On record – Roger Ebert’s review of David Lynch’s Dune (1984) is one of the more damning statements about the film. In a populist way, it’s arguable that Ebert’s sentiments lay part of the bedrock for the decades-long debate of whether or not Lynch’s Dune is a misunderstood masterpiece. Ebert complained about its story, undeveloped characters, effects, and dusty look.
Dune is not the 80’s sci-fi/fantasy wreck like, say, Krull (1983) is, but neither is Dune without flaws. The first hour and a half of the movie are easy to follow, and I say this with the inability to recall any of the first novel. It does, however, fall down and apart in the last 30+ minutes, which feels like a highlight reel of plot points.
By some ’80s Lucas or Spielberg standards, maybe the effects are subpar, but they also have a dreamy, at times, hyperreal quality to them, which is unique. The sets have also aged better than they may have been received, with steampunk vibes and lots of gold and slime greens. Kenneth McMillan’s Vladimir Harkonnen is truly crazed, and I always forget people like Patrick Stewart, Brad Doriff, Sean Young, Max Von Sydow, and Sting with his doofus grin are in it. Virginia Madison’s preamble to the story is also truly one of the weirder opens to a film, where she fades in and out a number of times as she sets the stage for the story we are about to experience. When she fades back in over the star backdrop for the last, she apologizes with an, “Oh, yes. I forgot to tell you,” like she’s some absent-minded narrator.
My own childhood memory of the film is that it was murky, but memory is tricky. When I watched the new 4k transfer of the film put out by Arrow, I was taken aback at how good it looked. Yes, it’s ‘dim,’ but Lynch has never been a fan of the brightly lit.
Lynch disavowed the movie after its release, but he’s come back out of the woodwork recently and voiced an interest in doing a director’s cut. If he does, I hope there is more pug footage.