“A beginning is a very delicate time. Know then, that it is the year 10191. The known universe is ruled by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam the Fourth, my father. In this time, the most precious substance in the universe is the spice Mélange. The spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness. The spice is vital to space travel. The Spacing Guild and its navigators, who the spice has mutated over 4000 years, use the orange spice gas, which gives them the ability to fold space. That is, travel to any part of the universe without moving. Oh, yes. I forgot to tell you. The spice exists on only one planet in the entire universe. A desolate, dry planet with vast deserts. Hidden away within the rocks of these deserts are a people known as the Fremen, who have long held a prophecy that a man would come, a messiah, who would lead them to true freedom. The planet is Arrakis, also known as Dune.”
Thus began the mother of all sci-fi introductions, followed by the most tenebrous and intense score I’ve ever heard that, to this day, still makes my heart beat with thunder. Then we follow with a heads-up display on some Guild navigator’s VDU explaining to us the three main houses that rule the known universe and the planet Arrakis, which will soon be at the center of the story.
The opening scene shows us the court of the emperor, replete with architecture and costumes to make any HR Giger fan drool. The Third Stage Guild Navigator shows up with First and Second Stage Guild Navigators that look like the prime source of inspiration for the re-imagined Borg from Star Trek First Contact. The Third Stage Guild Navigator’s mutation is so advanced that he lives in a big mobile aquarium. He’s one ugly character but he’s transcended the worries of appearance, folding space with your own mind must be one cool hobby.
Now imagine you are 11-years old and you just finished seeing this. And that’s just the intro. I was in shock. I had no idea there was something else beyond the Star Wars universe. I sat there not knowing how to react; I pressed the pause button on my VHS’ remote control. Then I pressed the stop button, then the rewind button and started it over. There was no getting enough of this. Dune is my third most watched movie on record. Star Wars being on top with over 500 viewings, Aliens with over 230 viewings. And I’m pretty sure I closed in on 200 viewings of Dune. Yes, yes I’m a big geek. No surprise there. But I love my movies and I love my sci-fi. I literally used up my copy of Dune back in the eighties. This not being the movie that gets shown all the time on cable, I had not seen Dune in a long while (I’ve read Bloodsport is the most rotated movie on cable of all time with over 8000 showings during a single year. Just a little factoid).
Last week, I’m at my local DVD store and in a big shiny metal box I see the word that sends shivers down my spine. DUNE and it’s the extended version. The box, by the way, is seriously solid and kind of heavy. But the booklet is all but absent and it’s a double sided DVD. Personally I hate those. But it’s some superb packaging.
The packaging gets a 4 outta 5
This “collector’s edition” contains the theatrical version, an extended version, and some DVD extras. The term “collector’s edition” has lost a lot of meaning since the DVD fury hit the shelves. This is no different.
Dune (Extended Version)
A full 40 minutes longer. That can only be a good thing, right? Hell no! It starts out by pilfering the original intro of all its greatness. No pretty princess with that seductive voice telling us how it is. Nope, instead we have a lengthy narrative spoken by DeLaurentiis. We get the intense pleasure, well not really, of seeing production sketches giving an exhaustive description of how the universe came to be as it is. Although the information is supremely interesting and explains more about Dune, the execution is horrid.
We go onto the opening credits. Directed by Alan Smithee. How much worse can it get? Wait. I’ll get to that later. For those who don’t know, Alan Smithee is a pseudonym used by directors to disavow their involvement with the production and to use the name needs to meet with certain criteria. Briefly put, this is like movies released without letting the critics see it first. You know it’s gonna blow. Wikipedia has more about Alan Smithee.
Here’s where it gets much worse. This is likely the worst cut and paste job of all time. I think a film buff with a good PC system could have cut a better edition than this. Some scenes are added with absolutely horrible composition. The voice over for the Third Stage Guild Navigator is replaced with a badly synthesized voice and changes the character from cold, intellectual, and composed to a raving lunatic. The sound is so horrible on the pasted cut scenes that it makes the whole court scene absolutely unwatchable, choppy, and amateurish.
And that’s where it ended for me. Perhaps one day when I’ll be bored witless, I’ll check the rest out, but not for now. I was tempted to take the DVD out and snap it in two.
So you can guess, the Extended Version gets a wormy 1 outta 5.
Dune (Theatrical Version)
Okay, now we are talking. This is what Dune is all about. The mother of all sci-fi intros is intact and so is the rest of the masterpiece. Of course, it was a disaster. The Waterworld of the eighties. The most expensive movie of its time and a huge box office failure. The book fans panned it for some serious departures. Such the “weirding way”, which in the book is called the Prana-Bindu and isn’t a sound-based weapon system, but a martial art that permits the practitioner to move super fast. But then if the movie had been produced with perfect respect to the book, we would have had a trilogy the likes of Lord of the Rings. And if I remember correctly, this was supposed to be part 1 of 3, but the box office numbers put the project on ice. And let’s not forget the cheesy lines and the Speedos from hell that even David Duchovny has nothing on. Despite all its eighties-ness it still has some seriously delicious aspects.
First, the story is brilliant, but when you base your script on Herbert’s work, you have to make an effort to screw it up. We have a movie that showed that Sci-fi wasn’t all white walls, skin tight nipple poking outfits, roaring spaceship battles, and black and white stories of good versus evil.
One of the reasons it failed at the box office is its complexity and multi-layered story telling and a lot of concepts that are far too saturated with history, myth, and foreign obscurities for the non-sci-fi fan. Fremen, Sardaukars, Kwisatz Haderach, Third Stage Guild Navigator, folding space, portable shields, and all these things weren’t part of the sci-fi movie staple.
Secondly, we have out-of-this-world set decoration and costuming. The attention to details and minutiae in this movie is overwhelming and takes multiple viewings to catch everything that’s going on in the backgrounds.
Thirdly, the characters. Holy crap, where to start? Let’s just say there are plenty of them and they are all complex, even the idiot nephew.
The movie has problems in key areas though. It suffers, to a much lesser degree, in the same way the extended version does. Lynch was ordered to cut the movie down, time-wise. He had cut an over-three hour long version but the studio wanted less. And the special effects, even at the time, were badly executed. Too easy to tell these were miniatures and bad blue screen cutouts. But I believe the challenge was too much. Even the Sci-fi channel-produced mini-series from a few years back had horrible special effects.
So why is it a masterpiece? Hard to tell. I just can’t get enough of it and neither can its legion of fans. We forgive it its mistakes and we worship it. It was still innovative for its time, the same year the panned Blade Runner came out and it is also now revered as a sci-fi masterpiece and had complex story issues.
I give it 4 legions of Sardaukars outta 5, apologies to the floating fat man, the Barron.
Dune (Bonus Material)
Ah, DVD extras wouldn’t be DVD extras if half of them weren’t about the people working on the movie giving nothing but reverence for the director. That’s getting tired. Enough already. If I get to the extras, it’s because I loved the movie and I don’t need to hear how great the director is.
But there are some cool featurettes about the effects, the designing, the costumes. A rather boring photo gallery — bordered pictures of the movie do not make for a great DVD extra, in my opinion. My only true complaint, other than the director worshipping, is that the featurettes are much too short. They could have made a whole DVD of extras. But after being spoiled rotten by The Ultimate Matrix box-set, maybe I just expect too much.
The bonus material gets a not too spicy 3 outta 5
In conclusion I can only give the DVD edition a middle of the road 3 outta 5. The fans should absolutely add it to their collection. But non-fans will probably want to take a pass.