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Revisiting Dune: What David Lynch's Sci-Fi Epic Got Right

by Luke Duffy,

When I was 14, Dune was the bomb. I loved the film. I’d actually first seen it a few years before when I was about 8 or 9, but I didn’t really understand it at the time and quickly forgot about it.

A few years later the film suddenly popped into my head and I became very curious. All I could remember were images; people with blue eyes, a floating fat man, giant worms.

I saw it again and immediately fell in love with it, and that love is still going strong today. Now I know the film has a lot of flaws but in this post I’m going to talk about it’s strengths, because it does have some and I think they should be acknowledged!

Building Dune's Worlds

Look at the film and pretend that Frank Herbert’s original masterpiece doesn’t exist. Look at the film as it’s own thing, regardless of it’s source material, and there's a lot to enjoy with this movie.

With narration, costumes, props and sets, Dune suggests a world vaster than any of the ones shown in the hundreds of Star Wars rip-offs that were in cinemas at the time.

For example, Giedi Prime, home world of the Harkonnens (the antagonists) has cloudy skies, smoking chimneys and boiling interiors.

Giedi Prime doesn’t get a lot of screen time but we know what kind of world it is. Its an industrial world, polluted by machines and psychopathic characters. All of this is shown through the visuals and dialogue.

While the film’s world does come at the expense of the characters and plot, Dune should be acclaimed for presenting a world in more detail than most modern space operas.

Adapting Dune's Unique Style

Dune shouldn’t be categorized as a straight-out space opera as the film displays scenes that are clearly art-house. Specifically, these scenes show Paul Atreides (the protagonist) taking a substance known as ‘spice’, a vital resource in the film’s world, and having visions of the future.

From slow-motion footage of dripping water to Sting cackling into the camera these visions are very dream-like. These are not images you’d expect to see in your typical space opera.

This style makes Dune a completely different animal and I think any film that tries to do something more challenging and less conventional at least deserves some attention.

Its very much like what acclaimed author Harlan Ellison said about the film; "this thing still holds up and when you go back to it and look at it you are drawn into it".

Creating the Sound of Dune: Toto's Score

I have to confess that one of the great weaknesses of the film is it's characters. Most of the film is focused on establishing the world and progressing the plot. This leaves little time for character development, we never really get to know them as people. All we know are their desires and what each beat in the plot means to them. However, these elements are expressed by the brilliant score by Toto.

The music conveys the emotion of the scenes so well you may feel just a little invested in the characters. For example, in the scene where Paul’s father dies the score is dramatic and heart breaking.

The scene with Paul trying to ride a sandworm is another good example, the music is tense and fast-paced. The score is at it’s best however in the film’s climax where Paul’s army attack the Emperor’s base. It is epic and I’ve listened to it on my mp3 countless times.

I think Robert Lockard (a.k.a the Deja Reviewer) summed up the film and it's music best,

"This film takes a lot of risks, most of them turn out to be utter follies , but the music is a brilliant success".

Yes, Dune isn’t a perfect film and that will undoubtedly contribute to it’s legacy but it should be remembered as a film that tried to do things differently in a worn genre and in the end produced a rather unique cinematic experience.

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