THIS IS A “RATED FOR REDUX” REVIEW; PART 1

Over the next couple of months, in addition to my regular reviews, I will be looking at movies that are going to be or already have been remade in the next/last couple of years. I’ll give you my opinion of the film as a whole, and then let you know whether or not it should/needed to be remade as well as my reasoning. If I have any information about the redux film I will also take that into account when determining a film’s “Reduxability”. If you have any suggestions or tips I would love to hear them.

No film has gone through such a tumultuous journey to the big screen as Dune has. Released in 1984, Dune is the controversial adaptation of Frank Hebert’s 1965 novel of the same name. Essentially in production for 14 years, Dune went through several changes in form as it was passed from one set of hands to another as each attempt to make the film became more and more overwhelming to those involved. The project began in 1970 with Arthur P Jacobs, who was looking for his next film to produce after finishing with the Planet of the Apes series. Work on a script and search for a director began, but not before Jacobs died, shelving the project for 4 years. A French film company bought the rights to the film and handed the project to Alejandro Jodorowsky to direct.

Jordorowsky had….well the only word I can think of is epic intentions for Dune. He planned to make a 10 hour long feature (yeah…ONE movie that is 10 hours long!) featuring the work of artists Salvador Dali, Moebius, and H.R. Giger, film legend Orson Welles, Actor David Carradine,  Musician Mick Jagger, Special Effects supervisor Dan O’Bannon and a score by Pink Floyd. Production began, but as you can imagine having such a grand dream comes at a cost, and financing as well as creative cohesion between so many artistic minds became difficult. Once again the film was shelved until 1978, when the rights were purchased by Dino de Laurentis.

A new script was written and rejected, and rewritten, and rejected…and you get the idea. Production for the movie began before a script was completed. Ridley Scott (Alien) was hired to direct and began his take at writing the film, but a family tragedy made him pull out of the project. With production started and no direction or script, the producers hired David Lynch (The Elephant Man)  to patch together whatever had been completed thusfar and make it work. The result was a final version of the film that entered post production at four hours long. The studios, hoping to recoup their $40 million budget, demanded the film be cut down to 2 hours.

The final result? A mess. In order to cut the film down in length, entire scenes and events had to be cut out of the film. Characters and events pivotal to the plot in the novel ended up getting walk-on roles or mere mentions. Special effects had to be completed hastily to fill in the gaps and the entire second half of the book is condensed considerably. Director Lynch, infuriated by having to butcher his work, even wanted to pull his name off of the credits. The film does have redeeming qualities though; it remains fairly faithful to the book, oozes creativity and artistic originality, features some great acting, and has become more appreciated, especially by fans of the book, since its initial release.

Synopsis: The film faces the challenge of setting up the story as quickly as possible, and unfortunately the original introduction to the film was cut and remade to be more streamlined. This means that if you are new to Dune the movie will make little sense to you. I would recommend researching the story before watching the movie (or you could just read the book!) or else you will be lost and will not be able to appreciate the artistic nature of the movie. At the basic level, the film takes place in the distant future. The livelihood of life in the universe depends on a mineral called melange, or “spice”, (much like our own livelihood depends on oil) which is only found on one planet, which is nicknamed “Dune”. Dune follows the story of three planets battling for control of the planet using force, deceit, and sabotage. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Dune, called the Fremen, foresee a messiah, who will arrive on the planet to put the universe back and balance and end the feud over spice. The film follows a young man, Paul Atreides, who, in the midst of the fudal conflict himself, finds out the truth behind spice and the deeper meaning behind the prophesy of the Fremen.

Acting: There are several great performances in this film. Primarily, Kyle MacLachlan (Blue Velvet) plays Paul. MacLachlan made his debut with this film and does a great job. The change in his character from beginning to end as boy to man is both entertaining to watch and totally believable. MacLachlan is supported by a host of other actors, including Jose Ferrer (The Greatest Story Ever Told), Kenneth McMillian (Amadeus), Patrick Stewart (TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation), Brad Dourif (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers), Sian Phillips (Becket), Max von Sydow (Minority Report), and Jurgen Pronchnow (Das Boot). Also, two interesting characters whose screen time suffered from the final cuts of the movie versus the book are played by musician Sting, and 80’s sensation Virginia Madsen (Sideways). All the major characters are played well, and really only the extras show poor acting at times. (23/25)

Plot/Script: The best thing I can say about the plot is that it never strays too far from the book, nor is it ever bogged down in dialogue too much as other book adaptations have been. However, the movie is forced to make shortcuts in order to keep the screen time under 2.5 hours. As a result, there is little explanation, total lack of character development besides the main character, unexplained time jumps, and characters who seem to come and go. All of this creates a very confusing and contrived plot, although if you read the book or understand the story you will be able to follow along. The dialogue is campy at parts, formal at others, and downright strange at various points. Even though there are many powerful lines, they are essentially lost in translation; meaning they are important, but the manner in which the film had to adapt the story from the book, much of what a character might be saying does not have sufficient explanation or background to have as powerful an effect on the viewer. Finally, because the film was shortened considerably, voice overs were added to sum up ideas and character’s feelings that might have been explained in one of the lost scenes. This drives me nuts and is perhaps the worst part of the movie because it only adds to the jumbled mess. (13/25) 

Direction: Lynch’s direction is fantastic (also literally fantasy-like) in parts, painful to watch in others. Although, I do give him a lot of credit for first actually finishing the project when no one else had, and second, for making a decent movie despite so many hardships, especially when you consider that he had to cut 2 hours out of his final movie. So in other words, what you see on the screen is not what he wanted to be there or even what he did put there to begin with. Judging him by his failures would be unfair, so instead I’ll focus on the positives. The colors and use of establishing shots used throughout the film match perfectly with the tone, dramatic tension is maintaned throughout, and some scenes, specifically the opening 2 scenes and the final scene, are done so well it is difficult to comprehend what happened to the rest of the movie. In fact, had Lynch been able to complete the movie with his vision intact, I believe that the entire movie would have been as great as those first few scenes. (19/25)

Special Effects/Music/X-Factor: I’ll say it plainly. Most of the special effects in the movie are bad. To be more specific, the effects are indeed mind-blowing at times, yet they fail in their execution. Only in the first two opening scenes does the movie not seem compromised by poor special effects. The rest of the movie’s effects seem as rushed and hastily added in the end as they really were. The score, by the band Toto, is for the most part competent. The main theme is strong, if not repetitive, and throughout the movie the rest of the film the music blends well with the exception of an awkwardly placed guitar towards the end. This movie’s X-Factor? It essentially accomplishes a task very difficult and involving in nature that few have been successful in the past or since. (15/25)

The Verdict: 

What Kept Me Watching It: Frank Herbert’s vision comes alive for better or worse with brilliant acting, and thought-provoking themes and visuals.

What Kills It: If you don’t understand the story beforehand, not only will you be hopelessly lost, but you will also be bored by the film’s length, poor special effects, and lack of proper pace. Ultimately it fails to capture the book in the right light.

Summary: A movie that attempts the nearly impossible, but fails to get off the ground due to the weight of its own intentions.

Final Rating: (70/100) =  C- 

What About a Remake?  Peter Berg (Hancock) is set to direct his own interpretation of the book to be released in 2010. He claims that his vision is different from Lynch’s in that he viewed the movie more as an adventure epic rather than a dramatic thriller. In other words, expect his version to have more action and stray from the original storyline to make it both more accessable and less complicated.

What Could Go Right? In my opinion, as long as he stays faithful to the book’s themes and characters I believe that this is an excellent way to update the movie (+5%). As a fan of the novel himself, Berg seems to have the right attitude and focus (+5%).

What Could Go Wrong? Berg’s work in the past is only so-so (-10%), not to mention it will be difficult to cast this film nearly as well as Lynch’s version (-5%). Finally, making the movie more action-oriented may have an adverse affect on fans and will definately water down the book’s messages (-10%).

Reduxability? 85% = Go for it, but proceed with caution.