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Dune (1984) November 1, 2011

Posted by futurewired in Film, Frank Herbert, Reviews.

Well it’s been a little while since I’ve written anything for this blog, a new job and new shift patterns meant that finding the time to do anything even remotely constructive was getting a bit difficult. I have however been keeping up with my reading so I’ve got a couple of reviews on the back burner at the moment. Just finished Mary Doria Russell’s fantastic novel The Sparrow and I’m halfway through Tricia Sullivan’s Lightborn at the moment so expect vaguely formed responses to these to pop up on this page at some point soon.


Today however I’m going to move sideways a bit, as a way of easing back in to the blogoverse, by – horror of horrors! – talking about a film. Namely the 1984 film adaptation of Dune.

Now I have seen this film before, many years ago when I was a lot younger and my memories of it were a bit blurry at best – there was a guy who looked like a walrus? And Al from Quantum Leap kept going on about a tooth for some reason?

I’m a huge fan of the book and I think it’s a telling sign of my geek status that a boxed set of all six of Herbert’s Dune novels was one of the best Christmas present’s I’d ever been given in my early teens. I’ve also seen the TV minseries which I thought was a pretty fair adaption of the book.

This film though is really quite something.  In some ways it reminded me of the Flash Gordon movie, which  suppose makes sense considering Dino De Laurentiis had a pretty big hand in making both. The key difference is that while Flash Gordon never comes close to removing toungue from cheek, Dune seems to take itself completely seriously.

My second thought was that it must have made no sense at all to anyone watching who hadn’t read the book. Somehow despite all the exposition and internal monologue it manages to remain completely opaque – words like Landsraad, Gom Jabbar, Sardaukar are thrown in with pretty much no explanation, even those terms which are explicitly explained ie Kwisatz Haderach still remain slightly mysterious and I get the sense that if you miss a couple of lines of dialogue in the first hour the rest of the movie would be pretty much impenetrable. The film is narrated intermittently by Princess Irulan, who, unless I missed something, has pretty much no onscreen role apart from appearing in the background of a few scenes, there was no mention of Paul marrying her at the conclusion.

The dialogue as far as I could remember seemed fairly true to the book, the effects were idiosyncratic, a bit clunky in places but overall pretty convincing I thought. I know a lot of people have said that the worm attack sequence hasn’t aged well but I thought it still looked not too bad.

The mystic elements of the story were played up quite a bit, Paul’s messianic status being taken quite literally at the film’s ending – how exactly did he make it rain again? There were a couple of liberties taken that I thought worked quite well too- the reinterpretation of the weirding way as amplified sound and movement was a really interesting idea.

The real issue with the film is probably the pace – it takes an astonishingly long time to get going, and the heavy use of internal monologue means there are a lot of scenes of people basically sitting staring at each of other.

The performances are quite impressive as well – Kenneth McMillan hams it up as Baron Harkonnen, and Kyle Mclachlan is actually believable in his transformation from boyish dauphin to militant messiah.

More than anything however I seem to just be left with a bunch of slightly unsettling images. A mulletted Patrick Stewart charging into battle, clutching a little dog under one arm with a gun in the other. Sting in his underwear winking at the camera. The Mentat’s eyebrows.

Awesome soundtrack though.

All in all probably a glorious failure of a film, bewildering with some real pacing problems, but I still really want to watch it again!

There may be something wrong with me…

Back soon with more literary fare hopefully!





1. Redhead - November 2, 2011

So much potential went into that movie – the director, the musical score, the epic scenery. . . but just like you said, it made zero sense to anyone who hadn’t read the book. I saw the ’84 movie when I was about 10 years old, and although I didn’t understand anything that was going on, it sure looked cool, and inspired me to read the book a few years later. Been hooked on SF ever since!

2. Joachim Boaz - November 2, 2011

A glorious failure of a film — I couldn’t agree more! It tried so hard and failed so miserably! haha, I loved it — in a weird sort of I know what you’re “trying” to do way.

3. futurewired - November 2, 2011

Well I’m glad that I’m not alone in my love/fascination of this film at least.

Thinking about it I do wonder how much of my interest in sci fi was developed through watching film’s as a child that made very little sense at the time; Dune, Disney’s The Black Hole, 2001 A Space Odyssey to name a few. Lots of brillant images but it would take a whole lot more reading before I knew what the hell was going on!

Joachim Boaz - November 4, 2011

Yeah, I loved 2001 A Space Odyssey as well — and the rather lame sequel, 2010 (probably Hyams’ best film — what a horrible director)….

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