Sunday, November 13, 2011
The movie just holds up, though it's not hard to see why it was less than successful. It condenses an awful lot of material into its running time, and brother, if you don't pay heed to the dense exposition of the first few minutes you're gonna be lost.
I remember being amazed by the film when I was younger, though having read the novel in anticipation of the film certainly helped guide me through its complicated politics and galaxy-spanning setting. I'd seen THE ELEPHANT MAN and was even at 13 enough of an auteurist that I was excited about seeing a new David Lynch film.
Returning to the film with fresher eyes (and a greater understanding of what, exactly, a David Lynch film is), it's impossible to dismiss the film, as compromised as it is. Though Lynch would never have final cut on a movie this massive, there are plenty of his tropes and obsessions that ring loud and clear, from the grotesquerie of his villains and their setting (the Harkonnen home planet Geidi Prime looks much like the Philly of ERASERHEAD) to the wide-eyed innocence of its hero (and his journey toward wisdom). The power of Paul's unconscious, rendered in vivid dream sequences that no other director could have realized, and the strength he derives from it may indeed be one of Lynch's most direct on-screen corollaries to his own spirituality. (Though D. reminds me that just about every Lynch film features a protagonist confronting his/her subconscious - I immediately remembered Dale Cooper's dreams in TWIN PEAKS, but was further reminded of Betty's dream world in MULHOLLAND DR., and a mess of other examples come to mind just sitting here.)
And even if the thing is choppier than it should have been, torn as it was between Lynch's desires, those of the di Laurentii, and the demands of the marketplace, there's an emotional throughline that feels as tapped to the Unified Field as anything else Lynch has made. It's not clear in the film why it's important that it rain on Arrakis; that it's powerful and moving when it finally does is undeniable.
Given the vast amount of material shot for this film, one wishes Lynch would return to the project, and reshape what was there to something closer to his intent. But his disappointment with the project as a whole is well-documented, and as tantalizing as the notion is it'd be folly to put too much stock in it. What we have is all we're going to get of that particular film. But Kyle MacLachlan's growing divinity; Kenneth McMillan's goony malevolence; the majesty of the sandworms; the beatific but creepy presence of the prematurely mature Alia Atreides; hell, even the guitars that swell up during Eno's Prophecy theme at key moments are more than enough to make this thing, as it stands, feel complete.