Truthfully though, it really is a horrible piece of editing and construction, making this DVD the second opportunity Universal has pissed away to give the fans a “Dune” package they deserve.
1984 was a massive year for fantasy entertainment, welcoming the release of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” “Ghostbusters,” “Gremlins,” “The Neverending Story,” “The Terminator,” and the ultimate fairy tale, “The Karate Kid” (oh come on, Ralph Macchio as an ass-kickerr). It was also the year of “Dune,” David Lynch’s wildly ambitious, hilariously idiosyncratic sci-fi epic that bombed at the box office and sent Frank Herbert fanatics into a fit of anger.
I’m not convinced the years have been kind to Lynch’s oddity. Sure, the film entered cult status years back, finding admirers all over the globe, but there’s still a strong contingent of folks who would rather not be reminded of this bizarre deconstruction of Herbert’s classic novel. I personally adore the picture, happily ingesting Lynch’s strange brew of blockbuster sci-fi adventure and intimate psychology, no matter how nutty the picture becomes. And heavens, does this film ever get nutty.
“Dune” is a luxurious, epic production, calling up the great spirit of David Lean as it details the operatic struggle between two families battling for control over the all-powerful spice Melange. Using sorely missed special effect techniques (including miniatures and puppetry), an overblown but entirely appropriate rock score from Toto, and a game cast (including Kyle MacLachlan, Sean Young, and Sting) acting as though it was a Wednesday afternoon episode of “General Hospital,” “Dune” is fiercely entertaining, downright gorgeous filmmaking, if a bit rough around the edges.
The central complaint of “Dune” is that Lynch distorted Herbert’s narrative so much that he couldn’t possibly fit the book’s excessive plotting into a single feature film. Those complaints are valid, as the film makes little sense, even for hardcore fans. Lynch is so blinded by his love of the glitzy production design and exhaustive costumes that he sometimes forgets to keep the narrative moving in clear directions. I can only imagine how much Universal panicked when they got their first glimpse of Lynch’s truncated, surrealistic, inner-monologue-drenched epic, which makes the central appeal of this DVD, the extended cut, seem all the more attractive in theory.
Running about 40 minutes longer, the extended cut of “Dune” was initially created for broadcast television distribution in the late 1980s, and is truly a hatchet job by any standards. Those new to “Dune,” and expecting a detailed “Alien 3” style of DVD reconstruction, will be immediately disappointed. To clear away the film’s fog, some random studio goon assembled the extended cut in a way that clarifies everything for the casual viewer, at great expense to Lynch’s original artistry (he took his name off this version of the picture). Opening with an extended prologue that uses paintings and storyboards to explain the towering “Dune” backstory, the film quickly launches into a truly bizarre assortment of outtakes, recycled footage, random voiceover, television censorship, and incomplete special effects to expand the film to three hours. Admittedly, some of the extra sequences are fun, and the handholding nature of the alternate cut comes in handy when dealing with Lynch’s “subtext for the subtext” method of filmmaking; but, overall, the cut is sloppy, unprofessional, and maddening for those who’ve desired a graceful and thought-out restoration of Lynch’s famed “lost” cut of the picture.
“Dune” is presented on a DVD-18 disc, containing both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film in the anamorphic, 2.35:1 aspect ratio. For the extended version, this presentation is a real curiosity. Long exhibited only in full frame, seeing the alternate cut of “Dune” in a widescreen ratio is a bit like polishing a turd, but it’s still a nice looking polish. Both versions are presented with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.
For extras, Universal hasn’t offered much for a film that could easily support a box set of DVDs simply on production stories alone. The disc has a small handful of featurettes on production, with nothing running over 10 minutes in length. Interviewing obscure members of the crew (none of the cast or Lynch are included), the featurettes shed little light on how “Dune” was created, only tossing out a whopper here and there, including one doozy revealing that to create the dark, smoldering look of the titular desert planet, Lynch demanded the constant burning of rubber tires to achieve the right color of smoke. So the next time you feel it’s a little unseasonably warm outside, thank David Lynch.
Also on the disc are 15 minutes of deleted scenes, most unfinished, that help fill the gaps in the extended cut. These are introduced by the producer, Raffaella De Laurentiis.
And in current, mysterious Universal DVD fashion, the trailer is not included.
“Dune” has its fans, and they will be the ones picking up this DVD, not the casual viewer. Released only in an effort to curb the rampant importing of the extended cut from other DVD regions, Universal really blew their chance to give the aficionados what they deserve with a extensive document on how “Dune” came to be and how the film is regarded today. For many, this DVD will satisfy decades of curiosity, but the lack of effort to clean up the extended cut into fighting shape is appalling, and continues the long history of disrespect this underrated epic has endured.Rating: B