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David Lynch is acclaimed for having produced some very weird but often wonderful masterpieces. Whether it be his legendary offbeat TV series, Twin Peaks, or any of his dark and diverse feature films: from Wild at Heart to Lost Highway, his movies always have convoluted narratives, bewildering audiences’ senses with strange images and jumps back and forth in the timeline, and often feature strange, scary dwarves. He worked with Kyle MacLachlan back on Blue Velvet, giving him the well-chosen part of unwitting hero-detective in a typically dark Lynchian tale, but he also used MacLachlan as the lead in his one and only foray into the sci-fi world, Dune.

Dune: Extended Edition

Feature


Based on a series of epic novels by the legendary Frank Herbert, Dune is set some eight-thousand years into the future, in a galaxy where several rival factions are competing for the ownership of a precious mineral substance called Melange (or Spice). The Spice is only available from the desert planet of Arakis, also known as Dune, where unpredictable desert slave-warriors—called Freman—roam, and huge mile-long worms rule, destroying anything that attracts their attention. Two main groups are interested in the harvesting of this precious mineral from the planet Dune.

The Guild is the more dominant empire who use Spice to further their space travel because it enables them to fold space and jump from one point to another seemingly effortlessly. The Bene Gesserit school for mental training utilises a fraction of the same amount of Spice to perpetuate their mental abilities, but a conflict arises when the Guild enlist an evil Baron, head of the Harkonnen, to kill a seemingly unimportant Duke’s son, Paul Atreides, heir to the throne on the planet Caladan. Atreides has been trained by the best, both mentally and physically, but clearly both the Guild and the Bene Gesserit see something more important in him, something messianic. Could he be the one to help free the precious Spice from the clutches of the overbearing Harkonnen and also bring freedom to the slave-warrior Freman of the planet Dune?

Clearly noteworthy not only for being Lynch’s only sci-fi effort, but also for being one of the only Lynch productions which is unlikely to leave you with a headache at the end of it (although arguably the extended edition does try harder to change this), Dune is an enjoyable epic sci-fi adventure. Despite its similarly to both the Matrix and to the real-life conflicts in the Middle East (with direct references to Jihads and with the Spice being comparable to the fight over oil) all of this can still be ignored for the purposes of enjoying a quite breathtaking, visionary movie. With some lavishly designed sets across several cleverly conceived planets, this eighties movie is remarkably expansive in its portrayal of Herbert’s original work, especially considering this is long before the advent of CGI. There are some sequences which have clearly dated worse than others (the block-fighting scenes look a little too Tron) but overall Lynch does extremely well with the effects capabilities of the time, giving the movie’s space shots generally more of an Alien-esque feel than Star Wars, although admittedly it sometimes lapses into Flash Gordon meets Ghostbusters style.

Dune: Extended Edition
The movie itself has several pretty big names strewn across the cast list, along with plenty of other recognisable faces. Kyle MacLachlan plays the hero, although I am not sure that he is quite up to the part, being a little weak in the role. That said, he does not do a bad job and his more human portrayal of the hero saviour, Paul Atreides is arguably better suited to the character than a more brutish, macho depiction would be. Although more famous for his music than his cinematic endeavours, Sting stands out quite a bit (not least for his wild orange hair) as the psychotic lead Guild assassin (although his part does seem smaller in the comparative vastness of the extended edition). He does fare well in the role, but the only time I have really seen him give a particularly noteworthy performance was in the little-known British thriller Stormy Monday, alongside Tommy Lee Jones and Sean Bean.

The love interest comes in the attractive form of Sean Young, whose acting range is also quite dubious but whose sexy, sultry and, at times, seductively vulnerable qualities are indisputable. Here she doesn’t do a bad job with the material she has—or lack thereof. However, it should be noted that Francesca Annis, as Paul’s mother, plays a bigger role—again, particularly in the extended edition—and does not seem that much older than him, certainly giving Sean Young a run for her money in terms of glamour. Aside from these fairly important characters, there are plenty of other recognisable faces padding out the proceedings with their supporting parts. These include X-Men’s Patrick Stewart as one of Atreides’ combat trainers, Das Boot’s Jurgen Prochnow as Atreides’ father, the Duke and Minority Report’s Max Von Sydow gets a shamefully brief cameo as one of the Dune-planet’s scientists. You can also glimpse many Lynch favourites, including Virginia Madsen, Jack Nance and Everett McGill from Twin Peaks, and Brad Dourif and Dean Stockwell from Blue Velvet.

All in all, this is not the kind of cast (and these are not the kind of performances) that would warrant any Oscar nominations (unlike perhaps Naomi Watts’ effort for Lynch’s darkly sumptuous Mulholland Drive) but they carry the story well nevertheless and round out a movie which has, over the years, evolved into something of a cult classic (noteworthy because it practically bombed on release). It is for this reason that fans will no doubt be eagerly anticipating this particular release—it is, after all, the much talked about extended edition (which has been glimpsed on TV before, in one form or another), which has suffered no end of DVD release date set-backs over the last few months, keeping avid fans salivating until its final emergence.

Dune: Extended Edition
Now it’s been years since I saw Dune, but thankfully they include here not only the extended edition but the original theatrical cut. Fans will note many of the new sequences without a second thought, like the huge opening animated scene with a narration that details all of the background to this particular universe and how things ended up the way they are. This ten minute addition is the biggest additional segment that you will notice, although there are plenty of other bits and pieces worth noting, totalling an additional forty minutes of extra footage, and these often include that self-same narrator giving more in-depth exposition into the machinations of the various political parties and the different characters. It’s obvious that many of the extra effects sequences are just re-used shots from elsewhere in the movie, sometimes barely changed and making the cut look a little padded out. In addition, we do lose a little from the theatrical version, with the new voiceover cutting out a huge chunk of Virginia Madsen’s role and with the evil fat floating Baron not getting to be quite so evil in this version.

Overall I would say that the extended version works better than the theatrical cut for the first half of its runtime, the additions being almost all welcome, but as they fade out and the footage becomes much more like its theatrical counterpart (there are fewer additions in the latter half of the film) the movie suddenly appears to change in tempo (particularly with that irritating ‘two years later’ montage) and this is even more out of place than on the theatrical version. With a TV series that more fully explores Herbert’s Dune universe and a rumoured four-hour cut still unavailable for fans out there, the extended edition that we have here is a distinct mixed-bag. You’re likely to really enjoy the best part of it, but that feeling is probably going to fade as they seemingly rush to round everything off at the end. All in all, arguably the shorter and more punchy theatrical cut is more enjoyable even if it does not have the same depth, but Dune fans will simply have to have this release in their collection, if only for completeness.

Dune: Extended Edition

Video


Both versions of Dune are presented in reasonably good 2.35:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfers (and the extra footage is generally indiscernible in terms of visual quality). The detail is pretty decent throughout, with only a little softness, although noticeable grain runs through many scenes and there is some edge enhancement. The whole picture often looks quite dull and dilapidated, unfortunately, with poor contrast throughout that makes some scenes look a little too dark and dated. After so many different releases, you would have thought that they could have produced a picture-perfect clear and crisp transfer, but I guess this is the best we can do with at the moment. The colour scheme is generally much better, with the orange sand dunes and vivid, luscious planetary colours looking quite marvellous and rendered pretty accurately throughout, but blacks are not particularly solid at the end of the day, rounding off a slightly disappointing transfer. At least, thankfully, the print damage is negligible.

Audio


Both versions of the movie also have the same, largely indiscernible Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack option. Annoyingly, on the extended cut, the track often appears to be out of synch (at least during the extra scenes) but this is barely noticeable and is just a niggling little problem. Dialogue is generally presented from the frontal array and the words, whether spoken, in thought, or in narration, are clear throughout. The score is quite potent and rides across the entire movie, pervading every scene with its ominous omnipresence and sometimes rising for the occasion to provide some rousing support (and only briefly lapsing into silly Flash Gordon-style electric guitar mayhem). Effects are a mixed bag but, along with the brooding score, they do offer plenty of material for the surrounds to showcase—even a little thumping bass as well.

Dune: Extended Edition

Extras


First up, and possibly most importantly, we get a selected of deleted scenes, with an introduction from producer Raffaella De Laurentiis, who explains that there was a great deal of extra footage which they had to take out (what with the original cut being some four hours in length—but vastly incomplete). The first scene is Virginia Madsen’s original introductory segment (which was completely replaced for the extended edition). It does not quite encompass the same vastness as on the extended version and is still too long, but without it Madsen’s role is practically non-existent. There is more from the Duke, his wife (Paul’s mother), more of the crash sequence where Paul and his mother are alone on Dune together, an extended version of the first fight sequence between Paul and the Freman warrior, a slightly longer closing scene with Max Von Sydow, Paul’s mother and sister, along with the Bene Gesserit seer mentally combating the Guild, Paul having a deeper dream, more from the final standoff and a scene where Paul takes Virginia Madsen’s character as his wife (in name only) to further the Atreides lineage. Totalling about seventeen minutes of extra footage, there is nothing of significance to write home about, but (even in its poorer quality presentation), the scenes are still a worthy addition to the disc.

‘Designing Dune’ is a nine-minute featurette that has various members of the crew discussing the art department and the work they did to come up with the concepts behind Dune’s cinematic rendition. They had to take Herbert’s vast and sumptuous ideas and render them graphically, creating images which often directly correlated to the end film result. We get glimpses of some of the hundreds of designs that were conceived (some of which came from Lynch himself) and an idea of the kind of imagination it too to bring this movie to life.

There is a six minute ‘Special Effects’ featurette looking at the effects in the movie, with contributions from the crew members involved. They talk about the explosions, differentiating between the sonic blasts in the desert (during the battle sequence) and how they had to be generated in a different way from the petrol-based explosions in some of the other scenes. It is quite interesting to see some of the b-roll footage and rehearsal shots where they had to cleverly time the explosions as the cast members were running around. They also dissect the wire-work scenes (mainly the floating fat man) and the training robot which Kyle MacLachlan had to defeat in one part of the movie. They praise the movie for being cutting-edge at the time and generally this is quite a nice extra.

Dune: Extended Edition
‘Models and Miniatures’ is a seven minute featurette that explores the models that were required for some of the shots, from the miniature sets to the model ships used. The crew all praise one another about the good job they did (and, to their credit, some of the models are superb) and we get to see plenty of concept art, models seen in their true size and stills of the miniature set filming being done. The worm-related work done is particularly interesting.

The ‘Wardrobe Design’ featurette is just under fifteen minutes long and has the relevant costume crew members discussing the various designs and outfits that were put together (often at the last minute, resulting in a lot of improvisation). Some of the background anecdotes about how they put things together (using old industrial gear, car pipes or even used body bags) is pretty unbelievable, but the most interesting section is devoted to the cool still-suits worn by the desert Freman.

There is also a photo gallery which plays as a slideshow that lasts six and a half minutes and has plenty of background on-set shots of the cast and crew (including a very young David Lynch) as well as promotional shots for the movie itself and lots of very interesting concept art, totalling some one hundred photos. Finally there are several pages of text production notes on the movie, explaining how Herbert’s work was first published in 1965 and plotting out the evolution of the story from novel to script to screen. You can learn about the production itself, how long it took and how arduous it was, the locations used and the setbacks they suffered along the way. Totalling some eleven pages of text (with only about seven or eight lines to a page), it does not make up for a commentary but offers a little more information which was not provided elsewhere.

Dune: Extended Edition

Overall


Dune suffered a great deal upon its release and has still not fully recovered to this day, despite umpteen re-cuts and re-releases. This latest edition at least provides two vastly different cuts of the movie (even if, arguably, the theatrical is more enjoyable), which should alone make this a must-have purchase for fans. Those who feel it betrays Herbert’s original source material are still not going to be fully satisfied even with the extended edition, but at least there is that mini-series out there which should keep such individuals quiet for a while. The release has a slightly disappointing video presentation but reasonable audio track and several nice extras (although the lack of participation from Lynch himself is a shame). Overall, those who have not got a copy of the movie in their collection would be advised to pick this one up, it is probably currently the definitive edition.


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