David Lyn — er, Alan Smithee’s Dune

I love Dune. Well, let me be clear: I love the first Dune novel. I’ve read it I think four times, and wouldn’t mind another crack at it. I tried going past that and thought the second one was okay, the third one was kind of odd, and I’m not even sure I made it to the fourth one, where I’ve heard things just go off the bonkers scale. But the first book is one of my favorites.

And yes, I love the 1984 movie, warts and all. It was a commercial failure, I think, and it’s seen as something of a low point for David Lynch, who directed it, but I love it. The pacing is weird, and there are some things that I’m sure make no sense (the Water of Life, for example) if you haven’t read the book. This is, after all, a movie in which theaters handed out a two page glossary of terms. Still, I think it generally works about as well as one could expect.

And it’s gorgeous to look at. I love the designs in it, and the art deco stylings. I love the clunky, mechanical nature of everything, which makes sense since this is a society that has abolished computers. I like to think that I get what Lynch was going for, though I know I flatter myself by doing so.

As I say, I love it to bits, though at the same time I fully understand why someone else might not. It’s not so much an acquired taste as something that either flicks a switch in your head or doesn’t.

(Yeah, I’ve seen the Sci-Fi channel version too, and it was…it felt like a cross between a telenovela and a youth group staging of Godspell.)

Anyhow, I found myself in the mood to watch the movie again and was delighted when a copy of the “Extended version” fell off a passing truck. I’d heard there was a long version and thought I should check it out, being one of the few people in the world who’d be interested in such a thing.

Here was my first indication that something might be amiss:

When you sit down to see something directed by David Lynch and are told it’s by Alan Smithee then you are in trouble.

The next thing that happens is, you don’t see Virginia Madsen.

Instead of Princess Irulan giving you the lowdown, you get this instead:

You’re going to want to fast-forward through that. It’s a lot of background information you don’t need, some of which is repeated pretty soon in the movie itself, and some of which is repeated in this very introduction. I don’t know whose uncle they got to do the narration here, but guess what: he sticks around for the rest of the movie, providing narration whenever Lynch’s voice-overs aren’t quite awkward and intrusive enough. I’m pretty sure he was paid in bourbon, because he seems to give fewer and fewer damns as the movie goes on. He can’t even be bothered to watch the movie he’s narrating, as he mispronounces a few characters’ names (such as Piter, who he calls “Pitter” literally seconds before the Baron addresses him as “Pie-ter”.) At the end of the movie he refers to the Imperial Sardaukar troops as “Sar-DOOK-er” and you can hear the bottle hit the floor and deep snoring afterwards.

Very few people who’ve seen Dune said of it, “Nice, but if only it wasn’t so short!” (And none said, “Can we get some sub-Blade-Runner-level narration up in here?”) But even folks like me who wouldn’t mind seeing more of the story would find this extended mix unsatisfying. One of the chief complaints about the movie is that it takes its sweet time getting to the meat of the story (Paul hooking up with the Fremen) and then has to rush everything that happens afterwards. This cut exacerbates the problem, front-loading the pacing even more. It’s a three-hour movie and Paul joins the Fremen at the 2/3 point.

Another problem that this cut makes worse is the Harkonnens. In the original movie (and, to be fair, the book) they’re pretty much just straight-up horrible people doing horrible things. This cut actually removes a fair amount of fun-time with the Baron, so it doesn’t even let the cartoony bad guys be cartoony bad guys. Instead you don’t know why they’re involved at all.

I know Lynch himself refuses to do an official director’s cut for the movie, and that’s his prerogative. But man, if you want to try and clean up this film, why not get someone to do the job who actually knows what he’s doing? I mean, I’m just some ignorant punk with a website and I wouldn’t have let this thing out of the studio if I’d had a say.

This entry was posted in Movies and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to David Lyn — er, Alan Smithee’s Dune

  1. blathering says:

    You just took me right back to the GT room with all of us talking about this movie when it came out…of course, I saw it after you did so you had already influenced my view of the movie. I don’t think I read the book until years after. I enjoyed the first novel but was never tempted to read the others.