Movie Review #868


By Alexander Diminiano


Released December 14, 1984 (nationwide)
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Rated PG-13 (contains sci-fi violence)
137 minutes

Rather than writing this as a conventional review, I have critiqued “Dune” as an open letter to the director:


Dear Mr. David Lynch:

I first watched “The Elephant Man” two years ago. It is an absolutely incredible film. As I learned after quickly falling in love with your work, incredible is the word for just about everything you touch with your surrealist director’s hand. I have grown to appreciate “Blue Velvet”, “Mulholland Dr.”, “Eraserhead”, and your TV series Twin Peaks (as well as the film “Fire Walk with Me”, which provided a satisfying prologue and epilogue) as masterpieces in their own separate ways. Granted, I don’t feel I understood one bit of “Mulholland Dr.”, but then again, who does? It’s wonderfully told through the point of view of an amnesiac.

You are noted as frequently refusing to discuss your third film “Dune” during interviews, and it seems that when you do discuss the film, you often speak about your lack of final cut authority. You sometimes explain that that is what led to the outstanding badness of the film. I honestly enjoyed “Dune”, but not as I enjoy most your work. I enjoyed it as a “guilty pleasure.” And I feel you might understand why I didn’t like it as much as I should’ve, even as a “guilty pleasure.”

I assume it’s the fact that so many scenes were edited out of the film, that accounts for its utterly confusing nature. There was a certain point at which I gave up on hope of there being a comprehensible plot. All I take from the movie as it stands is that Spice was a godly thing, and that worms several hundred feet long were most likely guarding the Spice. My main sentiment about “Dune” is that it doesn’t feel inventive, despite how interesting your script makes it. I, like yourself, say damn the studios for interfering with what could have been a masterpiece. Rather than as something of its own, the movie plays out like a cheap “Star Wars” ripoff. (Not to sound snarky, but I guess that’s what you get when you turn down an offer to direct “Return of the Jedi”.)

“Dune” cost $40 million to make, which is so much more than anything else you’ve directed. None of your other movies have cost more than $15 million. And yet you showed dedication to this project: you practically begged the De Laurentiis Company for aesthetics that would’ve pushed the film over its budget, probably into the $50 or $60 million range. Part of me would’ve loved to see “folding space” as described in your screenplay. Though I gotta say, I feel like I enjoyed this cheap-looking version of “Dune” a hell of a lot better than if it had been the visually arresting piece you had envisioned. Maybe it’s my bias toward the De Laurentiis Company, but their strict abidance to a relatively inexpensive production seemed to work out pretty well here. Let’s be honest, how can you resist “Dune” when it looks like a freaking glam rock video? All those strange hairdos, visual effects, costumes, set builds are just so much fun to watch. Five words kept reappearing in my mind: “Ground control to Major Tom.” It seems almost impossible not to tip my hat to David Bowie when I’m discussing “Dune”.

Speaking of rock music, I love the soundtrack to this film. Like you usage of Roy Orbison’s music in “Blue Velvet” and “Mulholland Dr.”, Toto’s soundtrack for “Dune” is a palatable offer of orchestral music. It works both as movie music and their signature prog rock. The soundtrack is simply awesome. Not “Rosanna” awesome, and not “Africa” awesome, but it’s pretty awesome.

Now I’m going to say the obvious. There’s too many voiceovers in this movie. Way too many. It seemed like a routine for “Dune” to cut to a closeup of Kyle MacLachlan (or virtually any character) and give him a whole minute of stream-of-consciousness monologue. With all due respect, every one of these voiceovers made me hate to think that an auteur like you wrote the screenplay. Plus MacLachlan isn’t really even performing here. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing at his performance. Even more reason to call this a “guilty pleasure.”

Mr. Lynch, I understand fully why you choose to disassociate yourself from “Dune”. It’s far from the classic that many of your other films are. But if this is truly by far your worst mistake, I am that much more excited for the films of yours which I have not yet seen.

Kind regards,

Alexander P. K. Diminiano