In the same way the Star Trek TV show facilitated the aggrandisement of space adventures which allowed Star Wars to be made, which in turn proved the genre could be commercially viable, leading to the Star Trek films being made, Star Wars has a similarly symbiotic relationship with Dune. The original Star Wars trilogy clearly borrows heavily from the Dune novel – including the barren desert planet, ‘spice’ mines and unnamed Emperor – so when Star Wars was a smash in the late 70s and early 80s it’s easy to see why a Dune film swiftly followed. And Patrick Stewart is here to complete the triangle.
It’s hard to describe the plot of this film, because it’s such an elaborate fantasy that it’s a struggle to bring it all into focus in a few lines. I once made an attempt to read the book but gave up after battling through 75 pages of sentences so littered with gratingly made-up words that it was impossible to follow. And the film is no different.
You may be thinking that David Lynch, a director famed for his temporally-manic, surrealist films is not the ideal person to make an impenetrable 600 page sci-fi novel into a coherent two hour sci-fi film. And you’d be right, at least narratively speaking.
Like the book there is lots of dialogue which is hard to follow. And like The Last Airbender huge swathes of plot are explained away in dialogue scenes, with numerous other major plot points covered off in narration or characters’ audible thoughts. Of course, if this was made now, it would be carved into three parts, and probably be the better for it.
That said, in other ways it’s a truly remarkable film. The scale is epic, with vast space ships and giant desert worms. The myriad special effects include gross-out body horror and a floating Baron. In the vast majority of cases it still looks great today. Lynch brings in trippy dream sequences, dazzling space flights and epic battles to round off the visual spectacle.
The film boasts an impressive cast including Patrick Stewart, Max von Sydow, Linda Hunt, Brad Dourif, Sean Young and…er…Sting. None of them stand out, and some are wasted, but none of them are terrible either. Only Sting needs an intervention from the acting police.
By the final act it manages to overcome its narrative inadequacies and actually becomes exciting. After all, a man riding a giant sand slug into battle is hard to argue with.