"Stilgar, do we have wormsign?" - Paul Atreides
"Usul, we have wormsign the likes of which even God has never seen" - Stilgar
Oh Dune, this is one of those movies where all the pieces are there and they just do not come together properly. It is full of talent with David Lynch directing and full of stars like Brad Dourif, Patrick Stewart, Virginia Madsen, Dean Stockwell, and the list goes on! There are some beautiful sets, as well as some ugly ones (personally hate the Emperor's golden everything when it is described as jade). For its day the special effects were pretty good, and the scope was pretty epic for movies that were coming out at that time. So why did it fail? Why does it sometimes leave me wondering if the people making this movie read the same book I just did?
Quick run down on Dune first. It is a space epic that takes place some 10,000 years in the future. Major Houses control the planets, the Bene Gesserits are the space witches/nuns, the Guild controls space travel because they are the only ones who can pilot, and spice fuels pretty much everything and can only be found on Arrakis. Our story starts when the Atreides family takes over Arrakis from their sworn enemies the Harkonnens. This is a very intricate plot by the Harkonnens and the Emperor to cause the downfall of the Atreides because the Duke Leto is becoming way to popular among the ruling Houses. So they settle, become more popular, the Harkonnens attack but fail to kill the Dukes son Paul and his concubine the Lady Jessica. Paul and Jessica find help from the local nomads-who-aren't-nomads the Freman, and Paul becomes a God-like messiah that leads a revolt against the people that wronged him. Now, the story is Greek tragedy that is so layered and full of metaphors, concepts and ideas that it was a mind bending read at times that this rundown doesn't even begin to do it any kind of justice. Moving on to the movie.
The funny thing about this movie is that it follows the book pretty close. It's a better book-to-movie translation then Jurassic Park (and that was written by the author! ) but it diverts so much at times it hurts my brain. First problem: in the book the Duke was becoming too popular and it started making the Emperor so nervous that he had a potential rival on his hands that he used the Baron Harkonnen (who was always plotting and scheming as evil bastards do) to put Duke Leto down, instead the movie uses this whole plot of the Duke inventing an army based on Weirding Modules (a take on the fighting style the Weirding Way from the book) and the Emperor was afraid of this, causing him to plot with the Baron to put the Duke down. Apparently someone being too popular is just too hard of a concept for movie-goers to understand and it could not be explained in the 10 minute mono-log in the beginning of the movie (which is actually well done).
Moving on to the characters costume design. Now, I am all for people having fun and doing there own thing - Frank Herbert was like every other author who would describe in detail 5 things, and then say "they are in a room". So when the guy goes to lengths describing the Bene Gesserits hair styles, why would you make them bald?! Or when the Baron is described as a regular fat man, why would you make him a hideous, sickly, boil ridden man? So boil ridden we, in an already long movie, have to have scenes of him getting treatments! Now I can overlook things like the Emperors hair is not red, or Gurney doesn't have a scar, but come on! At least try and save your already expensive movie some money by not including unnecessary bald caps or boils. And for the sake of being thorough, the worm rider HOOKS that turned into a stick made me wonder what is going on.
The inner mono-logs really grated me by the halfway point I feel they have their place and time if done correctly. Dune is the place, many parts of it are the time. Unfortunately this movies watch is way off! Every single mono-log is 10 decibels below the rest of the movie, and half of them are completely unnecessary. Who in this movie other than Paul is going to eaves drop on your mono-logs? Again, who? In a 2 1/2 or 3 hour movie (depending on the cut you are watching), 50% of the dialog can be cut and you wont miss a thing. Why? Because they repeat what was just said or done. For example:
Jessica changes the water of life (poison) into regular water
"The Reverend Mother has changed the waters of life!" - Stilgar
In Paul's head 2 seconds later "my mother changed the water of life"
Really? I am not sure i understood that. I saw her change the poison to water? No I didn't understand it then. Maybe because Stilgar just announced it to everyone? No, could be the most noble guy in this movie is lying. Paul told me in a whisper voice like a jackass, yeah, Captain Obvious is right. Nothing can be said to make me believe it is necessary given the fact he does it like 8 times. It really made the acting terrible! There are times when you need to show emotion, not lazily tell the viewers what your are feeling. When Paul's father died (another one where you get told it like 5 times in 2 minutes after seeing it yourself), you would think someone over cooked his lunch, which is sad given the talent throughout this movie.
I know I just went through a lot of errors, and I am not done. In fairness though, 80% was done right. The core of the story is whole, but it doesn't have the emotional resonance the book had. It was hard to decide whether to root for Paul or not, other than he was easier to look at than the Baron. Besides the whole Weirding Module thing, the plot is spot on, the major parts and events are there, it just feels rushed and loses the emotional intensity of the book. I think this is because most of Paul's journey is cut out of the movie. He has a long spiritual journey throughout the book while coming to terms with his situation and in the movie he seems to just accept it and go for revenge. It also seems that none of the movie takes place during the day, and the lines are flat especially among the Freman. Granted, movies have come a long way since 1984, but come on.
The last couple of errors are odd and weird. The first is the weird cat thing. Atreides adviser Mentat Thufir Hawat is taken captive by the Harkonnen and pressed into their service. Now in the book it is a whole subplot that's almost Shakespearean in nature, in the movie it starts with him being captive, and then goes nowhere. To make it even worse, they throw this twist on it in the movie. In the book, they poison his food so if he runs away he wont live more than 2 days, but they do not tell him and administer his anti-dote through his food. In the movie they have a whole scene where the Baron gives him (of all things) a shaved cat with a mouse taped to it that he has to milk. He is then never heard from again. Again, WHY??? While I am at it, the Harkonnen heart plugs are new too, they also serve no real purpose.
The end. Another great case of following the story, then leaving a bitter taste in your mouth. The end pretty much follows the book, in cases line by line. There is this odd scene before they set off atomics where we see the main characters put on these radiation suits (again, not in book), the immediate next scene they are back to regular clothes. Just screwy. Then we have the big battle where it just doesn't feel like a climatic battle. Then we have the end fight where Paul fights Feyd Harkonnen (the last Harkonnen alive played by Sting). Now, the movie flirted with Paul's god-like powers and being the Kwisatz Haderach without ever really going into it, and this is sad because it is a powerful plot line of a boy (16 at the start) desperately trying to come to terms with his destiny being a prophet/messiah who will unleash a massive jihad across the stars. Eventually questioning whether or not he really wants to stop this, which comes to a head when his son is killed. In the movie he treats it more like a title, not the omnipotent creature he becomes (seeing all time lines and having the accumulated knowledge of every blood relative before him). They gloss over this plot line, treating him more like a Pope then a Demi-God, which is just sad. After following the book ending so well, at the very end Paul suddenly causes it to rain on Arrakis with his mind , a power never mentioned before. Now lets be clear, water kills the sand worms, worms are part of the creation of spice that runs this universe. The Emperor surrendered because Paul was going to destroy the spice, and he couldn't let that happen. Then Paul decides to make it ran destroying the spice anyways, being a dick, negating the whole point of the end, fade to random 80's song number 3. WTF.
Now, not trying to say this movie is a pile of trash, it is pretty close though. I did enjoy it until I watched Frank Herbert's Dune (the Sci-Fi mini-series that I will review soon) and then read the book. If you want this classic in its most basic form, watch this, but like Jurassic Park, I question whether they read the same novel or if the just got the Sparknotes and ran with it. After reading the book, I face palmed a lot during the last watching before this review. I would not pay for this movie, other than the $5.00 one at Wal-Mart that comes with 3 other movies.