of secrets there are still from the production of this. Did financier Dino De Laurentis have any say about how it all went down? We may never know.

One of these days I’ll get around to watching Jodorowsky’s Dune, and review that SYFY channel version from a few years ago…

DUNE (!984)
Dune (1984)

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