Year of Release: 1984
Director: David Lynch
Screenplay: David Lynch, based on the novel Dune by Frank Herbert
Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis, Jurgen Prochnow, Jose Ferrer, Kenneth McMillan, Sting, Sean Young, Everett McGill, Dean Stockwell, Patrick Stewart, Virginia Madsen, Max von Sydow
Running Time: 131 minutes
This adaptation of Frank Herbert's 1965 science-fiction novel is generally considered a disaster, and right off the bat I have to say that it's really not that bad. The story is set in a distant galaxy and involves two feuding families from two different planets: The Atreides from the planet Caladan, ruled by patriarch Duke Leto (Prochnow), with his concubine Lady Jessica (Annis) and their son Paul (MacLachlan); and the Harkonnens from Geidi Prime, ruled by the sadistic and grotesque Baron Vladimir (McMillan) and his nephews, Feyd-Rautha (Sting) and the Beast Raban (Paul Smith).
The Atreides and Harkonnens are both desperate for control of the desert planet Arrakis (nicknamed Dune), a world devoid of natural water, riddled with deadly, giant subterranean sandworms, and sparsely populated by a mysterious people known as the Fremen. Arrakis is however vital, because it is the only source of the "spice melange", the most valuable substance in the universe, which can extend life and expand consciousness. It's most important property is the ability to "fold space" thereby making interstellar travel possible.
This is a deeply frustrating film because there is a lot about it that is really great, and so much that is really bad. It's worse problem is that it tries to condense Herbert's long, complex novel, which involves an intricate back-story into a too short a time, and this isn't a short film. In the event much of the film's dialogue is purely exposition to advance the plot, with a lot of voice-over narration to explain what the hell is happening. However it is a visually stunning film, with some of the most striking sets and production design that I have seen, and it does create a number of unique worlds and at it's best creates a genuine sense of wonder. It also hasn't dated too much, except for some special-effects shots, and the very 1980s soundtrack by Toto and Brian Eno. Watching it is a unique and unforgettable experience, with Kenneth McMillan creating, in Baron Harkonnen, one of the most memorable screen villains in history. In fact, the Harkonnen scenes are genuinely nightmare fuel. Again most of the good-looking characters are heroic, and evil is depicted by physical ugliness. Francesca Annis is impressive as Lady Jessica, who provides the emotional heart of the film, but otherwise there are a lot of great actors standing around in fantastic costumes and sets, struggling to make an impression.
David Lynch famously repudiated the film, and dislikes even discussing it in interviews, and given the fact that he has never made any secret of the fact that he dislikes science-fiction, he was kind of an odd choice to direct it, but there is a lot of Lynch in it's visuals and style.
You may love it or you may hate it, but it is such a striking and unique experience, it is well worth checking out.