Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Movie Index

DUNE -THE MOTION PICTURE

Directed by David Lynch (1984, Universal Pictures)
Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Everett McGill, Jurgen Prochnow, Sting, and Patrick Stewart

Two families battle for control of the spice-producing world of Arrakis, one with the Emperor's help, the other using the world's native people.

View count: 3 times

 

 

5 stars

October 23rd, 2000 in the Theatre  
   

I know that if I watch this movie again after rereading the book, I would probably dislike it, because it just barely scratches the surface of what is included in the pages of Frank Herbert.  However, since it's been nearly fifteen years since I read the book, I don't remember much about it, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

The film does an outstanding job of introducing us to the situation and the characters.  Every scene gives a little more information about the universe Dune resides in, and about the families that are warring within it.  As we learn about the characters, we also learn about the mysteries that surround Arrakis and the spice, which lengthens lives, and makes space travel, and even some telepathy, possible. 

The feuding families are the Atreides and Harkonnens, whose dukes seem to love waging war against each other.  Leto Atreides has formed a new, illegal, army, and has created technological gadgets (weirders) that can project sound for the purpose of killing.  Baron Harkonnen is just a little crazy.  He lives on a world covered by machines, and employs people who breathe some sort of gas.  He has governed Arrakis for years, and has agreed to a trap planned by the Emperor.  For the Emperor has given Arrakis over to the Atreides, so that the Harkonnens would strike back at them, while also using Imperial soldiers. 

There is a good, solid buildup leading towards the Atreides occupation of Arrakis.  We learn about the shields, the weapons, the various methods for killing people.  We learn about Dune's climate (no rain, ever) and the worms, and the native people there called Fremen.  Finally, we learn about the Guild and the Bene Gesserit.   One is addicted to spice, and can fold the Universe, making space travel possible.  The other is searching for the perfect human, and tests people using pain. 

The story unfolds precisely as the Emperor sees it.  The Atreides take control of Arrakis, find many sabotage devices, and go out to tour the spice harvesting.  Meanwhile, one of their most trusted doctors has betrayed them, by destroying the shield generators and the weirding modules, and by sedating Duke Leto, his Bene Gesserit lover Jessica, and their son, Paul.  So when the Harkonnens attack, the only resistance is offered by the nearly defenseless Atreides army.  The takeover is quick and very effective. 

The doctor wants revenge on the Harkonnens, so he implants a fake tooth with poison gas into Leto's mouth, to kill the Baron when he gets close.  And for this service, he promises to save Jessica and Paul.  Both of these exchanges are extremely well done, as Leto hallucinates the Baron's likeness and kills the man's doctor, and then Paul and his mother use their training to take over the ship that is taking them to their doom, out in the desert. 

Paul finds the strength, then, that his father knew he had.  They cross a patch of desert, distracting, then barely evading a monstrous worm.  They come across a group of Fremen, whom they impress with their fighting techniques, and they take Fremen names.  Paul is known as Usil Muad-dib.  Jessica, who is pregnant, takes over the job of Mother Superior of the tribe, from her dying predecessor. 

But by doing so, Jessica has betrayed the Bene Gesserit twice.  She bore a son for Leto, when ordered to bear only daughters, and she has now given awareness to her unborn daughter, who will become an extremely powerful abomination. 

Paul impresses the Fremen, and learns his mothers skills, too.  In order to become their leader, he must harness a worm, which he does in a magnificent scene where he calls a very large worm.  He trains the Fremen in the ways of war that will win them back their freedom and revenge. 

His tactics stop spice production completely.  One by one, his forces blow up the spice harvesters.  His name becomes legend, and finally, the Emperor is forced to do something about the situation.  The guild ships arrive to make sure that he does, because the Guild is even more powerful than the Emperor. 

It took two years, and Paul finally launches an attack on the Harkonnen's stronghold.  He blows a hole in the shield wall, and his forces ride worms inside.  It is an eerie moment, which is done in slow motion at times.  The Harkonnen forces can do nothing to harm the worms, and even less to get out of their way.

Paul finally confronts the Emperor, and duels with Baron Harkonnen's son (I believe it was the son -that wasn't made too clear).  The Baron was killed in the assault, and his heir dies at Paul's hand -and his voice. 

The only part that I thought could have been done without was the very end, where it begins to rain.  As I recall from the books, rain kills the worms, but I guess that's dramatic effect. 

There was so much to convey during this movie, and I know that they didn't convey half of it.  But what they did show was terrific.  I'm sure some people find the movie to be slow, but I consider it to be simply thorough.  The length of the movie (which is less than two and a half hours) gives us time to know Paul, and the two families that are involved.  We see so much of the universe, that I'm very impressed that the creators were able to pack so much in there.  There were no wasted scenes -everything had a purpose.

The music was nicely crafted through most of the movie.  A few times it seemed to move away from the action on the screen, and was thus intrusive.  But for the most part, it was enjoyable. 

The special effects were what I did not expect to hold up after so many years, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The ships wobbled on their model wires during the invasions, and detracted from the visuals, but the worms were amazing, and the firefights and especially the spice harvesters, were extremely well done.  Even though the ships were unsteady, some scenes, such as the convoy entering the Guild ships, was a sight to behold.  And to see Paul ride his way up to the top of a giant worm was truly magnificent. 

The movie had a lot of detail, and a huge amount of character buildup, and even a plot.  And the entire thing was well done.  To get any farther in this Universe, and to see the whole story take place, would require a mini-series.  And the Science Fiction Channel is presenting the Dune six-hour mini-series December 3rd to 5th, 2000.  I hope that Space: The Imagination Station here in Canada also carries it.  I don't know if I'll get the chance to read the book again before then, but I plan to do so early next year.

The last times I saw this movie, I had read the books (probably most of the six) at around the same time.  And I hated it.  I don't know what's so different, but I remember the rain being the final straw.  Baron Harkonnen seemed way too psychotic and out-of-control, and I wondered why the Emperor chose to support him instead of Leto Atreides.  I still wonder about that, but I don't think the character was too over-the-top anymore.  When I discovered that the local repertory theatre was showing the movie again, I had to go.  But I would not recommend doing this immediately after reading the book.

So, to sum up, I loved it.  The visuals were not up to today's standards, but they still looked real, more so than anything outside of Trek and Star Wars of the 1980s.  The ships were of a new design, but still had that used look to them, which was nice to see in this not-so-nice place.  The characters and situations were fleshed out more than I thought possible, and the story was explained in such a way that my wife, Joanne, could understand it, even though she's not a SF fan, and had never even skimmed the book, and knew nothing at all about it.  Itís a good sign that the movie can cater to more than just the cult fan.

 
   

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