In the distant future, all interstellar travel depends on an all-important spice which can only be found on the desert planet of Arrakis. When the noble Atreides family are sent to rule Arrakis (or Dune, as it’s known to the natives), the rival house of Harkonnen plots to overthrow them and eliminate Duke Leto Atreides (Prochnow). Escaping to the desert, Leto’s young heir, Paul Atreides (MacLachlan) takes refuge with Dune’s native warriors and leads them in an uprising against the Harkonnens, discovering the planet’s secrets and embracing his destiny as the chosen one in the process…
Despite having found a loyal cult following over the years, Dune remains a curious genre failure of such epic proportions that even director David Lynch has disowned it. Adapting Frank Herbert’s classic novel, Lynch’s only foray into sci-fi (having turned down the chance to direct Return Of The Jedi) results in a mammoth missed opportunity which is often lifeless, noticeably flawed and decidedly uneven. Of course, compressing a 400-odd page story into 140 minutes (depending on which version you watch) is no easy task, and longer cuts do exist (although crucially, they’re hardly much more satisfying). Regardless though, here the mix of galaxy-spanning politics, mystical messiahs and feuding families is rendered in cold, confusing and frequently incomprehensible fashion. Despite the fact that voiceovers are given to even the most minor characters.
Certainly, Lynch’s approach is ambitious. But while Dune is meant to be the thinking man’s Star Wars, it’s a flat affair which offers little in the way of rousing adventure or emotional involvement. Credit where it’s due, there’s some nice visual imagination and an atmospheric score from Toto and Brian Eno, while Lynch fans will delight in the grotesque industrialism of the Harkonnen family (the leader of which has pussy boils over his face). But even though some of the effects (‘some’ being the key word) haven’t dated as badly as others, the universe here never feels fully realised or immersive (save for the desert worms, arguably). Starting his relationship with Lynch, Kyle MacLachlan does his best with a bland hero, while a rather splendid supporting cast (including Patrick Stewart, Dean Stockwell, Max von Sydow, Brad Dourif, Everett McGill, Jack Nance & Jurgen Prochnow) is largely wasted. Still, for all that, it does have Sting parading around in his pants. So there’s that.
Despite having found a loyal cult following over the years, Dune remains a curious genre failure of epic proportions.