The 1984 Hollywood version of Dune directed by David Lynch could best be described as a poor attempt to cash in on one of the best science fiction novels of our time. I highly doubt that anyone that has not read Dune by Frank Herbert could possibly understand how bad the movie was compared to the book. I have only the vaguest of memories from the first time I’ve watched Dune back when I was a little kid. I don’t remember it being one of my favorite movies like the Star Wars Trilogy. Anyway, I decided to watch the movie once again after reading the novel, which I just reviewed.
I watched this movie last week with my wife who has seen approximately 10-15 times. She read the first three Dune novels about 10 years ago, and hadn’t seen the movie for at least 5 years or more. We didn’t realize how comical the movie was compared to the book until I started pointing out the blatant discrepancies. Still, it has a completely pointless gratuitous scene with Sting emerging from some type of steam shower in a speedo, which is one of the best parts of Dune according to my wife. I think that it looks more like Flash Gordon’s underwear rather than a speedo. Anyway, I’ll move on to the review, to be followed by a spoiler-filled list of major discrepancies with the book.
The setting is the planet Arrakis, more commonly referred to as Dune. It is the only place where the most valuable commodity in the universe can be mined.
In this time, the most precious substance in the universe is the spice Melange. The spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness. The spice is vital to space travel.
This planet is completely covered in desert, the home to the people called Fremen. They are oppressed by the Great Houses which fight over control of this most valuable planet. There is a prophesy telling of a messiah who will lead them to freedom.
The premise of Dune is intriguing because the entire economy of the universe is pitted on the control of one planet. The Emperor hopes to rid himself of a Great House, the Atreides, by transferring the control of Dune to them from the Harkonnens. There is a long standing blood feud between the two houses which the Emperor hopes to exploit. He hopes to avoid looking bad by secretly helping the Harkonnen destroy the Atreides under the guise of the blood feud.
This sounds like the beginning of an awesome movie, right? As a movie standing alone, viewed by someone that has never read the book, I can see how the audience would easily be lost. The pacing of the movie feels more like someone skipping chapters on a DVD. There is just too much information to cram into just under 2 hours 20 minutes. There are obvious gaps in plot development, apparent even to those that have not read the book, which are briefly summarized by the narrator, Princess Irulan.
The most disturbing plot jump is just after Paul and his mother, Lady Jessica, escape into exile after the extermination of House Atreides. They are taken in by the Fremen and all of a sudden Paul is hailed as their leader, the messiah that was prophesied. There is no sense of Paul’s evolution from a young man to the savior of the Fremen, which was one of the most important parts of the novel. Several other plot holes are filled up by narration, which are too many to list. To be fair, there is an extended DVD release which is almost 3 hours which addresses some of these issues. I might review that some time in the future.
The thoughts of the characters are heard as internal voice-overs, which aren’t always apparent as such until you realize that the character is not moving their lips. The confusion is compounded by the fact that many times when they are “thinking” they aren’t shown on the screen, so it isn’t clear whether they are thinking or speaking.
Probably the most amusing aspect of Dune is the odd voice-based technology that the “Wierding Way” of fighting uses. There is this type of collar that wraps around the throat which controls some type of blaster. Whenever the soldier makes a noise such as “Waaaa CHAA,” the blaster emits an energy bolt. The various inflections and noises the soldier makes affects the intensity and type of explosion it causes. I can’t describe how silly it was during the final battle with everyone making noises to fire their weapons.
I hope that people don’t judge the story of Dune by the movie. The final product is a whirlwind ride with too much information squeezed into too little time. Dune is mainly a science fiction action movie, nothing like the deep philosophical novel it is based upon. As with most film adaptations, the novel is much better than the movie, so if you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and read the book.
Spoiler filled comparison of novel to the movie (by no means complete)
David Lynch takes many liberties, inserting erroneous things into the movie which have no relation to the book.
- Freaky voice-based “Wierding Way” technology is completely made up, possibly one of the most blatant offenses. In the novel there is a fighting style of the same name, but it is learned by intense training, not by the use of technology. There are no explosions involved.
- Weird heart plugs used by Baron Harkonnen, which when pulled out kill the victim – completely made up
- Thufir Hawat must milk a cat w/ a rat taped to it daily (yes you read correctly) to extract an antidote to a poison they administer to him. In the book they slip both a poison and antidote secretly into his food, so that if he escapes he will die without eating the antidote.
- Baron Harkonnen floats into a worm after being killed – completely made up
- Paul makes it rain at the end of the movie – completely made up, the transformation of the ecology of Dune will take many years
Also, many important plot elements are left out.
- No mention of Paul being trained as a Mentat
- The framing of Lady Jessica for betraying Duke Leto Atreides, which was the primary reason Hawat agreed to serve the Harkonnen
- There is no murder plot by Feyd to kill his uncle, the Baron Harkonnen
- No arranged marriage of Paul to Princess Irulan so he can become Emperor
These are just a few examples of how the movie fails to live up to the book. For another more detailed (and spoiler filled) humorous review of Dune, head over to BadMovies.org.