Dune ★★½

Dune is a weird movie, and would probably be considered an oddity even if it had been a financial success and spawned a wave of....Dune-mania (?) in the '80s, given that it's a large-scale, big-budget blockbuster crafted by ... you know, David Lynch, pre-Blue Velvet, pre-Twin Peaks, pre-all of that. (Not pre-Eraserhead though, and there are some FASCINATING echoes of that work in this project)

At the same time, Dune wasn't a financial success, and revisiting it, it's sort of easy to see why. It's got the emphasis on the heroes' journey at the expense of coherent worldbuilding or reasons to really care about the characters (even, in some cases, coherent performances), and it's got large-scale battle sequences, set at night among rocky cliffs and gigantic stone and metal bases, or against angry yellow-orange sand dunes, staged and carried out with all the joy de vivre of a group of accountants filling out tax returns, mixed in with a LOT of information being dumped in the audience's lap by characters who keep harping on that dang spice, and voiceover, so much voiceover, occasionally mixed in with strange flashbacks or telepathic visions, sometimes oblique, sometimes repetitive. The end result, in a sense, is being read a bedtime story that won't end, an outer-space fairy tale told by a psychotic....

And yet, the things that are weaknesses about Dune are also reasons, in the 21st century to enjoy and amire it as cinema (and civilization, har har) slowly crumbles around us like those big buildings in Nolan's Inception, chief among them the fact that it's not shot or paced or edited like a 21st century blockbuster, or even Star Wars, and that even the hero's journey-arc of Paul Muad'ib feels....a little different from the norm when it ends in rain for the planet, rather than personal gratification for Paul (okay he gets a robe, and a lot of the really interesting stuff is in the sequels that never made it to the screen, etc, etc) but the ugliness, the pacing, the strange visions and focus on what characters are thinking mixed with what they're saying, the galactic empire portrayed as a fundamentally corrupt and self-interested force, the weird emphasis on transcending the environment, the giant (awkwardly-so) stop-motion worms and special effects that are ugly and occasionally fake to the point of gaudiness, where the ugliness feels like the point (I think there's less distance, on a subconscious level, between the Guild Navigator here and the Eraserhead Baby, than one might otherwise acknowledge) and it feels weirdly like a movie that's at war with itself, where feeling disappointed by it and simultaneously admiring it is kind of the point. I'm very curious what the upcoming two-film treatment is going to look like (no Feyd Rautha?) and while, given this, I think there's room for a really distinctive, effective film version of Herbert's novel, it's easy to get a lot of enjoyment out of watching Lynch's (sorry--) reheaded stepchild, all these years later. Sometimes the thick lines where it's been awkwardly glued together ARE the point.

Jay D liked these reviews