DUNE October 31, 2016
I don’t want to write about David Lynch’s abysmal Dune. Partaking in film criticism is such an enjoyable type of writing because it’s a simple way to write about something. So often is it easy to be attacked by the wrath of writer’s block, your hands eager to write, to type, with little to say. But in the case of movie critiquing is there always something to be said, to be discussed. An opinion, it seems, is generally an effective starting point in the breadth of churning out a piece more analytical than anything your high school teacher’s five-paragraph essay method ever allowed you to turn in.
But 1984’s Dune is a different case. This is a movie not bad in the ways Ed Wood perfected. This is a movie bad in the ways only a misguided blockbuster can be bad, blended together in a smoothie of commerce baiting flavored by its having lots of cash, lots of stars, and lots of eye candy. Only that said smoothie is without the vital liquid provided by a comprehensible screenplay, thus providing the drinker with chewy mush to be thrown into the compost bin and promptly forgotten about.
In the viewing of Dune was I overwhelmed by a sensation of disaffection I only rarely feel when filmgoing. As it goes, good films motivate an emotional or intellectual stir, whereas bad ones inspire disgust, or, if we’re so lucky, an inadvertent guffaw. But this movie goes so far beyond the standard of badness that it doesn’t even much penetrate the brain — it’s so miserable, so confusing, so underwritten, and so garishly designed that there comes a point in which we stare at the screen glassy-eyed and eager for its agonizingly long 137 minutes to commence.
Since nothing about it makes sense, impossible it is to have any kind of judgment of Dune.Characters are at best marginally developed, lines delivered with the pompous grandeur of the most overzealous student in a Philosophy 101 class answering a professor’s question. Motivations are unclear, as are points of conflict. Try to make sense of the plot and you’ll find yourself in a pit of depressing defeat.
Nonsensicality can sometimes work in cinema, The Lady from Shanghai and The Big Sleep being shining examples of the magic that can happen in the choosing of style and wit over intelligibility, but Dune, by contrast, is unprecedented in its illogicality. It makes the fatal mistake of opening with a narration that sinks in with the same level of instantaneous understanding as a comprehensive SparkNotes summary of a Shakespeare play, which, if you haven’t already guessed, entails that it covers too much too soon and decidedly leaves us floating adrift in a sea of information unfeasible to immediately catch. I won’t bother summarizing its plot here for the sake of keeping things relatively concise and for the sake of allowing myself to not have to do things I don’t want to do.
After the film gets going do we have minuscule hope that maybe Dune will come together, that the labyrinthine inner-workings of its beginning will eventually unfold into cohesion to make it a likable soulmate to 1980’s Flash Gordon (or, of course, the immaculate Star Wars series). Dreams are dashed as the film inarguably grows progressively puzzling, as its messiness reaches heights so high that the apparent climax of its end hardly registers as a climax at all because everything coming before it is so fuzzily presented.
I’d like to blame David Lynch — among my favorite directors — for Dune’s being so aggressively atrocious, but because the editing process was such a nightmare, because he didn’t have final cut privilege, and because he’s essentially disowned it (he refuses to discuss the film in interviews), there’s no point in pointing fingers; even the reality that Ridley Scott and Alejandro Jodorowsky, also masters of the celluloid, were attached to direct at one point incur little excitement. Fact is is that Dune is material incapable of being adapted — better to leave things that tickle the imagination so rabidly on the