Let's Do Dune

1984's Dune is David Lynch's least favorite on his films, and it's mine as well.  But it's still a Lynch film, and indeed one of my greatest joys is picking out all of Lynch's supporting players like Jack Nance, Freddie Jones, Dean Stockwell, Brad Dourif, Everett McGill tucked away in all the supporting roles.  Not to mention Kyle MacLachlan, of course.  There's a whole other, ethereal layer of creepy ambiance at play if you're watching Dune after having seen Blue Velvet.  Purists may get mad at all the little creative touches he inserted into the film, from the weirding modules to the infamous cat milking machine, or just the way Lynch stylizes his dream sequences, but those are my favorite parts.
Maybe that makes me a Frank Herbert philistine; but on the other hand, I've seen the other adaptations of Dune, and frankly, apart from a few little controversies, Lynch seems to be telling the same story in much the same way, with most of the scenes and dialogue faithfully reproduced.  So box office history not withstanding, I think it's as good a Dune as you can get and a perfectly enjoyable Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster that I certainly enjoy revisiting more than any Disney Star Wars flick or whatever.  Plus my dad loves it.  So I've been keeping up with its legacy on home video disc; we might as well cover it here.

Because Toto's music is delightful, the sets, costumes and production design are perfect, most of the pre-CGI effects still stand up against anything released today and even the non-Lynchian cast is first rate.  I mean, holy shit: Jurgen Prochnow, Max von Sydow, Patrick Stewart, Linda Hunt... this movie doesn't deserve these people.  I can appreciate if Sting in a super villain speedo is a step too far for you, but come on... open your heart up to joy.
On the other hand, I can't refuse to stand by fans of the novel who criticize the controversial decision to change the ending, in such a way that suggests Lynch didn't even appreciate the whole point of the book.  I will talk around it so as not to spoil the ending, but yes, it always struck me as not just super cheesy, but a real botch of the conclusion.  Was it imposed on him by Dino de Laurentiis?  Maybe, maybe not, but that doesn't make it a forgivable sin on the film's part, even if it excuses Lynch himself.  More recently, however, I've thought about it further... this was intended to be a series of films.  Star Wars had already become a sequelized franchise by then, and everybody's eyes were definitely on that prize.  So you can see why the studios were displeased with Lynch after this premiered.  But if you think about how the story could have been intended to continue in the follow-up, unless they were considering really forging their own path far away from the source material, they must have envisioned the unpopular ending elements being subverted early on in the sequel.  It's possible I'm giving Lynch too much credit, since I've never heard him say anything like this, but when you really think it through, it does seem the most likely: the ending was set-up to intentionally mislead viewers, who then would've been surprised to learn the truth of the lead character (i.e. the same way he was written).  I see the ending as just a little plot twist that would've fallen back in line with Herbert (who, after all, was on board for everything the filmmakers did, minus the exclusion of one scene)'s vision had the series been allowed to continue.  ...Or I'm wrong.  🤷
I should also address the extended cut, a.k.a. the TV cut.  It was assembled for Dune's broadcast television debut, and to be clear, Lynch was 100% against it.  Lynch's relationship with Dune can be a little confusing.  He doesn't talk about it often, and after its box office failure, generally seems to have put it behind him.  But he didn't take his name off of it.  That's only true of this extended cut, which is not only credited to the famous DG pseudonym Alan Smithee, but to writer Judas Booth.  That ought to give you some idea of how he feels about this.  Still, it's got footage in it that can't be found in the theatrical version, or the deleted scenes found on many DVD editions, so you can't blame fans for being curious.  Most notably, it includes an extended prologue, where a narrator (an unknown male, not Virginia Madsen) tells us the whole history of how people were dominated by machines, developed their mental powers and so on, all spoken over a series of cheesy illustrations[pictured above].  A bunch of deleted scenes are restored, and some scenes are slightly rearranged.

The extended cut's about 40 minutes longer than the theatrical, so we're not just talking about a few tiny shavings restored here and there.  But a lot of it just feels like exposition or dialogue reinforcing points already made, presumably to help audiences confused by a story that really isn't nearly as complicated as its reputation suggests. Plus, frankly, a lot of the new edits are pretty clumsy.  So at the end of the day, I'd say any devoted fan will want to see this once, but the theatrical cut is still the definitive version to both start with and return to.
The story of Dune on disc is complicated, but not as overwhelming as it might appear at first.  Universal initially released it as a widescreen but non-anamorphic barebones DVD in 1998.  That was all we had for a long time, so it really pushed fans to import.  Personally, I went with the 2004 2-disc set from Sanctuary in the UK, which was anamorphic and included some good extras, so we've got that here in the comparisons.  But Universal eventually woke up, and released a semi-special edition in 2006, which was now anamorphic, included both cuts of the film, and had at least a few extras (deleted scenes and four featurettes).  Then, in 2010, it was time to bring Dune into HD, and Universal released a blu-ray with all the same extras, but just the one cut.  And at the end of 2021, Arrow restored the film in 4k and released it as a special edition 3-disc set, on both blu and UHD.  That pretty much brings us to the end of the story, though some super fans might be compelled to import even fancier editions from overseas for additional extras and that TV cut, which apparently is now "officially withdrawn from release in the US."
1) 1998 Universal DVD; 2) 2004 Sanctuary DVD; 3) 2010 Universal BD;
4) 2021 Arrow BD; 5) 2021 Arrow UHD
So the film veers only slightly from its proper aspect ratio.  The original DVD is slightly wider at 2.38:1, the UK DVD opens up to 2.30:1, and then all of the HD options are actually 2.35:1.  But the framing shifts around more inside of that frame.  The Sanctuary DVD is the tightest (it's also lightly windowboxed, and would at least sync up with the others a little more if those thin mattes were lifted).  The Universal DVD has considerably more on the left than the Universal blu, but a smidgen less on the right.  Anyway, it all ends up with the new Arrow transfers revealing the most on all four sides.  Of course the resolution keeps bumping up each stage... even between the two DVDs, since being non-anamorphic crunches the whole picture size from 720 to 538 pixels wide.

Now, the Universal BD was already pretty solid, especially for a 2010 disc.  But Arrow's new restoration, scanned in 4k from the OCN, is still a distinct improvement.  Even on the 1080p BD, grain is much more natural and thoroughly captured, looking genuinely filmlike where Universal's soft patchiness merely suggested it.  This also reveals gentle patterns in the backgrounds and costumes that had previously been smoothed away.  And it's even more perfect in the genuine 4k of the UHD, with Dolby Vision HDR capturing more nuance and noticeably more natural flesh-tones.
The Universal DVD just has a 5.1 remix along with a French dub and Spanish subtitles.  Sanctuary has the English Dolby Stereo track and the 5.1 mix, though disappointingly, still no subtitle options, and they ditch the foreign language options.  Universal's blu again loses the original stereo mix, but at least brings the 5.1 up to DTS-HD and includes optional English subtitles along with a French dub and French & Spanish subs.  Finally, Arrow gives us what we wanted all along: the original stereo mix in lossless DTS-HD - as well as the 5.1 - with optional English subtitles.  This is why studios need the boutique labels like Arrow... they just can't seem to get these things right on their own.

Again, the original Universal DVD was barebones apart from the theatrical trailer, which is especially disappointing for a sci-fi blockbuster like this, even if it did under perform in its day.  So Sanctuary having a second disc of extras, even if it wasn't super packed, was a very welcome improvement.  It's main feature was a 38-minute making of documentary called Impressions of Dune with great interviews from MacLachlan, Dino's daughter Raffaella de Laurentiis (this was one of her first movies), Harlan Ellison, David Ansen of Newsweek, and many key members of the crew (production designer Golda Oppenheim is especially entertaining).  We also get original EPK featurette and a very brief (under 2 minutes) interview with Frank Herbert himself.  The trailer's here, too, and it came with a little fold-out insert with notes.
That exclusive Sanctuary interview.
Universal's blu loses all of that stuff (even the trailer).  But in a fair trade, they introduce almost 20 minutes of deleted scenes and four featurettes interviewing members of the crew about the effects, design, etc.

But now it's time for the big boys to take the field, as Arrow comes along with its 3-disc set.  There are two commentaries, both of which are, eh, pretty good, by critics Paul M. Sammon and Mike White (not that Mike White).  Impressions of Dune, the deleted scenes, the four featurettes, the vintage promo featurette and the trailer are all back... the only hold-out being that brief Herbert interview.  Otherwise, they've got everything from both previous editions.  And that's far from all.  There's a fun featurette by Ballyhoo on the merchandising of Dune, a featurette on Toto and new on-camera interviews with make-up artist Giannetto de Rossi, Golda Offenheim and a short one with make-up effects artist Christopher Tucker.  They also have a clip of Grindhouse's Paul Smith interview from their Pieces disc!  Plus, they have a second trailer, radio spots, a VHS promo and five galleries.
And they released a bunch of different versions with regard to the swag and packaging.  There was the standard amary case (with reversible artwork), the steelbook, the amaray case in a thick slipbox and even the steelbook in the slipbox (the one I have here).  It includes a 60-page, properly bound full-color booklet with notes on the film by Andrew Nette, Christian McCrea, Charlie Brigden, Alan Splet & Chris Rodley, a second 100-page bound art booklet showcasing designs, storyboards, etc, a large fold-out double-sided poster, six lobby card reproductions, and as ever, a card for an upcoming Arrow release, in this case The Stylist.
A scene clearly lifted from Phantasm. 😉
By the way, I mentioned other adaptations.  Lynch's was the first, but not the only production of Dune.  In 2000, there was the Sci Fi Channel version, which looks a little goofy with its awful CGI and some corny actors (though they did rope William Hurt into playing the Duke), but is otherwise reasonably competent.  Spread across three episodes, it contains a few key scenes from the book that were missing from Lynch's version, including that banquet scene Herbert always said he wanted.  And of course, there's the new Warner Bros/ HBOMax version, which is by far the most drab and self-serious of them, but again tells the same story the same way, down to specific scenes and dialogue (except, of course, it lops off the second half for the pending part 2).  I'd recommend watching each version at least once.  But if you're really interested in Dune variants, I'd actually recommend the 2013 documentary Jodorowsky's Dune.
It digs deep into what almost was the first cinematic adaptation of Dune, back in the 70s by cult surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, Santa Sangre).  What's amazing about it is all the talent being assembled, from Dan O'Bannon to Orson Welles.  Admittedly, I'm not sure just how likely this vision was to make it to the big screen (Jodorowsky insisted it be 12-14 hours long), but this was an earnest attempt with a lot of art created by collaborators like HR Giger and Moebius, that we get to see in this doc.  Salvadore Dali, Mick Jagger and Udo Kier were set to be in the cast.  In some ways, it's more of a fever dream than an actual movie, but this movie lets us in on the vision.  And it's not pure fantasy - they had secured the film rights and millions in funding, just not enough; and it eventually fell through, allowing it to fall into the hands of de Laurentiis. 
1) 2014 Sony DVD; 2) 2014 Sony BD.
As a documentary which incorporates mixed media, naturally the aspect ratio shifts around a bit, but the main body of the film, i.e. the new interview with Jodorowsy, is in 1.78:1.  But despite this being a matching release in a combo-pack, there is a slight difference in the AR on the DVD and Blu.  First of all, it's not perfectly 1.78:1, there's a black bar running along the top, which feels like an error, something you wouldn't expect from a Sony disc.  And the bar is thicker on the blu.  So the DVD is a few pixels taller, and then it's also stretched vertically, so it crops off a little along the top and bottom (notice Alejandro's thumb is only visible in the second shot).  It's all very minor, and nothing you'd even notice in casual viewing, but it is a peculiarity.  Besides that, it's an attractive HD image that naturally comes off as just a little softer on DVD.

The film has a strong 5.1 mix, in DTS-HD on the blu.  Also included are optional English subtitles, both standard and HoH, plus French and Spanish subs and even an English descriptive track.

There's not a ton of extras, but at least we get a bunch of deleted scenes, which extend some of the interviews and follow a few tangents.  There's also the theatrical trailer, and a host of bonus trailers that play on start-up.
Circling back to the original film, previous releases were fine for their time; but Arrow is the first to finally, truly get it right.  It's easily the release I'd recommend for most people, especially those who see this as a more of an interesting failure than a beloved classic.  But for those who really eat and breathe this film, I'd be remiss not to point readers towards Koch's 7-disc Ultimate Edition, released earlier this year in Germany (not to be confused with Koch's limited edition 3-disc UHD/ BD set they released there last year).  It has the same 4k restoration on both DVD and UHD and all the Arrow extras, but also has both cuts, a third fan edit cut, a soundtrack CD, additional audio interviews and a feature-length Ballyhoo documentary that was intended for the Arrow set, but left off because they couldn't finish it in time for Arrow's deadline.  That's a whole lot of Dune, and it ain't cheap; but you know if you need it.

Sanctuary, meanwhile, is still the only release with that Herbert interview.

1 comment:

  1. That fanedit on the Ultimate Edition (Spicediver edit) is probably the most satisfying version of DUNE.