The Sleeper has Awakened, Whatever That Means: Dune (1984)

This is my part of the Class of '84 Blogathon hosted by This Distracted Globe.

David Lynch's Dune is what it is. It's an attempt to adapt an epic novel into a 2 hour 16 minute film, which contains a complicated world created out of various religious and literary heritages. Also, it's set in the year 10,191. Some the film comes off beautifully, some of it cartoonish, but I was entranced the whole way through.

The context is within an Empire with two dueling houses, the Harkonnen and the Atreides. The biggest fight is over the planet Arrakis, which harvests the life lengthening and mind/time/space bending spice, melange. However, a messiah, or Kwisatz Haderach, is foretold by the Bene Gesserit sisterhood to save the planet Arrakis (also known as Dune) from empire rule. This messiah and our film's protagonist is Paul Atreides, son of the Duke Leto Atreides and his concubine Jessica who also happens to be a member of the Bene Gesserit. Also, there are sand worms.

Anyway, watching Dune is a pretty ineffable experience. I understand why it was poorly received: it's confusing and campy. But it can also be mystical and lovely. I guess that's what you get when you have a soundtrack by Toto, but also a cast containing Patrick Stewart. So let me take you through my experience with Dune with some screenshots.

This is our narrator, although we hear the interior thoughts of other characters as well that help orient the viewer. This is kind of successful. I think I mostly knew what was going on because the 1965 book was assigned summer reading for AP English one year.

I think I could watch sand dunes forever, thank goodness this movie has a lot of that.

I loved that this translating microphone looked like an olde timey press conference mic.

Here we have a combination of Catholic and Islamic religious influence.We see the Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood (nuns, much?) excused out of the very Islamic architecture inspired room (look at those ceilings!) where the Emperor hangs. Way to sneak in some subtext, set design.

Victorian military uniform, octopus-like alien thing in a tank + entourage, all in that Islamic architecture again. I just love this combination.

Patrick Stewart and Dean Stockwell would later go on to become television scifi legends. I don't know what the big eyebrow guy would go on to do.

Somehow, this super-stylized personal block-shield thing didn't age too badly. (FYI: there's a one-on-one fight going on.)

I wish I had visions of Sting, even if it was the creepy Dune-villain Sting.

Here's the Victorian inspired costuming again. It anchors the story in an idea of a noble class that viewers can relate to. Is it that this is the most recent representation of monarchy that we have? Or have we not strayed from these fashions too much to make them look ridiculous? This is just to say, costume design did a good job of making the costumes relatable.
Also, it reminds me of my favorite Hamlet adaptation.
Also, how much more awesome would this movie had been if Kenneth Branagh were in it?

The Reverend Mother testing Paul Atreides to see if he is the one. The bald head gives her such a sinister and alien look.

Hey look! It's Sting with a knife.
(P.S. This was the cartoonish I was talking about. Do you see the begoggled scientist at the left?)

Hey look! It's the grossest villain ever. Baron Harkonnen is floating around with some sort of machine because he's too fat and unhealthy to move on his own. In this scene, he will feed on a beautiful and healthy young man. The ambiguousness of it contributes to its disgustingness.

The whole family, from left to right: dog, son, father, concubine.

Instead of aliens, creepy looking people with glowing blue eyes.

They have special suits on that preserve and convert a body's sweat and waste to water in order for a person to survive the harsh desert planet of Arrakis. I'm pretty sure they forgot to put on their helmets, but I'm glad their feathered hair is doing okay.

Beardy fremen, the inhabitants of Arrakis. Notice their spice-addled blue eyes.

Fetus in a womb.
You're welcome.

This setting indicator looks like a mouth.

I like that this dissolve involves water, sand, and young love. The elements of a successful empire overthrow.

Proving his manly leadership skills, Paul goes out to tame a sand worm. By this point he goes by the name Muad'Dib, which in the Dune world means desert mouse, but in real life means educator in Arabic. Fun fact!

The close up shots with the worm look really good. Great job, FX guys.

Paul's sister, formerly the fetus, doing her part to destroy the Harkennons. It mostly involves her being unsettlingly perceptive.

It's scenes like this that I'm impressed no one was giggling the whole time. The lines are cheesy and completely expository, but the actors are almost too sincere to mock.

Honestly, they're talking about the most ridiculous things (like sand worms and spice and the Bene Gesserit) that make sense in a huge novel, but come off hokey on film. Good effort, guys.

The film really succeeds at the mystical/trippy stuff, which is to David Lynch's credit. It doesn't have to look real or make that much sense. It just has to create a feeling and make basic impressions. These scenes translated better to me, as a first time viewer in the year 2009, than all of the outdoor space shuttle scenes.

I would like to take this time to point out that the brilliant Patrick Stewart has a skullet.

You can't say Sting isn't dedicated to this job. He goes full psychopath and literally bites that hand in the final knife fight. This screenshot alone may revive The Great Sting Obsession of 2006.

Anyway, people die, Paul's little sister says this:


Roll credits.

And then I discovered this:

Kyle MacLachlan is so young and that hair is so big, I just didn't realize that Paul Atreides was also Special Agent Dale Cooper! This improves my opinion of the film exponentially.

And because you've made it to the end of this, I will reward you with the best subplot in the whole film. (Click pictures for a better view.)

Oh no! The family dog is wandering with nowhere to go!

Captain Picard to the rescue!!!
Seriously, they took the time to save the dog. I honor that.

I also honor this:

Gratuitous Sting.
You're welcome.


  1. This is may be the best review I've ever read of Dune. You convinced me to watch this spice comedy again. I like how you skirted taking the movie too seriously while at the same time, didn't mock it completely.

    As far as I know, David Lynch still largely disowns this, making it hard for me to argue it's a misunderstood masterpiece or something. But it's more interesting than the sci-fi or comic book movies being cranked out today, for sure.

    Thanks Kelsy for contributing an article for my blogathon that's as entertaining as the movie itself.

  2. It was a challenge to come up with a way to express how crazy the movie is, but at the same time kind of great. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  3. I nearly rented this the other day. I've seen it before but it's unique enough to whether another watching.

  4. In its own, warped way, this film is kinda cool as your ample screenshots demonstrate. I get caught up in the visuals every time I watch it, which helps distract from the sometimes clunky dialogue.

    I still wonder what previous attempts would have been like, esp. Alejandro Jodorowsky's take which would have featured Dali and Orson Welles in the cast and with Pink Floyd doing the soundtrack!

    One good thing that came out of Lynch's version of DUNE is that its failure motivated him to make BLUE VELVET which is his masterpiece.

  5. AAAAaah! I love this movie so much. And it is so bad. Thanks for the pics, Kelsy, your recap made my day.

  6. Great review! One of my favourite novels of all time (it clearly resided in the top 3), while the film was not bad at all! The sleeper quote refers to the adulthood of Paul Atreides, his becoming a real man, and by extension the adulthood / coming of age (or golden age if you like or are an Arthur Clarke fan) of mankind itself, aka the next step of human evolution.

  7. I first saw this movie when it orginally aired many years ago, ok I just dated myself. My Brother the Frank Herbert fan took me to see this cinematic master piece. This movie was way ahead of its time, one of my favorite movies of all time. T