It’s been quite a number years since I read Frank Herbert’s Dune, which blew my teenage mind with it’s level of complexity of political intrigue, psychic powers, environmentalism and it’s rich world. I imagined it as an aesthetic mixture of advanced science fiction combined with a somewhat antique medieval or renaissance look. This film adaptation looks a whole lot different to what I imagined and looks very strange, but for the most part looks alright, if dated in parts. The character shields, for instance, look like transparent hitboxes in video games but I can let it slide due to the film’s age and it being the early days of CGI. That said, the gigantic sandworms look incredible and most of the sets look believable.
This film is perhaps the most conventional film in director David Lynch’s filmography, which follows a pretty clear 3 act structure. The film follows the rivalry between two Houses: the Atreides and the Harkonnens, whose rivalry end up coming to a head when the Atreides are sent to the desert planet Arrakis, which is home to mining a mineral known as the spice, which is the lifeblood of the universe. It also follows Paul Atreides (Kyle McLachlan) who is their heir of House Atreides, who is essentially a chosen one type, who becomes a TE Lawrence like figure to the Fremen.
While the technical qualities of the film are quite good and the main theme of the film makes one feel pretty hype, there is one glaring problem: the pacing. While the first act seems more or less appropriately slow, the rest of the film from the second act onwards is far too quick. Once Paul meets the Fremen in the second act, the rest of the act becomes something that might as well be a training montage and leading into the third act, there is narrated timeskip. That said, the second act contains some of the best parts of the film in visual terms. Probably one of the biggest evidence of this is the romance with the Fremen woman. First, Paul sees her in a premonition. Then, Paul meets her for real, fulfilling the premonition. And in the next scene, they’re kissing. It feels as though this romance was cut dramatically and only the residue left in the film. There’s no real chemistry or emotion felt between the two because of this. We also don’t get a strong understanding of Arrakis or the Fremen culture and the whole thing just feels a bit rushed. By the time we get to the end of the film (which does have a pretty cool and mostly realistic knife duel) , we are left only semi satisfied but still confused. While people who might have a good knowledge of the Dune novel will easily be able to fill in the blanks, those of us who have a rusty knowledge of the novel or even no knowledge will find themselves somewhat confused by the ending.
Dune is quite an ambitious film, but with it’s run time of only just over 2 hours, this film clearly should have been longer. Supposedly, the original screenplay had the film at around 3 hours long. However, in spite of all it’s problems, it is still a film that is at the very least interesting visually and still entertaining. But it’s a movie that merely resides as decent to good when it could have been great.