1984’s Dune is a mess. Universal Pictures released it, Dino De Laurentiis produced it, and David Lynch directed it based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel. It was supposed to be a mega-hit, a blockbuster to rival Star Wars with multiple installments. But it flopped. Lynch distanced himself from the project so successfully that retrospectives and critical writings about the director either gloss over Dune or leave it out altogether.
But this is all well-mined territory. Dune is up there with Heaven’s Gate and Ishtar as shorthand for grand cinematic failure. But Dune did not destroy Lynch or De Laurentiis’ careers the way Heaven’s Gate and Ishtar put an end to Michael Cimino and Elaine May’s. Quite the contrary: Lynch and De Laurentiis reteamed for 1986’s Blue Velvet, arguably one of Lynch’s best, starring none other than Dune’s leading man, Kyle MacLachlan.
What Dune was supposed to be, how Dune ended up being what it was, and why some of it works is the subject of Arrow Video’s new UHD Blu-ray set. In addition to a new 4K restoration taking from the original negative, the Dune double-disc set includes interviews, featurettes, behind the scenes, making of’s, a thick booklet with five essays about the film, and two audio commentary tracks.
The arguments against Dune are numerous, but the one Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast puts forth in his commentary track might be the most compelling one for. White has an affinity for Herbert’s books and Lynch’s movie and brings an educated eye to each frame with background from the books, the production, the various drafts of the screenplay, etc. It’s film scholasticism with a healthy dose of appreciation.
White loves Dune and wants you to love Dune too. And I must admit, his appreciation is intoxicating. There are many aspects of Dune that work: The pustules pocking the Baron’s face, for instance, are positively repulsive, and MacLachlan’s performance as Paul somewhat paves the way for FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper in its earnestness and calculation.
But what Dune isn’t is fun. It’s as if humor has been bleached from the future. All that remains are fascistic uniforms and factions so overwhelmed with ancient prophecy it’s a wonder technology was ever allowed to progress.
But Dune remains a curiosity in the career of Lynch and De Laurentiis and a fascinating misstep by a major Hollywood studio. It should not be dismissed, and Arrow’s Blu-ray set ensures that it will someday find the appreciation it deserves.
Dune cover art by Daniel Taylor.