The Spice Must Flow: David Lynch's Dune
The David Lynch-disowned monster, adapted from Frank Herbert's novel, still remains weird and brilliant because you simply can't extract the Lynch from it, and the studio tried. Lynch, one of the true visual artist in the medium, turned in some of the craziest dailies known to man, and it was impossible to erase his stamp from it. Now, it is well known that Lynch had a horrible time making Dune and refuses to talk about it, but I am here to say I still think there is a special gem of a film in there. Deliberately, I will focus primarily on the film (the theatrical cut) and not too much on what was left out of the book. Does it work as a motion picture? I say, 'Hell yes!' No sci-fi film, before or after, moves or feels quite like Dune. Mainly due to the fact that the film, despite the turbulent production, makes sense. The darn thing is coherent.
Tucked within an unflinching hallucinatory journey is the solid arc of Paul Atreides, played by Lynch regular Kyle MacLachlan, and his epic quest to get revenge and become a godlike being along the way. Sounds bananas, but, again, it works. In order to earn such a status, poor old Paul Atreides is run through the ringer in this film. He goes through intense physical combat training, psychological trials designed to test his mental resolve. He gets rocked by a major death in the family, and his house overturned by a act of a traitor. All of this within the first hour! This combination of training and tragedy, of course, lays the foundation for a remarkable revenge story that will have you rooting for Atreides throughout.
The design of Dune is pretty damn impeccable for a 1984 production. Creative usage of early CG can be found in the form of blocky looking body armor that still looks awesome today because, while it feels alien and foreign, it is perfect for Dune’s settings. Same goes for the weaponry and knife work on display, everything is other-worldly, which is obviously what you want to shoot for when making a film of this nature. So many crazy ideas lead to unique wonders as opposed to shoddy craftsmanship. An addition to the film that is nowhere to be found in the novel is a weapon known as the Weirding Module, a device that uses the sound of your voice to fire and energy blast that can destroy solid rock and would reduce a man to pulp. I can’t imagine the world of Dune without this weapon and just love the creative audacity to add something new to the already elaborate world Frank Herbert established.
Matte paintings, made to sell the various planets’ scale, and hand-built model shots for spacecraft and creature design, like Star Wars before it, round out the look of the piece and for my money this the only way to fly when bringing FX-driven cinema to the masses. While CG has definitely made huge leaps since 1984, there is nothing like a beautiful painting or a physical model to sell depth on a production of this scale which at the time was a huge deal, taking years to pull off. (Yes, I am aware of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s hustle, but we’re on a Lynch kick here, so, moving on.)
The vibe of Dune will always stick with you because they enhance the film with crazy voice over work—an inner dialog often whispered by damn near every character you encounter. It becomes a peek inside their true intentions and feelings and helps us grasp the outlandish nature of the piece for those uninitiated. You basically can’t say ‘What the hell is happening?’ because it is all laid out there for you. A genius move really, considering there's a ton of ground the film has to cover.
The final secret weapon to Dune is the unforgettable score from the band Toto. The themes they brought to the table will never be erased from you mind once you hear them. Seriously, just try to fight the goosebumps as Kyle MacLachlan rides a huge ass worm and the theme blasts your soul out of your body. The film also has music from genius Brian Eno who provided "The Prophecy Theme" that is laced throughout. Simply put, adding rock stars to this thing was a great idea. It is powerful stuff that many would argue saves the day.
In closing, I just wanted to state that it is not lost on me that Lynch would never feel this way whatsoever about Dune. All this praise I am heaping upon it would be kicked to the curb or even laughed out the room, no doubt. He was quoted as saying he 'sold out’ because he didn’t have final cut of the film, the only one of his that never was 'his'. I am, however, forever going to go to battle for Dune. It was a main stay in my day during the VHS era and, shamefully, my introduction to David Lynch. The Spice a.k.a. Melange was my gateway drug to one of the greatest filmmakers to ever attack the medium and I will always be forever grateful for it. Seeing it fairly recently on the big screen in 35MM thanks to an David Lynch retrospective at the Alamo Drafthouse didn’t hurt matters much either. Dune is a weird beast that I am madly in love with and I do not see that opinion ever changing.