Saturday, September 10, 2016

Dune Revisit

I re-watched David Lynch's Dune last night, a good seven years after I first saw it. My original impression was that it was confusing but impressive, very bad in a very good sort of way. Now I see it as a confounding piece of non-entertainment, an utterly boring slog that left me wondering: should we even try to talk about what's wrong with this film, or should we just ignore it all together?

First off, in terms of plot and ideas, there's very little to say. I recall having difficulty understanding what exactly was going on when I first saw the movie. This time around, the story made more sense mainly because I realized how simple it actually is beneath the muddled means by which its told. It's basically a story about a messianic "chosen one" who saves a planet. The mechanics of the plot involve rival planets, power schemes, trickery, and revenge. The devices for narrative momentum consist of a dangerous drug and giant worms lurking beneath the sand of a desert planet where most the film's action takes place. The rest of the movie consists of inane action sequences, too many non-sensical conversations between under-developed, dull characters to count, failed attempts at exposition, and of course the visuals.

Lynch does provide some striking imagery, such as a unborn baby in a womb that looks like an infant's head sticking out of a pool of blood. But perhaps the biggest disappointment of Dune, once you realize that it's an empty vessel with regards to plot, character, and emotion, is that despite Lynch's flair for style, he's still unable to come up with a coherent or memorable sequence. The action scenes involving the worms could have been thrilling given the money that went into them, but instead Lynch shows no understanding as to how to make them coherent or interesting, let alone exciting (there's also major editing problems, wherein important moments of action seem to just end with no explanation of their resolution). Or take the climactic knife fight between the film's hero, played by Kyle MacLachlan, and one of the baddies, portrayed by Sting (who must have thought he was signing up for a magazine shoot instead of a movie). Like every other action scene in this movie, Lynch is either uninterested in generating suspense, or simply acknowledging that he doesn't know how it's done. The sequence is completely inept and devoid of any intensity, as if Lynch had never seen a single good action scene in his life. You'll find this sort of listlessness all over Dune (another standout is when MacLachlan is supposed to be training his new people with sonic weapons and Lynch recklessly rushes through this rather than attempting to show the process).

That, to me, is Dune's biggest flaw. That the story and the characters and the themes are so trite doesn't bother me too much. There are great movies out there with similar problems. But when I'm also bored by what I am seeing, by this supposedly fantastic world Lynch has conjured, I cannot quite accept it.

One final point: the dialogue is pretty horrendous, but to its credit the film does have one great line. I'm not sure if Lynch wrote it or if he took it from Frank Herbert's novel. I love it either way: "Without change, something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens."

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