MOVIE: Dune (1984)

You know that YouTube video that features the five year-old girl describing the movie Star Wars?  This one: (“The shiny guy ALWAYS worries. . .”). Brace yourselves, because that’s probably how I’m going to sound trying to explain the plot of this movie.

I’ve never read Dune (Frank Herbert, 1965) and, to be honest, until recently, I’d had very little interest in seeing the movie.  BUT, the recent discussions about it in the comments here and here got me thinking maybe I was missing out on something, if not brilliant, at least infinitely quotable.   Having never read the book, though, clearly put me at a distinct disadvantage.  And the filmmakers seemed to know it would, too, as this movie at times seemed to feature more voice-over exposition than actual action.   Try as they might, though, I still got to the end credits somewhat befuddled.

The good news is, I was so thoroughly charmed by the copious, gooey amounts of cheese that it hardly mattered I had no idea what was going on.  Oh my god, this movie is the ultimate 80’s film, isn’t it?  Starring everyone from Jurgen Prochnow (the grizzled captain from Das Boot) to Sting, and featuring music by Toto?  TOTO?!  You can’t not love it.  You just can’t.  I defy you.  And the costumes!  The special effects!  The worms!  That blobby guy in the portable jar!  When I wasn’t tipping my head muttering, “Huh?” I was laughing my sweet can off.  If ever there were a movie the term “awesome” was born to describe, this would be that movie.

I will now attempt to explain the plot, more for your amusement than anything else.

Okay, so, like, there are these four planets that are currently embroiled in a big conspiracy thing: the home of the emperor of the galaxy, the home of the House of Atreides (the good guys), the home of the House of Harkonnen (the bad guys — you can tell because they have lots of acne), and finally, the planet Arrakis, also known as “Dune” (or, by Virginia Madsen, as “Dewwwwn”).  Dune is the planet that houses the world’s most valued substance, this stuff called the “spice melange.”  Not only does the spice seem to have some kind of psychotropic effect (we’re told in one voice-over that it “expands consciousness”), but it’s also the stuff required to “fold space,” the fastest way to travel through the universe.   Instead of flying from one point to the next, the spice lets you bend space in half so the two points are suddenly right on top of each other.  This is a cool theory, and one nicely demonstrated by ex-Boyfriend Sam Neill using a sheet of paper in the movie Event Horizon, should you be interested.  (“F*ck layman’s terms, DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?”)

Apparently, the Emperor has decided that the key to his staying in charge is to take out the House of Atreides, which he’s decided has way too many charismatic potential leaders (the Duke of Atreides, for one, and his son Paul (MacLachlin) in particular).  His plan is to put Atreides in charge of the spice, to lure them to Arrakis, and then to have the Harkonnen attack when they least suspect it.  The Harkonnen will then take control of the spice, and the Emperor will get to stay in charge.

BUT, what he has failed to take into consideration is the fact that the people of Arrakis (the Fremen) have this centuries old myth about a “savior” who will come to their planet one day and rescue them from their lifetime of servitude.  Or whatever.  And anybody who has ever seen any movie EVER knows that if there’s a savior myth involved, somebody’s plan is going to go all foo-fah.  Paul is the savior, naturally (because he’s the cutest), and frankly, if you’ve seen Avatar, you know how this will play out.  He’ll team up with the locals, learn how to ride their giant animals (in this case, enormous deadly sand worms that come up to eat you if you make any vibrations — like the ones in Tremors), become their hero, and save the day.

Throw in some kissing, some funky blue eyes, a lot of crazy fight scenes, and a whole bunch of cheesy sci-fi speak (Kwisatz Haderach!  Thufir Hawat! Muad’Dib! Sardaukar! The “weirding way”!), and what you have is a hell of a movie.

The problem with the story is that it’s about a thousand times more complicated than this.  And at least 999 times more complicated than it needed to be.  I would imagine, however, that fans of the novel probably reacted to this film with horror, ballistically going off on all the myraid subplots that got left out (for example, I would guess the romance element of this story — Paul falling in love with one of the Fremen — got more play in the book than it did in the film, and I bet his little sister, who seemed to be important but had little to do here, did as well).  That said, had I been in charge, I would’ve cut the story down even more than it likely already was, because even with the incessant voice-overs, I don’t think I quite got everything.

Nevertheless, any film where characters say things like, “Remember the tooth!  The tooth!  The toooooth!” is going to be one I really enjoy.

Now, nerds.  Should I read the book?  Let me rephrase.  MUST I read the book?  Hie thee to the comments to make thine case.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Science Fiction
Cast:  EVERYBODY ALIVE IN 1984! Especially:  Kyle MacLachlan, Max von Sydow, Jose Ferrer, Jurgen Prochnow, Sting, Patrick Stewart, Linda Hunt, Brad Dourif, Sean Young, Virginia Madsen, Dean Stockwell, and director David Lynch himself!


22 Responses to “MOVIE: Dune (1984)”

  1. Sarah Says:

    I love this film. My father was a huge fan of the novels, so when the movie came out he was super excited, and of course, his 8-year-old nerdling of a daughter got to go see it with him. I remember him sort of liking it, but telling me that I would have to read the books when I turned 12 to truly understand the Dune universe. I did – and LOVED the first few books.

    My point is that I think I loved the movie because I saw it first, so I didn’t associate it with a literary notion of the Dune-iverse. I loved all the weird words. I loved the name Maud’dib and used to call our cat Maud’dib even though its name was Chutney.

    People love to hate Lynch’s vision, but I have a lot of affection for it. I also put it on whenever I can’t sleep because it has a calming effect on me. I’m glad you enjoyed it for its weird campy quality.

    Now read the book. I insist.

  2. Lisa Says:

    i’ve read the entire “dune” series. more than once. the first couple of books are friggin’ spectacular.

    i wasn’t offended by the movie at all, i think b/c i knew there was simply no way to get everything in the first book into a movie. and the movie was just pure pleasure for me.

    i second sarah: go read it.

  3. megwood Says:

    That’s all the urging I need, book-wise. If Fobes says yes, yes it is.

    I love geeky sci-fi names. But one thing I particularly appreciated about this one is that in addition to names like Thufir, people are also named “Paul.” I get kind of irked when, in sci-fi futuristic stories, suddenly nobody is named John anymore. Like we’re suddenly just going to ditch that one, even though there’ve been Johns for over 2000 years? Nah.

    I also really liked that Paul had two Fremen names — one that was super-secret and for himself, and one that everybody was allowed to call him. I like the idea of having that never-said super-secret name. I think I’ll pick one out for myself. Open to suggestions, though, of course, since it will be super-secret, I won’t be able to tell you if I picked yours.

  4. Haidee Says:

    OK, I’m going to pipe up and be the lone sourse of dissent. I loved the movie and loathed the books. They got way too complicated and hard to follow. I hate losing track of something and scratching my head half way through and muttering “Who the what now?”

    Then the books went all strange and I lost interest. I think I read the first four or so, too long ago now to remember.

    And I want to see a hero called Bob. Or Susan. Or even Bethany, for a change.

    And props for the Tremors comparison. When are you gonna review that one?

  5. Trip Says:

    Congratulations, Meg!! Good to see that you’re filling in all your 80’s movies gaps (never seen Withnail and I, srsly WTF?)

    Now that you’ve taken in the movie, I definitely recommend reading the book – it’s a true sci-fi epic masterpiece. Once you take that down, you’ll see the scale and scope that David Lynch was tasked with in making the movie – “daunting” doesn’t begin to describe it.

    Then you’ll see how wonderfully cast the movie was – hard to see anyone other than Patrick Stewart playing Gurney Halleck – he pretty much nailed it.

    You heard it here first: I predict that Meg will attend a Halloween party this year, dressed as a Third Stage Guild Navigator, complete with enormous spice tank and bald PVC-wearing entourage talking into 1930’s radio mikes.

  6. Trip Says:

    Or at the very least, testing all the guys at the party with your Gom Jabbar.

  7. Liz Says:

    Haidee, I don’t get it: if you loathed the books, why did you read four of them? I LOVED the first one, and that’s why I read 2 or 3 more (can’t even be sure how many). But then, I totally agree with you: they went all strange, and I lost interest. I didn’t HATE the movie, but I certainly didn’t think it held up to the first book. I also don’t remember it as being all that cheesy!! I think that may have been because I had already bought in to some of the “cheesier” elements of the story that were in the book. And BTW, I THINK that’s “Hedy” from “NCIS: LA” doing that infamous voice-over work!

  8. Haidee Says:

    Liz, Ive always been into sci fi and one of my friend loved and adored the series and pretty much forced me to read it. The first one was ok, I just kept getting lost in the overly complicated plot from what I remember. I read the new few to keep her off my back but never really got into it. More into McCaffrey, Moon, Weber, Ringo and Bujold.

    My father liked me to read but didn’t approve of sciece fiction movies so it wasn’t until I moved out of home that I started my own library of cheesy ‘spot the zip’ monster movies.

  9. megwood Says:

    Nope, not Linda Hunt (Hetty) — Virginia Madsen. Hunt’s in Dune, though — I wrote her down as “Shadout,” but I can’t remember who that was now.

    Trip, I’d have to put on a lot of weight to play a Guild Nagivator. Thankfully, it’s Cadbury Mini Egg time.

  10. Liz Says:

    Sorry – I seem to remember something about “Mapes.” I think she played a housekeeper type for the Atreides family. I always thought it was her voice on the voice-overs!

  11. megwood Says:

    Oh yes, that’s right — she’s one of the Fremen servants or something.

  12. rookling Says:

    Read the bleeding book, lady. Then you’ll see why I think the movie (except for Sting and Patrick Stewart) is crrrrap!

    ….mind you, the book is not only long but dense, and you’ll need to commit at least a day to it.

  13. melindam Says:

    I tried to read the book once for a Sci Fi Lit course, failed miserably. Just recently a friend of mine gave me all of the books. As in, ALLLLLL the books. I’m making a valiant effort to get through the first one, but I’m having trouble for some reason. I just read Gibson’s “Pattern Recognition,” so I’m wondering if I’m just having trouble transitioning from cyberpunk to space epic, or from intimate to grandiose scale. That being said, my beloved cousin (and fellow Meg reader) is coming into town this week, and I think I may be recommending that we watch this movie.

  14. Trip Says:

    No weight gain necessary to rock the Guild Navigator look at the party – just use an Admiral Ackbar mask while wearing an inflatable sumo suit…then strap yourself on to a gurney and cover up in a black tent.

    How much awesome would it be to wheel out of that party while croaking “This never happened…I was never here”?!

  15. megwood Says:

    Oh my god. I just laughed so hard. I may have to give this idea some serious thought.

  16. Anya Says:

    Read the book!!!!! Also if you want an expanded version in a visual format try the Sci-Fi Chanels “Dune”. No Sting or Patrick Steward and the inappropriate casting of William Hurt but I still think it’s a better representation of the story 🙂

  17. jo Says:

    Yes, read the book, but only the first one.

    I need to see this movie again – as a fan of the book, I found it annoying the first time around, but with distance comes perspective. I think I might actually enjoy it now.

  18. melindam Says:

    Sooo, my cousin and I started watching this last night. We’ve gotten through the first half (one of us had to work this morning) and, well, there was indeed a lot of laughter and “really??”. Did you ever notice the startling similarity between “the tooth. The toooooth” and “caaarry the looooooooad” from LoTR? (Brianna caught that one. I was trying to figure out where to play my one consonant in Scrabble.) It didn’t help that my computer is old and skips occasionally, so we get “the du-u-u-u-uke”. Anyway, what I’m trying to say (I haven’t had caffeine yet) is, thank you, Meg, we’re going to enjoy this one!!!

  19. megwood Says:

    Dude, you guys play Scrabble while you watch bad sci-fi movies? Where’s my invitation?

  20. melindam Says:

    We’re only nine hours south, so you’re more than welcome! And I was also knitting socks while playing Scrabble and watching sci-fi, so our geek/nerd cred is through the roof. Oh, and Bri was reading “A History of Love.” Gooood times….

  21. tomkraw Says:

    My sister gave me Dune as a birthday gift wen I was 10, already deep into my nerdhood. There were no desktop computers back then (1975), and Dungeons & Dragons was still a year or two off, so nerdy sci-fi trilogies were one of the few ways to stand out from the crowd.

    I read the first 100 pages or so, and promptly gave up. NOTHING made sense to me. And it seemed to be moving at a glacial pace, so I set it aside. Fast forward another 5 years, and I picked the book up again, because I had succeded in reading every other sci-fi book in print at the time. (Slight exaggeration.) This time around, however, I fell in love with Dune, and promptly read the trilogy, drooling all the way. I even read the fourth novel, written later, and liked it too. I read the reviews of the fifth and sixth, and decided it was simply not meant to be.

    BTW, if you want to be truly geeky, read the Dune Encyclopedia. Really. It brought the Butlerian Jihad to life in a way that no movie ever could! (Gross exaggeration.)

    Where was I? Oh yes, I would recommend the books, or at least the first four (before Frank Herbert died and it all went to hell). Now the MOVIE, well, that is quite another matter. I laughed most of the way through it, but for different reasons than you, Meg. I laughed because they had to rush through the book material in such a way that characters would suddenly appear in the movie, say their name, and then die at frenetic pace. Characters, cities, planets…boom, pow, bang! There goes Duncan Idaho, just about the time you say “Really?!? Is that a name?!? And if so, could he please marry Paris Hilton? Because that would really be funny!”

    So I cringed and laughed through the entire movie, because it was the equivalent of creating a 30-second television commercial to explain the entirety of World War II. Boom, pow, bang…there goes Poland, just about the time you say “Wait, isn’t that where that piano player guy lives?” (Hypothetical exaggeration, allowable only because I am Polish.)

    So watch the movie with an understanding that it stands on its own, as a hyperventilating sprint through a slow, dense book. If you read that book, understand that it starts off slow, gets dense and convoluted quickly, and often perplexes. But never disappoints!

  22. megwood Says:

    SO true, tomkraw! The thing about the tossing in of characters. The one I was struck the most by was Paul’s little baby sister, who WHOMP appears all of a sudden, BAM is suddenly 8 years old, and clearly played some kind of vital role in the story, but I had NO IDEA what that role was because she was just a blip in the film.

    I will definitely read at least the first book — your review of it makes it sound like a must. Next time I see you, my friend, we will have to talk about it!

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