Thursday, June 30, 2011

My 10 Favourite Things About David Lynch's Dune

Okay, okay, perhaps it isn't Lynch at his directorial peak, and perhaps it isn't the most classic of the science fiction genre, and perhaps it isn't the kind of cinema you are supposed to write home about as they say, but damn if it ain't a fun little romp to sit through - especially when seeing it in all it's 2:35 ratio'd glory up on the big screen, sitting alone in the dark on a Wednesday afternoon as if you are playing hooky from real life (one of my favourite things to do as a matter of fact).

With that said and out of the way, here are my 10 favourite things about David Lynch's deliriously demented Dune - numbered but not necessarily in any particular order.  And for those who care about such things, there be plenty of spoilers ahead.  Don't say you haven't been warned.

1. Studly young star Kyle MacLachlan plays wouldbe messiah Paul Atreides with a perfect blend of stage-frightened rock star and closet-case mama's boy - his seemingly innocent to the nth degree snide grin and his devastatingly handsome features (not to mention that coiffed mane of almost too-good-to-be-true hair - what was it Warren Zevon said of his London Lycanthropes but could have been speaking of MacLachlan, "his hair was perfect.") a testament to his wholesome worthiness of messiahdom.  Incidentally, this was MacLachlan's screen debut and one would think his rather frigid acting in this film (albeit befitting the character in many ways) would have been the end of anything big, but he would go on to make his second film, Blue Velvet (imagine these as your first two films!?) and thus becoming the new prince of the undefinable wolf-in-sheep's-clothing (this boy seems straight-laced but underneath it all, in those traumatic situations, the freak will sneak out and show itself - even if it goes running back inside once the shooting has ceased).  This of course would make him the perfect person to star in Lynch's Twin Peaks eventually, but even from this somewhat auspicious start, MacLachlan would play the part with a perfect concoction of wooden demeanor and matter-of-fact consciousness and the hidden arrogance and chutzpah of one who will lead his people out of bondage (to go with the most obvious biblical reference in the story).

2. Speaking of Mr. Lynch, Dune stands as one of the auteur's most atypical films, but still one can see the strange world that beats just below the surface of the director's mad mad mad mind.  With a humming reverberance beneath the surface of the entire film (sometimes we hear it, other times we do not but can still feel it inside you) and his use of disembodied voice-over, Lynch gives this film (already drawn from a strange-in-its-own-way novel) his own brand of good old fashioned weirdness.  Oddly enough this blend of sci-fi and Lynchian cinematic tropes work surprisingly well in their own bizarre form of unison. 

3. Even Lynch's batshitcrazy manner of filmmaking cannot hide the fact there are some pretty bad special effects herein - even by the day's standards (producer Dino De Laurentiis is known for such things though)- but somehow these cheap looking effects, from the squared off body armour (the first attempt at creating an artificial man on scree I am told) to the riding of the sand worms (which will be discussed later on in more depth) make the film all the more creepy in a way and therefore help to give Lynch what one assumes he was looking for in the final product of his endeavors.  Imagine though, what would have become of the story if the original director, the even batshitcrazier Alejandro Jodorowsky would have made it.

4. I suppose the most disgusting thing about Dune is the pustule-covered mad man Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.  Fat and covered in disgusting boils, and devouring his prey (aka slave boys) by puncturing their nipple valve (yeah, you read that correctly) and sexually(?) draining them of life fluids, the Baron, as played by Kenneth McMillan, looks like some sort of hybrid of the baby from Eraserhead all grown up and some sort of creature feature out of Cronenberg - a filmmaker incidentally who has a much in common with M. Lynch.  Oh did I mention that he also flies - or more accurately, he floats.  Oh yeah, and he is pure evil - a supposed explanation for the kinda allegorical (in a way if you stretch) nasty-ass boils all over his fat face. Then again, some people (most notably gay rights activist Dennis Altman) have more than alluded that these boils/legions/whatever are a sign of AIDS and that the filmmakers are equating evil behaviour with homosexuality (since the Baron is obviously quite queer indeed).

5. And speaking of bad ass bitches - the bald witch women who seem to (at least try to) control all the universe are pretty fucking badass. "Get back, she has the weirding way!" a potential enemy exclaims as Paul's mother Lady Jessica puts a stranglehold on him.  And speaking of Paul's mother, the Lady Jessica, as played by Francesca Annis, and her weirding way - can you say MILF.  Actually MILF is probably a bad term considering the actress, at the time of Dune, is four years younger than I (though if the seventeen year old me had seen this film in its original glory...).  Seriously though, this planetary queen who will one day become the new Reverend Mother of the bald witch women (I don't feel like looking up the name of her people that I cannot remember right now) is smokin' hot - and that's a fact, Jack!

6. And then there is that supporting cast - some of whom are Lynchian regulars or semi-regulars.  You have Freddie Jones and Brad Dourif and Patrick Stewart and Max von Sydow and Jose Ferrer and Richard Jordan and Linda Hunt and Everett McGill and Sean Young and Virginia Madsen and of course the omnipresent Jack Nance, but the one that shines above them all (as he would go on to steal the scene in Blue Velvet two years later) is of course the always great Dean Stockwell.  The reason Stockwell is so great in Dune (other than that kick-ass mustache of course) is because he is not afraid to cry.  I mean really cry - like a little bitch.  Sure, he has just betrayed his king and his people and is now having regrets but c'mon, this crying jag plays out as if a parody of such an act.  Dean, kick-ass mustache or not, this does not make you the suave fucker you will thankfully become.

7. The same people that brought us the songs "Africa" and "Rosanna" did the soundtrack for Dune?  Sure, why not.  Yes, you heard that correctly true believers - the prog-rock band Toto did the soundtrack for Dune.  This does of course explain the creepy yet non-threatening music going on in the background - sort of like a demented merry-go-round with delusions of scary grandeur.  Don't get me wrong, I like Toto (yeah, I said it, what are you gonna do about it!?) and their music does strangely fit the already discomforting effect Lynch has created here, but it still seems weird that Toto does the soundtrack to Dune.  Granted, Brian Eno also contributes a piece (which in my mind seems more appropriate) but still, Toto seems like an odd, but invariably good choice.  Though I was kinda hoping for "Africa" to show up while Paul was riding those giant-ass sand worms - now there is a musical number for the proverbial ages.

8. And speaking of dem worms dem worms - ridin' dem worms.  Nasty dangerous monsters slithering their collective way just beneath the surface of the desert world of Arrakis, these great beasties are a threat to anyone and everyone who comes across their path - well except for our intrepid wouldbe messiah, the studly and perfectly coiffed Paul Atreides.  In fact Paul will tame them and ride them (in some of the worst special effects one can imagine - c'mon guys this is after Star Wars, Tron and Blade Runner - get a budget Dino!) and use them to get his victory and revenge.  Still though, I would have loved to have heard "Africa" on the soundtrack as he rides the great beasties across the desert.

9. From everything I have read or heard on the subject, Lynch wasn't really much of a happy camper from day one.  It is the only film he did not have final cut on (he didn't officially have final cut on The Elephant Man but apparently producer Mel Brooks ended up giving him final cut anyway) and he was not happy with the outcome, which was mostly panned by the critical forces of the day.  Of course that is nothing compared to the uproar that ensued when the studio decided to re-edit Lynch's film, without Lynch's say-so or even knowledge, and release an extended "Special Edition" cut of the film for television broadcast and eventual VHS release in1989.  At this point, due to this new version being somewhat incomprehensible, Lynch petitioned to have his name taken off the film.  It would be replaced with the usual Alan Smithee directorial credit.  Lynch would also, in the best move of the whole situation, change his writing credit to Judas Booth in "honour" of Iscariot and John Wilkes.  To this day Lynch will have nothing to do with the movie (in either version) and refuses any and all invitations to do commentary of such on the film.

10. And probably the best thing this film has going for it - or at least the most fun - is the addition of Gordon Sumner to the cast.  I'm talkin' Sting baby!  Seriously, what a fun character.  Granted, the only real reason he is here is to take his shirt off, grin maniacally, be looked upon leeringly by his fat boil-faced uncle and be the bad boy rock star to MacLachlan's boy next door image.  He only speaks a handful of lines but the rock star image is still intact - probably because of such.  How can a movie go wrong when it has the only rock star (that I know of) to squeeze Nabakov into a hit song?  Really, how can you?


Mark said...

I saw Dune on the big screen during its original run, and through pure coincidence it was released just after I had read the book. The studio had put out a glossy Dune 'cheat sheet' for all attendees that gave an outline of the characters and the milieu, in order to help the uninitiated understand what they were seeing. I wish I still had my copy! Nevertheless I adore that movie, even though it couldn't be farther outside my wheelhouse.

Kevyn Knox said...

In some strange way I love and hate this movie. A hot mess but a fun ride nonetheless.

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Alistair said...

I always wondered what malaise caused Baron Harkonnen's face to look like that, but now sadly I wonder no more. It looks comparable to a super-sized version of the dose of shingles adorning half my chest and face at the moment. It's a repeat appearance of Chicken Pox - the virus fragments linger in your body until stress or age allow them have a second refulgence.

Just how the Baron acquired the disease from Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam is covered in "Dune: House Harkonnen"(2000) by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.