June 25, 2009

Justify My Netflix: Dune (1984)

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Dune (1984)

Today's movie: Dune, 1984 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix)

Why I added it to my queue: Because here on its 25th anniversary, I thought it was high time to revisit this notorious science-fiction trainwreck from celebrated Surrealist filmmaker David Lynch, which upon its original release was not only the most expensive movie ever made, but one of the biggest flops in Hollywood history, responsible for putting an entire major studio out of business.

The reality: Still as wonderfully head-scratching as the day it first came out. See, for those who don't know, Lynch actually handed over to the studio a five-hour final cut of the movie, sincerely not understanding why they couldn't just release it into the theatres that way (freaking Surrealists, I swear), forcing the arbitrary cutting of over half of what was already an ultra-complex far-future saga about spacefaring royal families, a genetically-engineered messiah, and the consciousness-altering spice that brought all these developments about in the first place; so imagine if you will cutting down Donnie Darko to just 45 minutes of random moments, randomly spliced together with not even an attempt made at story continuance, and it's no wonder that not a single audience member was able to follow along with the two-hour version of Lynch's Dune that finally hobbled into theatres that summer. But man, I gotta tell you, this movie still looks gorgeous, one of the best-filmed and best-costumed science-fiction movies of all time; and it's obvious that a big chunk of that massive studio-breaking budget went into the same kind of secretive biological special effects that Lynch so masterfully displayed in earlier films like Eraserhead and The Elephant Man (and was in fact a big reason why he got the Dune assignment in the first place). Confusion still remains over how much of this cut material still even exists, and who now legally owns it (with Lynch mentioning in recent interviews that he has almost no interest in revisiting this original footage); but what a treat it would be to finally have the five-hour version out to public, perhaps as a special DVD box set, which I imagine would elevate this film in many minds to one of the best ever made, if that were to ever actually happen.

Strangest piece of trivia: When they say this was a big production, they're not kidding -- it featured a crew of over 1,700, shooting on 80 sets spread across 16 different soundstages (including what at the time was the biggest indoor desert set ever created), using a million watts of lighting that drew 11,000 amps. Also, for those who still don't know this, in order to make this movie Lynch had to turn down an opportunity to direct Return of the Jedi.

If I had watched it when it first came out: I did, in fact, because at fifteen I was already a huge fan of both Lynch and Dune; and like everyone else, I was hugely disappointed.

Worth your time? Yes, although do yourself a favor and go into it with extremely low expectations. Also, read the novel itself (or at least a synopsis of its plot) before putting this in your queue, if you want even the slightest chance of understanding what's going on.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:16 PM, June 25, 2009. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |