Dune (Special Edition) Review

Three and a half years in the making, Dune was one of the most pharaonic projects of the 80s - a colossus that swallowed 50 million dollars, half-a-dozen screenplay drafts, an enormous Mexican set and a rather talented cast until it collapsed at the boxoffice, making it one of the biggest flops of all times. Dino De Laurentiis' choice of Lynch to direct Dune was rather strange given his limited experience (only two films) - however, he was in high demand following the success of The Elephant Man since he turned down directing The Return of the Jedi in order to make Dune.

Set in the future - the 101st century no less - Frank Herbert's novel focuses on the commodity Mélange, the universe's new black gold. It allows time travel and provides visions and extended life to its many addicts. The catch - which you should have seen coming - is its rarity: the only known source is on the planet Arrakis also known as Dune. After his father's death, Paul (Kyle McLachlan), the young head of the Atreides house, finds himself sent to Dune to take control of the planet.

In the first half-hour, the film tries to pack in a maximum amount of information, starting the film with a character talking straight at the camera, bringing you up to speed - proof that there'll be some problems with the narrative. The rest of the film relies on voice-overs galore to help it make sense, but you still spend far too much time trying to understand the complex politico-social plot whilst losing track of the film itself.

Anyone who had seen Eraserhead must have realised Lynch was not your average director but De Laurentiis had only seen The Elephant Man which probably gave him a completely different insight into Lynch's mind. It came as no surprise, when the two ended up at loggerheads over the final cut - Lynch had a cut somewhere between 3 and 5 hours long (reports vary as to the exact length), loved by Frank Herbert, but the studio had written into the contract an upper limit of 2 hours and 17 minute. The end result of this heavy editing was a film that only viewers with a good knowledge of the book would be able to follow.

The film, despite these huge problems, still retains an intrinsic value thanks to Lynch infusing some of his trademark dream/hallucinatory sequences and avant-garde film techniques with the team's visual flair for the unusual and the anachronistic. The cast's performance however is a bit of a mixed bag - there's some pretty wooden performances in there - much as I like Kyle McLachlan as the straight-as-an-arrow FBI agent in Twin Peaks, his performance here is a bit too earnest. Sting's acting however, may be a little over the top, but is rather good and quite a disturbing change from the squeaky clean image he now enjoys. Max Von Sydow, not one to flinch at unusual roles, does seem a little dazed by the entire experience (it seems the desert heat was a little too much for the Swede) - the same is true for Prochnow and Stewart whose roles were edited down dramatically in the final cut, making them seem more like extended cameos than full characters. It's hard to recommend Dune just for the imagery and the sets, beautiful though they may be. No-one is likely to argue that Dune has many, many failures but it's still an interesting experience regardless.

The DVD:
The DVD box claims this to be the Director's Cut which isn't really correct - it seems to be the original release cut. Though there have been extended TV cuts made available, Lynch disowned them since they incorporated a lot of work in progress. A true Director's Cut doesn't exist at the minute and probably never will, if Lynch's comments are anything to go by.

The image:
Despite the sourcing of the best possible master for this transfer, I didn't find the image to be perfect. However, it is certainly a major improvement on Castle's original release which was barely adequate and too dark. I noticed quite a bit of flickering in some of the brighter scenes which was slightly annoying but the image remained clear and relatively precise thoughout - I would recommend setting your luminosity and contrast correctly before watching the film as it requires the setup to be well adjusted.

The sound
The original theatrical release had a 6-track Dolby stereo mix so the 5.1 mix we get here is probably quite close to what it sounded like in the cinema. The 5.1 mix is actually quite good, with the sub-whoofer being used to great effect in the thumper sequences. We also get a more standard stereo mix which works quite well too.

The extras:

Impressions of Dune (38 mins, anamorphic 1.78:1) - a very good documentary with McLachlan, Raffaella De Laurentiis, Freddie Francis and many others crew members. It's a pretty candid and fascinating look at the film with few interviewees pulling any punches. Lynch of course does not appear as he doesn't like talking about his films and tends to avoid these things.

Destination Dune (5 mins, 4:3): some behind the scenes footage and some rapid interviews, as well as an intro from Lynch wearing a mask welcoming the viewers to the Dune convention - a hard act to follow!. This is a pretty rare document that has finally made it onto DVD - though it seens to have been mastered from video, the image quality is acceptable considering the circumstances.

Extensive colour booklet (32 pages): Another excellent extra mostly written by Paul M. Sammon who takes us through the many attempts to film Dune and an in-depth account of the making of Lynch's version. Some photos of cut scenes and artwork have also been included, making it a very good extra too.

Frank Herbert Interview (2 mins anamorphic 4:3) - a very rapid interview with Herbert on the BBC. The image quality this time is quite a bit better, probably thanks to the BBC providing a decent master.We also ge the usual Trailer (fullscreen 1.75:1) and filmographies which cover a lot of the cast and crew but not in that great detail (one page each).

The extras in this case are all lodged on the second disc and are definately interesting to even those who were not fans of the film in the first place. The main documentary is one of the best documentaries about a film I've seen as a DVD extra.

Dune needed to be re-released and the current 2 DVD set manages to put together some pretty good extras and the best image Dune has been given this side of the pond. The film is naturally a bit of a dud but a rather mesmerising one all the same.

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