In the far future, the known universe is ruled by Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV (José Ferrer). The most important substance in his galactic empire is the spice melange. The spice has many special properties, such as extending life and expanding consciousness. The most profitable of its properties is its ability to assist the Spacing Guild with folding space. The spice is vital to space travel because it allows safe interstellar travel to any part of the universe instantaneously. Sensing a potential threat to spice production, the Guild sends an emissary to demand an explanation from the Emperor, who confidentially shares his plans to destroy House Atreides. The popularity of Duke Leto Atreides (Jürgen Prochnow) has grown, and he is suspected to be amassing a secret army using sonic weapons called Weirding Modules, making him a threat to the Emperor. Shaddam’s plan is to give the Atreides control of the planet Arrakis (also known as Dune), the only source of spice, and to have them ambushed there by their longtime arch-enemies, the Harkonnens. The Navigator commands the Emperor to kill the Duke’s son, Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan), a young man who dreams prophetic visions of his purpose. The order draws the attention of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, as Paul is tied to their centuries-long breeding program which seeks to produce the superhuman Kwisatz Haderach. Paul is tested by the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam. He passes to Mohiam’s satisfaction. Meanwhile, on the industrial world of Giedi Prime, the sadistic Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan) tells his nephews Glossu Rabban (Paul Smith) and Feyd-Rautha (Sting) about his plan to eliminate the Atreides by manipulating someone into betraying the Duke. The Atreides leave Caladan for Arrakis, a barren desert planet populated by gigantic sandworms and the Fremen, a mysterious people who have long held a prophecy that a messiah would come to lead them to freedom. Upon arrival on Arrakis, Leto is informed by one of his right-hand men, Duncan Idaho (Richard Jordan), that the Fremen have been underestimated, as they exist in vast numbers and could prove to be powerful allies. Leto gains the trust of Fremen, but before the Duke can establish an alliance with them, the
Harkonnens launch their attack…

In 1971, film producer Arthur P. Jacobs optioned the film rights to Dune but later died before a film could be developed. The option was then taken over two years later by a French consortium led by Jean-Paul Gibon, with Alejandro Jodorowsky attached to direct. Jodorowsky proceeded to approach, among others, the prog rock groups Pink Floyd and Magma for some of the music, Dan O’Bannon for the visual effects, artists H. R. Giger, Jean Giraud and Chris Foss for set and character design and Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, Mick Jagger and others for the cast. The project was ultimately abandoned when Jodorowsky was unable to get funding for the film. However, the work that Jodorowsky and his team put into the film had an impact on subsequent science fiction films, most directly the 1979 Alien, written by O’Bannon, which shared much of the same creative team for the visual design as had been assembled for Jodorowsky’s film. A 2013 documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune, was made about Jodorowsky’s failed attempt at an adaptation. In 1981, the nine-year film rights were set to expire. De Laurentiis re-negotiated the rights from the author, adding to them the rights to the Dune sequels (written and unwritten). After seeing The Elephant Man, producer Raffaella De Laurentiis decided that David Lynch should direct the movie. Around that time Lynch received several other directing offers, including Return of the Jedi. He agreed to direct Dune and write the screenplay even though he had not read the book, known the story, or even been interested in science fiction. Lynch worked on the script for six months with Eric Bergen and Christopher De Vore. The team yielded two drafts of the script before it split over creative differences. Lynch would subsequently work on five more drafts. On March 30, 1983, with the 135-page sixth draft of the script, Dune finally began shooting. It was shot entirely in Mexico. With a budget of over $40 million, Dune required 80 sets built on 16 sound stages and a total crew of 1700. Many of the exterior shots were filmed in the Samalayuca Dune Fields in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. Upon completion, the rough cut of Dune without post-production effects ran over four hours long, but Lynch’s intended cut of the film (as reflected in the 7th and final draft of the script) was almost three hours long. However, Universal and the film’s financiers expected a standard, two-hour cut of the film. To reduce the run time, producers Dino De Laurentiis, his daughter Raffaella, and director Lynch excised numerous scenes, filmed new scenes that simplified or concentrated plot elements, and added voice-over narrations, plus a new introduction by Virginia Madsen. Contrary to popular rumors, Lynch made no other version besides the theatrical cut; no three- to six-hour version ever reached the post-production stage. However, several longer versions have been spliced together. Although Universal has approached Lynch for a possible director’s cut of the film, Lynch has declined every offer and prefers not to discuss Dune in interviews. David Lynch has said he considers this film the only real failure of his career. Lynch claims revisiting the film would be too painful an experience to endure. The film was not well received by critics and performed poorly at the American box office. Upon its release, Lynch distanced himself from the project, stating that pressure from both producers and financiers restrained his artistic control and denied him final cut privilege. At least three different versions have been released worldwide. In some cuts, Lynch’s name is replaced in the credits with the name Alan Smithee, a pseudonym used by directors who wished not to be associated with a film for which they would normally be credited. Roger Ebert gave Dune 1 star out of 4 and wrote “This movie is a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time.” Ebert added: “The movie’s plot will no doubt mean more to people who’ve read Herbert than to those who are walking in cold”, and later named it “the worst movie of the year.” On At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Ebert, Siskel began his review by saying “it’s physically ugly, it contains at least a dozen gory gross-out scenes, some of its special effects are cheap-surprisingly cheap because this film cost a reported $40-45 million-and its story is confusing beyond belief. In case I haven’t made myself clear, I hated watching this film.” The film was later listed as the worst film of 1984 in their “Stinkers of 1984” episode. Other negative reviews focused on the same issues as well as on the length of the film. While most critics were negative towards Dune, critic and science fiction writer Harlan Ellison was of a different opinion at the time. In his 1989 book of film criticism, Harlan Ellison’s Watching, he says that the $42 million production failed because critics were denied screenings at the last minute after several re-schedules, a decision by Universal that, according to Ellison, made the film community feel nervous and negative towards Dune before its release. Ellison eventually became one of the film’s few positive reviewers. As a result of its poor commercial and critical reception, all initial plans for Dune sequels were canceled. It was reported that David Lynch was working on the screenplay for Dune Messiah and was hired to direct a second and a third Dune film. In retrospect, Lynch acknowledged he should never have directed Dune. “Dune” is a messiah like science fiction movie based on Frank Herbert´s book that could´ve been a lot greater than it is, but despite several flaws there´s still a foundation I do like. There´s glimpses of an epic movie in the likes of the classics from the 60´s. Grande scenes, great costume design (love the Fremen stillsuits, love the Harkonnen empire suits), intriguing environments, great weapons such as the the Weirding Module, great characters (both evil and good) and biblic undertones. I reckon the tone and general design from David Lynch mind is of great shape. What we miss in the theatrical release is s fleshed out story, theme and intricate subplots of Herbert’s book and a much steadier pace/rhythm. Lynch simply didn´t manage to take the book and fully adjust it to the screen. The movie has a great ensemble including Francesca Annis. Sting, Brad Dourif, Linda Hunt, Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, Jack Nance, Jürgen Prochnow, Paul Smith, Patrick Stewart, Dean Stockwell, Max von Sydow and Sean Young. And that is a strength for this movie. The big minus is of course the poor effects which makes it look like a true b-movie at times, the general messy plot line and the stale theatrical acting in between. How I wish Lynch could´ve made this today with proper CGI and the same ensemble. “Dune” has its moments for sure, but it´s not as great as it should´ve been. (3 and a half out of 5)

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