Sometimes you can revisit a film many years after its theatrical release and appreciate it in ways that escaped you the first time around the themes become clear, the jokes are funnier, and you just suddenly grasp the filmmaker's original intent. This isn't bad at all, you think. I just didn't get it the first time! Then there are movies like David Lynch's famous debacle Dune (1984), which, it turns out, is exactly like you remembered it by turns fascinating, tedious, exciting, confusing, and generally just a bloated, convoluted mess. Upon its theatrical release, fans of Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel were, at best, underwhelmed, while those who hadn't read the book were just confused and irritated especially fans of director Lynch, who'd gained some hipster cred with his weird, low-budget first feature Eraserhead and his brilliant, moody direction of producer Mel Brooks' The Elephant Man. To be fair, any director would have had trouble making cinematic sense of Herbert's epic story about world powers clashing over valuable natural resources (and several, including Roger Corman and Ridley Scott, were briefly attached to it before throwing up their hands in frustration). Handing the young, detail-obsessed, patently weird Lynch $40 million to put it on the screen, on time and on budget, was simply madness. Still, Lynch being Lynch, there's a shocking amount that's good in this bad, bad movie, starting with Lynch's casting of Kyle MacLachlan as young protagonist/messiah Paul Atreides. Just 20 years old, MacLachlan had a small amount of theater experience when Lynch put him in the film and, though he went largely unappreciated until his follow-up role in Blue Velvet (1986), he's marvelous in the film, taking the character from restless naiveté to mad, driven obsession by the film's end.
The plot, for those who haven't read Herbert, is a nearly incomprehensible allegory commenting on the world struggle for control of the Middle East's oil reserves mashed up with a whole lot of oddball metaphysical mumbo-jumbo set in the year 10191, the families that control the galaxy's power are jockeying for position, most notably for control over spice mélange, a substance that does everything from expanding human consciousness (and causing bizarre mutations in the process) to "bending" time, which allows for space travel and, oh, taking stubborn stains out of pile carpet. It's only found in one place the desert planet Arrakkis (pronounced Iraquis, just one of many touches that would be considered far too unsubtle to fly today), also known as Dune. The Atreides are the up-and-coming power, led by Paul's father Duke Leto (Jürgen Prochnow), and they're the target of much palace intrigue via the Harkonnens, who have overseen the harvesting of Dune's spice but now have to swallow the galaxy's emperor (José Ferrer) handing it all over to the Atreides. There's an assassination and all sorts of plots by the cartoonishly evil Harkonnens to regain control, and there are other factions who look to an ancient prophecy of a Messiah who will lead a rebellion and save everyone, and Paul may or may not be said Messiah, and Sting (yes, Sting) wears a lumpy, winged G-string and smirks. A lot happens in the movie, mostly in the form of people standing around and talking about other characters with confusing names and if you didn't like that in the Star Wars prequels, you'll positively hate it here. There are also some very cool moments of Lynchian weirdness, a truly bizarre cast featuring Max Von Sydow, Brad Dourif, Dean Stockwell, Sean Young, Virginia Madsen, Patrick Stewart, and Linda Hunt, truly innovative art design, and terrible special effects. Oh, and the sand worms. The sand worms are still really, really cool, no matter how awful the rest of the film is. Sadly, though, the movie is also relentlessly, painfully solemn and takes itself far too seriously fascinating as it is to come back to as an odd Lynchian fiasco, it's still pondering and laborious to sit through. And the music was composed by the band Toto although it's not nearly as bad as that sounds.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment's "Extended Edition" DVD release of Dune offers two versions of the film the original 137-min. theatrical release and the 177-min. extended version, expanded by Universal for syndication so that it could be shown as a television mini-series and, hopefully, make up for the money they lost at the box-office. The longer "Allen Smithee" version, to which Lynch refused to have his name attached, makes the theatrical film look better by comparison starting with a truly abominable, eight-minute prologue offering a monotonous recitation of the movie's backstory over pre-production paintings obviously designed for art direction purposes. Other additions throughout the film simply make it even more convoluted and difficult to follow. Both cuts, in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), are presented decently, but not reverently these are not the clean, remastered presentations that one expects from a new release in a fancy, metal gatefold package. While color saturation is very good and it's a much nicer transfer than the 1999 DVD release, there's still noticeable dirt, scratches and other imperfections throughout, especially along the edges of the frame. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (in English only on the theatrical version, English or French DD 2.0 on the extended cut with optional English, Spanish and French subtitles) is just plain ugly muddy, flat, and often unpleasant, particularly with the dialogue, which often wanders from channel to channel for no purpose. Side One offers the theatrical cut plus bonus features producer Raffaela De Laurentiis introduces a number of deleted scenes, a stills gallery, and a handful of featurettes on the best parts of Dune Lynch's visual interpretation: "Designing Dune (9 min.)," "Dune FX" (6 min.) "Dune Models" (7 min.) and "Dune Wardrobe" (5 min.). Side Two includes the extended version of the film. Tin DVD case.