Sunday, January 29, 2012

RUTZ Classic Movies: DUNE

Directed by David Lynch

 Line that stays with me:  “Without change something sleeps inside us and seldom wakens”

Essay Warning: There are no spoilers or story details. I want to offer the emotion that a film can access within us. Plus I think the best way to watch a film is by not knowing anything about it. Just Go In…So if you haven’t watched this film yet please don’t read this essay. Read it afterwards so we can enjoy the “feeling” together.

I want to start this essay by saying, please watch this film on Blu-Ray. I don’t think any other format has done this film justice. A mighty epic hidden under murky darkness, technology has saved this film. Without Blu-Ray, Dune is a hard film to love. You can’t see all the details and everything looks muggy even in the DVD version. So please do yourself a favor and watch it on Blu-Ray, give a feast to your eyes. Too much to look at it, I promise. 

Dune is the sore thumb in the Lynch catalog. He’s even admitted that maybe he shouldn’t have directed it and the film as it stands is not truly his cut. There have been rumors of a director’s cut for years and till this day, nothing. I don’t think he wants to go back there.  Can’t blame him, that was over twenty years ago and when you watch the film on BLU RAY!...You will know he did more than put his time in. This is the film he decided to direct instead of “Return of the Jedi” (George Lucas offered David Lynch to direct “Return of the Jedi”, crazy 80’s) I’m glad he did, because he got to make a sci-fi epic that was oddly enough truly tailored for him. 

Now let’s get things straight, Dune was not a simple “Work for hire” film for Lynch.  This is a personal epic, told through the classic Frank Herbert’s novel Dune.  David Lynch wrote the screenplay and his voice is heard all throughout the film. Luckily Frank Herbert and David Lynch have similar visions. It’s a very interesting match especially now after watching more of Lynch’s offerings.

Lynch, always the painter, never puts up one ugly frame on the screen. The set designs, costumes, and makeup have been put together with precise care. It’s a joy for me to just watch the colors on the screen and how great they complement each other.  Those visual treats can especially be enjoyed in the various wide shots in the film. Pause the film during one of those great wide shots and catch the massive amount of work that has gone into this film which you probably have never noticed. Only major flaws are the special effects but hey it was the 80’s! At least the special effects are effective (Those worms look serious.) the same cannot be said about every CGI mess that comes out these days.  Many of the film’s important moments happen in dream sequences, something which David Lynch has now mastered, that “Dream Sense” in his films. If you truly want to understand Dune on another level, pay attention to those dream sequences. It’s all about the images.  

What makes David Lynch’s Dune so exciting to watch though is the same energy that makes all his film exciting to watch, he’s not afraid to make a FUCKING MOVIE! I don’t know what it is these days, filmmakers have become wimps, afraid to make a movie a MOVIE, and instead we get crappy personal sappy sad stories that we are supposed to “relate” to.  Watch “2012” if you want a sample of that nonsense. Heroes in movies used to be just that, heroes, we’re supposed to be watching a “Hero’s Journey”.  Great directors know that you have to take a risk and make people believe in some crazy shit. Whether it’s Indiana Jones or Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) great films don’t tell you about a sad story, it shows it to you, that way you and film are on the same page.  This is where Dune truly excels, it’s not afraid to be a movie with its over the top dialog and score. It plays every scene with epic intentions as it should.

Great Over the top dialog examples: Let’s enjoy them, thank you David Lynch!

·         Gurney Halleck: Behold, as a wild ass in the desert, go I forth to my work.
·         Paul: Father... father, the sleeper has awakened!
·         Piter De Vries: It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of Sapho that thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains, stains become a warning. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.
·         Gurney Halleck: Not in the mood? Mood's a thing for cattle and loveplay, not fighting!
·         Baron Harkonnen: He who controls the Spice, controls the universe!
·         Alia: And how can this be? For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!
·         Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV: Bring in that floating fat man, the Baron!
·         Paul: I remember your gom jabbar, now you'll remember mine. I can kill with a word.
·         David Lynch Cameo: But sire we can’t leave all this spice.  (Every time I hear that line I instantly become the happiest person in the world, and the line that comes after that puts me over the top: DAMN THE SPICE! )  

Dune is the story of young Paul Atreides, the chosen one who must rise up against the evil Baron Harkonnen, save his people and avenge his father’s death. It takes place in the year 10,191 and the film’s outlandish theme was created by Brian Eno, now doesn’t that sound epic. Every scene in the film plays out with that sort of bravado. Whether it’s the voiceovers from various characters, or Patrick Stewart charging into war with a Pug in hand (Classic!) the film never distracts you with “Reality” instead it pulls you in with its compelling characters, twisting storyline and powerful images. It helps that David Lynch knows how to create a great villain. In this film, Baron Harkonnen, with all those disgusting pimples gushing with pus, is one of the nastiest villains ever put on screen. It makes rooting for Paul very easy and gets you wrapped up in the story. These elements I’m speaking of are the fundamentals of a great film. Not being afraid to show people another world, and delivering that vision with hardcore dedication. Movies (Documentaries not included) should not be too concerned with “Reality” but more concerned with a “Reality” maybe one we can’t see, thus letting us dream. I believe filmmakers should take us to another place and time. Make that place real and let us be voyeurs. There is nothing worse than a sappy movie trying to “connect” with you, with characters you don’t give a damn about.  Dune talks like a movie, acts like a movie, sounds like a movie and looks like a movie, wish more new film directors had Lynch’s balls. Nothing is spoon fed in DUNE you must use your brain to keep up and to truly discover all the mysteries within.  

The last thing I want to say about this classic film is that it is my favorite coming of age story. Maybe because the coming of age story is so hidden, just like it is in real life. Many people say The Graduate (Great Movie) is their favorite coming of age story but I’m not the college type and its message is too direct for me. Unfortunately, coming to terms with your future and the man you will become is not. It is very hazy and complicated becoming a man. Paul goes through it in Dune, just like we do. From losing his father, to rising into a bigger position in life, he faces this and more all the while scared yet hopeful. Just like us he must concern himself with war, while still trying to answer the simple/complex question: “Who am I”. That’s where I think Dune succeeds like some sort of miracle. You are trying to grow up, to become the man (Or Woman), many people want you to be and even you want to be, but you don’t know yourself that well yet, you do not know if you are up for the task plus there’s a war and innocent people are dying. Paul dreams and wakes up searching for signs, looking for that next step in his life, and there’s no Yoda. Just his dreams, his parent’s guidance (Some of us don’t have that) and pure hope. That’s where Dune succeeds and mirrors itself with its striking images. The dark beautiful truth of becoming a man, you will do it all by yourself. 

ABOUT RCM: Rutz Classic Movies is dedicated on writing film essays for films that in Rutz's opinion, have not gotten the credit they deserve. Next Essay: John Carpenter's In The Mouth Of Madness


  1. Very cool essay! Can't wait to read the next one.

    What did you think of the other Dune films? Children of Dune.


  2. I haven't watched other DUNE films. Do you recommended any of them? Are they worth watching? Let me know brother.


  3. Always loved this film. Been many years, tho. I will be picking it up in Blueray soon. Didn't know Lynch was offered ROTJ. Weird. Can't believe you wrote this piece w/o even mentioning, Sting. Bravo. I've never seen the other film(s) in the series. Worried that they would be unepic shite that would ruin my perception of the literature.

    1. Thanks for reading and for your comment Hugo! You are going to love the Blu-Ray especially if you own a 120HZ or higher HDTV. I still haven't watched any of the other DUNE films and like you I don't plan to. I will be releasing an essay soon on David Lynch's "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" .... that film gets better each time I watch it.

    2. Looks like you didn't write the Fire Walk With Me review after all? Well, it's never too late...

  4. Big fan of Lynch...such a unique visionary plus I love his quirkiness, right up my alley. Enjoyed your essay much. Spot on!

  5. Not a big fan of this film, honestly - I watched it for the first time this spring for a big Lynch retrospective I was writing, and found it difficult to understand (and not in that good, Lynchian way). I did watch it twice however and enjoyed it more the second time. The DVD I watched was pretty crappy quality so I'll make sure to check out the blu-ray eventually; even on DVD I could marvel at some of the imagery. I doubt it will ever be a favorite Lynch film for me, but there's still plenty to appreciate.

    I really agree with this: " Movies (Documentaries not included) should not be too concerned with “Reality” but more concerned with a “Reality” maybe one we can’t see, thus letting us dream." In fact, I just finished posting a comment on IMDb responding to someone who didn't like Twin Peaks and compared it unfavorably to The Wire and True Detective. I think the contemporary film and TV aesthetic is too concerned with a faux-"realism" - a rather bland, "gritty" style - at the expense of myth and dream, which cinema can deliver so perfectly. Lynch, of course, is one of the best at doing so. Even in Inland Empire, where he does employ some of the contemporary aesthetic (raw lighting, lots of close-ups, handheld camerawork, etc) he does so in a way that's deeply oneiric.

    Off to check out your Fire Walk With Me review now. Lately that's become my personal favorite Lynch film.

  6. Joel,

    Thank you for reading the essay, glad you enjoyed it! I apologize for not having my "Fire Walk With me" essay up yet, will do ASAP! I AGREE with you: "contemporary film and TV aesthetic is too concerned with a faux-"realism" - a rather bland, "gritty" style - at the expense of myth and dream" .... Great way to put it, and I think "Fire Walk With Me" is kind of perfect to discuss that theory as it deals with REAL PROBLEMS but its still a movie, a project of art underlining life if you will, not a project of showcasing real life via a Movie. Any project that does that "Faux Realism" you described is always in danger of becoming stale, or not living up to the test of time due to it's modern depiction. Fire Walk With Me discusses many American problems, but does it in such a way that the test of time can't truly hurt it. Thank you for your comment! Got me excited to write the "Fire Walk With Me" essay, I see there's lot to discuss, and that film has so much to offer. Hope to post it soon!