Dune: Extended Edition
March 7, 2006
Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Sean Young, Max Von Sydow, Sting, Jose Ferrer, Virginia Madsen, Linda Hunt, Patrick Stewart, Kenneth McMillan, Brad Dourif, Paul Smith, Jürgen Prochnow, Dean Stockwell, Freddie Jones,
Based on the classic science fiction novel by Frank Herbert, Dune (1984) was a project that passed through the talented hands of Alejandro Jodorowsky, H.R. Giger, Ridley Scott, and David Lynch only to leave behind a trail of defeated creative minds and a compromised movie that pleased almost no one. It is an epic struggle that lasted thirteen years and cost millions of dollars. Herbert’s massive 500+ page manuscript, complete with complex characters and story-lines, was published in book form in 1965 and became hugely successful.
It concerns an epic, interstellar struggle for the desert planet known as Arrakis. The planet is the only source in the galaxy for the precious commodity known as the spice of Melange which is necessary for interstellar travel and endowing psychic powers. A power struggle erupts between the current rulers of the planet, the vicious Harkonnens and its new caretakers, the House Atreides. The Emperor of the Known Universe (Ferrer) uses his influence to give Baron Harkonnen (McMillan) the upper hand. At a crucial moment, the Harkonnens launch a sneak attack. Amidst the battle, Paul (MacLachlan), the son of Duke Atreides (Prochnow), is left on Arrakis to die with his mother but instead discovers and leads the Fremen, an underground guerrilla army that has a direct connection to the spice.
After seeing The Elephant Man (1980), movie mogul Dino De Laurentiis and his daughter, Rafaella, chose Lynch to direct Dune. The filmmaker was originally approached by George Lucas to direct Return of the Jedi (1983) but turned him down because he didn’t want to conform to Lucas’ vision. By December 1982, the production moved to Churubusco Studios in Mexico City on eight large soundstages with 1000+ cast and crew. Lynch’s 135-page script was given the green light and principal photography started on March 30, 1983 and ended on January 27, 1984.
The end result features lavish, elaborate sets with a huge, international cast and fantastic costumes. The film is so beautiful to look at it and is a marvel of set and production design with the ornate woodwork of the Atreides palace and the green metal and industrial imagery of the Harkonnen headquarters. It’s a sci-fi epic filtered through Lynch’s unique vision. He creates some truly striking visuals, like the first appearance of the disgusting and frightening Baron Harkonnen. There is so much to look at in every frame of this film, from the hovering, winged light sources that appear in a given room, to the nasty drink box that involves crushing a small creature and drinking its fluids.
Granted, the film is not without its problems. There are too many voiceovers from many different characters (with all kinds of strange names to keep track of) that tells us too much at times. A lot of exposition is thrown at the viewer in the first 20 minutes and this can be a lot to absorb for the uninitiated. Lynch was more than capable of handling this complex SF epic but was pressured by the studio that wanted another Star Wars (1977) and he was not the filmmaker who could make that kind of a movie nor was Herbert’s book that kind of a story.
Dune really doesn’t deserve the bad rap it received upon its initial release and has aged surprisingly well over the years. Lynch certainly learned his lesson on this movie and has maintained tight, creative control over his subsequent films. Dune’s failure led to his next film, and arguably his best effort to date, Blue Velvet (1986). Dune remains a fascinating mess of a movie and worth a critical reappraisal and a fresh new look after all these years.
Universal asked Lynch to participate in this special edition but sadly the wounds from the experience of making the movie still run deep and apparently he has no desire to revisit it. And so, the studio has created the best possible edition they could without Lynch’s involvement (or that of the cast).
There are 13 deleted scenes with an introduction by Raffaella De Laurentiis who dispels the rumour of a 4hr.+ cut of the movie. Lynch shot a lot of footage but was contractually obligated to deliver film that was no longer than two hours and 17 minutes in length.
“Designing Dune” examines how an international art department created the look of the movie. Many, many sketches were created and Lynch pushed them to make unique visuals based on his ideas or sketches. They all praise the filmmaker’s innovative vision. We are also shown loads of sketches and paintings that were created for the production.
“Special Effects” takes a look at how the film’s elaborate effects were achieved. This was done back in the day when CGI wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. For example, we see how the Baron flies around (lots of wirework) and how the fighting robot worked (it was a practical, working device).
“Models and Miniatures.” All of the gigantic spacecraft and buildings were detailed models and miniatures built from scratch. Featured is vintage footage of these models in action along with how they matched up with scale scenes with actors. Crew members talk about how difficult it was constructing and then filming the sandworms.
“Wardrobe Design” explores how 8 to 9,000 costumes were made in only four months! Some were done at the last minute and improvised on the spot. The Guild Navigator costumes were actually made from old firefighter body bags! The Stillsuits looked good but were hell to wear in the hot Mexican environment.
Also included is a “Photograph Gallery” that features behind-the-scenes photos of young Lynch in action, directing his cast on this large scale production.
There are also the production notes for the movie.
Finally, the almost three hour version that was assembled originally for syndicated television (and later seen on basic cable networks) is included on the other side of the DVD. This was cut together without Lynch’s involvement and done pretty badly. For example, certain shots were repeated throughout the film to give the impression that footage had been added. Lynch hated it so much that he took his writing and directing credit off the movie. For enthusiasts, it is fascinating to watch if only for some of the footage inserted back into the movie.