"Thus open the gates of paradise."

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Dune

06 Apr 2002

PHOTO: Paradise Films Inc.

I saw Dune again last night. Have you seen it? It's a film adaptation by David Lynch of Frank Herbert's book. It was made in 1984 and stars everyone under the sun who wasn't also in Blade Runner: Kyle McLachlan, Jürgen Prochnow, Max Von Sydow, José Ferrer, Jack Nance, Dean Stockwell, Patrick Stewart, Freddie Jones, and a very dishy Linda Hunt. Fifteen years have not really been kind to this film that was not particularly well received even when it came out. It's a shameless patchwork of a perfectly good novel, bound together by aging cheese that alerts you to its presence almost before you enter the theatre. The story is in tatters, and the dialog comes across sounding very arch and mysterious -- which is great for being arch and mysterious, but not so great if you're keen on threading your way through the 140 minutes of film.

"The sleeper must awaken."

Of course, I love almost every frame of it. I wouldn't go to a midnight showing and drag a couple of friends if there wasn't something about this mess that I really admire. I love the production design for a start. In a universe where computers have been outlawed, everything has taken on a mechanistic appearance as if run by tiny gears and levers. There is polished brass and wood and dark stone everywhere. Ornamented lights shaped vaguely like swans in flight float unteathered high above the characters. Space ships have a distinctly baroque feel to them; the Guild liner features an enormous rectangular doorway in its hull through which small ships fly and dock. Ok -- you've seen that before in a lot of films, but did you ever see one with lots of clearly ornamental carving done around the door frame? In space? I love a culture that finds value in that kind of detailing.

"Tell me of your home world, Usul."

I mentioned that Patrick Stewart is in the film. He plays Gurney Halleck, man of arms for House Atreides. When he first shows up, a chuckle of recognition fills the theatre. Here is the captain of the Starship Enterprise before he was known to millions, barking out not a lot of lines. Outstanding value, that. For me though, seeing Jürgen Prochnow was the biggest surprise of all. For him, the audience gives no sign of recognition at all, which is a pity because he's been in a lot of films for which I have a soft spot (Das Boot, The Replacement Killers, The English Patient.) Though I've seen Dune many times, this might be the first time when I actually knew who he was myself. Every time there's something new.

"I like this Duke."

I loved the black iron boiler in which the 3rd Class Guild Navigator travels when it visits the Emperor. It's huge and hulking, plainly heavy, and wouldn't look out of place somewhere in Russia in the 1920's. I loved the way the Navigator's acolytes didn't speak English, and how they used push brooms to clean up the lubricative slime that the boiler leaves behind. And the way they're no so interested in making sure they get it all.

It's playing again tonight, and the offices of Front Pages are not at all air conditioned. Tempting.

Related Sites

Museum Arrakeen (Stills from the film)
Dune (About the film, by someone with even more time on their hands than me)