Dune Is Dead: Long Live Dune!March 21st, 2012 | Posted by in Movie Reviews
Rubenstein has made one previous attempt to dramatize the book, that time successfully, with the TV miniseries of 2000. Successfully, that is, in that it actually happened. Not so successfully, if you ask me, in that it was thin and uncompelling. Considering one of Rubenstein’s other contributions to the world of miniseries adaptations, 1994’s abysmal mounting of The Stand, maybe his failure this time around is a good thing.
The tumultuous history of attempts to bring the 1965 novel to the screen, both big screen and small, has passed into legend. David Lean, who was presumably offered the job because he’d shown a certain skill in dramatizing sand with Lawrence of Arabia, turned it down. A few years later, another auteur of the desert, Alexandro Jodorowsky, was set to direct an adaptation of Dune. Although that strikes one as a bizarre choice—a behemoth commercial project like Dune in the hands of one of the most resolutely bizarre—sorry, original
—directors of modern cinema—Jodorowsky stayed true to weird form in planning a 10-hour feature film, “in collaboration with Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, David Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Alain Delon, Hervé Villechaize and Mick Jagger.” Salvador Dali “demanded to be paid $100,000 per hour; Jodorowsky agreed, but tailored Dalí’s part to be filmed in one hour . . .”
As much as I would give to see what Jodorowsky, whose El Topo stands as one of the most operatically weird movies ever to bewilder a midnight audience [see my earlier article on Midnight Movies], might have come up with, given his description of the production he planned, it’s not hard to see why it was doomed from the start.
This is about when producer Dino De Laurentiis, the 1970s’ king of big-budget pulp (Mandingo, King Kong), stepped in. He bought the rights to Dune and hired Ridley Scott, fresh off scifi success with 1979’s Alien, to direct a version. When Scott dropped out, De Laurentiis hired David Lynch. Lynch’s treatment of The Elephant Man had received the critics’ stamp of approval, and he was enjoying a period in which he was perceived to hold a great deal of commercial potential.
This period was to be brief: about as long as he took to film Dune, in fact. It turns out that The Elephant Man, as determinedly unweird as it was, was an anomaly in Lynch’s career: the producers of Dune might have been better served to consider Eraserhead as more representative of Lynch’s style than The Elephant Man.
The result was a gargantuan production that remains, to this day one of the most beautifully art-directed films of all time, ranking right up there with Intolerance and The Scarlet Empress for the sheer scale of its set and costume design: not a single object in the filmed scenes of Dune had existed before the production; everything was designed and created specifically for use in the film.
Lynch’s Dune, while it remains the punching bag of thoughtless critics and small-minded moviegoers to this day, is actually a stunning and unequalled achievement as an exercise in tone and atmosphere. Lynch, realizing early on that the novel’s storyline was hopelessly convoluted and bloated, wisely abandoned plot considerations almost entirely, and instead concentrated on creating one of the most wholly immersive cinema experience ever accomplished. The Chicago Reader’s Dave Kehr got it right when he wrote “The real venue for this film is either a grind house or the Whitney Museum; its passage through the shopping malls of America was a once-in-a-lifetime anomaly.”
So for me, while I’m vaguely interested in seeing another treatment of Dune—although less so, now that consummate action director Peter Berg is out of the picture—it’s not a yawning gap in my life. Lynch’s Dune remains an entirely satisfying experience.NOTES: