DVD Review: Dune – Extended Edition

Frank Herbert wrote the book ‘Dune’ in 1965, while the Apollo program was yet to deliver on its promise of landing humans on the Moon. Since then, over 20 million copies were printed. In answer to a clamour from science fiction fans, David Lynch wrote the screen play for and brought to life a cinematic version. This, however, was not greatly appreciated by the general theatre audience. Nevertheless, science fiction fans kept asking for it and eventually a lengthened version was prepared for television viewing. From this, today, there is the longer Dune ? Extended Edition with 40 more minutes of film than in the original theatrical feature.

One can better understand this movie by considering the times. By 1965, humans had only just discovered space flight. Perhaps because of this, Herbert’s novel mostly focuses on human interactions as well as strange new worlds. Though the movie was made in 1984, there’s little to suggest the improved knowledge of space from the nearly 20 intervening years. Also, Lynch made his movie before computerized visual effects became main stream. Thus, achieving a believable visualisation of alien landscapes and space flight was a matter of using models, skilful depth perception and on screen trickery. Yet, there are many locations on Earth which can easily look like another planet. As well, adept cinematographers have been beguiling audiences for many years. So the capability existed to create a vision of humans far away in space and time.

Using this capability, Lynch does make the planet Dune into a special, alien world. Vistas of stars and multiple moons help the audience leave behind Earth. A driving score by Toto keeps the movie flowing, and the audience’s attention focused. Unfortunately, the premise of the movie, even with an extra 40 minutes, still doesn’t come clear. Having read and enjoyed Herbert’s book, a viewer can piece together most of the parts of the movie. Without having done this, the movie can’t stand on its own. The plot isn’t an adventure or a romance or some political suspense thriller. It is of a messiah coming to terms. Yet, the basis for being a messiah and the correlation with the people of Dune isn’t obvious in the film. The significance of some characters is vague to the point where one questions their inclusion. Even the most magical part, the folding of space to allow for interstellar travel, isn’t immediately obvious. The fact that a narrator has a voice over every now and again demonstrates this film’s disjoint nature.

This leads to the greatest short comings of this DVD, the lack of input from David Lynch himself. A few minutes of him explaining his goal and direction would have been a real coup. Instead, there are other bits, interesting but not as beneficial. Some stand alone deleted scenes are in the package, as well as short reviews of visual designs, sketches and techniques for special effects. Equally interesting are the reviews of the costume designer and how material was more scrounged than invented. This adds to the value of learning how to make a film but not of making the Dune film. Because of this short coming, this edition is a longer version rather than a definitive description of the film and its making.

However, even with these short comings, the film is grand. Wide open spaces, opulent throne rooms, and a tendency for oration rather than dialogue captures the image of a messiah. My review hardware was a standard television with its own small speakers. To do justice, this film needs a large screen with surround sound so the viewers’ senses are overtaken as they enter the intergalactic intrigue of 8000 years in the future. Even with the three hour running time of the extended edition, there’s a lot to keep a viewer’s interest.

Science fiction challenges a person to grapple with the normalities of the present. It lets them envision other worlds, other living beings, and other physical laws. In the movie Dune ? Extended Edition, David Lynch includes these and more in a perspective of political intrigue in another place at another time. After all, envisioning the future through science fiction gives us ideas with which to plan, while ignoring the future may put us out of even a messiah’s reach.

Review by Mark Mortimer

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