Dune

Dune ★★★

Reconciling the complexities of the multi-layered entanglements that define Frank Herbert's epic sci-fi classic Dune with the weirdness and trademark surrealism of David Lynch's works has probably seemed close to impossible back in the early 1980s, before this film was even released. Lynch, whose filmography had so far only included two feature films, namely The Elephant Man and Eraserhead, was known for bizarre, not exactly accessible films with predominantly dreamlike imagery. Not really the first name to come to mind when choosing the director of a sci-fi project as ambitious as Dune, you might say.

After several directors had attempted to tackle this project of a lifetime, Lynch finally signed on to create what was supposed to be "Star Wars for grown-ups" in a multiple-film series if the first one ended up successful (we all know how that turned out). His typical weirdness is abandoned in favor of a (comparatively) more streamlined, mainstream-accessible approach to the source material. However, Lynch still struggles to convey the core philosophy of the novel to the viewer in the end.

It is no surprise that the screenplay was revised so many times that several members of the writing team threw in the towel over creative differences. Still, those who are not familiar with the source material will not understand much of what Lynch kept in this adaptation, even when most of the screenplay consists of expository setup designed to inform the viewers of the novel's world-building and character dynamics. Many characters' thoughts are played in voice-overs to reveal further information relevant to the plot, and still, in the end, it is as if we have only gained marginal knowledge of what Frank Herbert's classic novel is known for nowadays.

The environmental hazards, the societal decline and religious and spiritual allusions, the reflection of human morality and the protagonist's handling of his heroism and being forced into circumstances beyond his control: all of those themes are noticeably absent in Lynch's adaptation, or merely hinted at in broad strokes. But how could they not be? The medium itself limits the extent to which a novel's complexity can be captured without losing what is most important to it. I suppose we can only wait to see whether Denis Villeneuve will finally achieve what was deemed impossible for the last five decades. I think Frank Herbert himself might have said it best when commenting on this film: "Paul was a man playing god, not a god who could make it rain."

And yet, despite this overall negatively charged review, I cannot bring myself to give this messy, incoherent and convoluted disaster less than three stars. Its visual effects are alarming even for the technical restrictions of its time, the cinematography itself is surprisingly just not very interesting to look at, and the cast often struggles to find something of interest in the screenplay. However, the score that is so quintessentially rooted in the 80s, the sound design, the costumes and the production design had me intrigued from the first minute, and despite all its flaws and shortcomings, there is something to be found in Lynch's approach that reeks of potential and helped me find tremendous enjoyment in here.

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