Sunday, August 21, 2011

Possibly The Weirdest Film I Did Not Enjoy: Dune

The Good: Effects, Some acting, Directorial vision
The Bad: Clunky editing, Poor plotting, Dumb dialog, Obvious, Just plain b-rate.
The Basics: A sad, sad, sad attempt to make a movie that was big an epic and weird becomes long and tired and tiring.

First off, I haven't read any of the Dune books, but I watched the DVD with a friend who had. Second, it doesn't matter, because I'm reviewing the film, not the book! I like strange films, don't get me wrong. Brazil (reviewed here!) is amazing, Magnolia (reviewed here!) is simply wonderful and I'm a big fan of science fiction in film and television.

That said, all I knew about Dune was that, growing up, it was the first film I ever knew about that had a PG-13 rating on it. I'm still not sure why it did; perhaps because anyone under 13 is liable to die of boredom or be killed for asking a nearby adult "what's going on" near-constantly.

Before I get mired in where this film fails, I'd like to mention where it succeeds. First, the effects are pretty impressive both in terms of realism and in scale. It's a very easy film to watch in terms of being nice on the eyes; there's a lot going on visually and it's a pleasant sightseeing trip.

David Lynch succeeds in Dune in creating a strong sense of place and time. It's a very unique feel that is too often not captured in science fiction of any caliber. That is, on both a personal and technological level, there are enough nuances to let the viewer easily slide into this completely different place. It's nice.

Some of the acting is even competent.

That said, Dune is probably the weirdest film I've seen that I have no desire to ever see again. In truth, to keep myself entertained, I ended up doing a Mystery Science Theater commentary on the film. Dune was, in the final analysis hokey. Hokey, weird, eye-candy, blah.

The insipid plot focuses around the planet Dune which is taken over by House Atreides, which is almost as quickly reclaimed by House Harkonnen, under the aid of the Emperor. The Emperor is a political figure who keeps the various Houses of the Empire in check. Paul Atreides is basically a messiah figure on Dune, a prophesied youth come to liberate the worm-infested planet from the spice mining of the off-worlders. In the process, he becomes a member of the nomadic inhabitants of Dune and fights to save them from the tyranny of the Harkonnens and the Empire.

Unfortunately, the obviousness of the plot is coupled by a repetitive reminder of things the audience figures out in the first few scenes. In fact, the only way the film's final line has any significance is if you've been asleep for the two hours preceding it. It basically insults the intelligence of the viewer by stating the painfully, blindingly obvious.

Add to that dialog that hurts. I mean the writing is so simplistic, so third-grade, that it hurts to listen to the canned, tacky, hokey lines for even fifteen minutes. If the film is any indication, I'd imagine that Frank Herbert spent huge quantities of time, many pages, describing the places and situations rather than how people are speaking. Regardless, David Lynch's lyrical sense is sorely lacking in sophistication. A film like Star Wars tends to get away with the same problem, because it succeeds in having interesting, charming characters in an interesting plot. Dune fails in that regard. It fails hard. Paul Atreides is boring and obvious, his adversaries are doltish and laughable and his friends are all relatively flat on the character level.

In fact, none of the characters are compelling and it's pointless to get attached to most of them; many appear and are killed off within a half hour.

It's a sad day in movie-making when the special effects are the hallmark of a film, especially when the film is made in the early-80s. Dune also has the feeling of being edited - there are gaps in the story that take place over years, many of which work, others that just seem either silly or misplaced or downright confusing.

It's hard to take Dune seriously in the end because it has the feeling of being a kid (in dialog and plot) trying to be an adult, but it never quite lives up to its potential or the incredible universe it hints at in its best moments.

For other weird films, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
The City Of Lost Children
Dark City


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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