Dune is finally out, the Denis Villeneuve version, which was hyped to the heavens for months as the movie that finally does Frank Herbert's novel justice, or at least translates an "unfilmable book" into a piece of Cinema. Part of the hype is the revisionist opinion amongst critics that David Lynch's 1984 version was bad or didn't work, which is not true. Nobody has also noticed that in hindsight, Lynch's version of Dune was an unintentional rehearsal for Twin Peaks, which would debut a few years later.
David Lynch's Dune is best taken as a David Lynch movie, not necessarily Dune itself, even if he retains a lot more of the details and nuances from the book that Villeneuve's version cuts out. Lynch's film feels like a half-remembered dream with its whispered voiceovers expressing the characters' inner thoughts. There's an elusive quality to it like it's not quite real. Lynch is a storyteller who relies on surrealism and dream logic, though that early in his mainstream career, he still had to stick to make to conventional logic to some extent. Yet many of his signature stylistic touches and motifs are used in Dune and would be refined in Twin Peaks, then his later movies like Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks: The Return years later.
The movie opens with Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen) – who's not in the 2021 movie – narrating to the camera like the Log Lady's weekly addresses to the camera recapping the story. Paul's dreams and Princess Irulan's narrations accompany surreal, dream-like montages like those by experimental filmmakers like Maya Deren, who established the tradition that Lynch is part of. Villeneuve's far future in Dune is a sleek, minimal, and brutalist design. Lynch's portrayal of the Dune universe feels like an empire so old, it's starting to get rickety – the machines are industrial and rusty and exude exhaust and steam like a dream of old factories, a recurring image in Lynch's work.
The Baron's (Kenneth McMillan) pus-oozing boils are an expression of his corruption and decay, and his greed extends to a limitless sadism and sexual perversity, his flying corpulent body like a giant baby's while Stellan Skarsgard in Villeneuve's section is a smoother and more predictable figure of greed and malice. The Harkonnens' evil and depravity are weird and nightmarish like Bob and the denizens of the Red Room, sneering and cackling, their black leather attire more suggestive of BDSM while Villeneuve's Harkonnens are merely clinically evil. The Guild Navigators look like mutate fetuses, descendants of the mutant baby in Eraserhead and float in giant tanks that look like art installations. The movie has that sense of unfathomable mystery that Herbert's book had that's a defining trait in Lynch's work. The 2021 Dune is enjoyable for its spectacle and epic portentousness, but it's as mysterious as a Calvin Kline perfume commercial. Lynch's movie is a lot weirder than any Science Fiction movie has been or since.
Lynch's big theme in Dune is Paul Atreides trying to make sense of odd, prophetic dreams to solve the mystery of his life. This is parallel to FBI Agent Dale Cooper trying to make sense of odd, prophetic dreams to solve the mystery of both Laura Palmer's murder and Twin Peaks' link to the Red Room itself. Lynch's Paul Atreides and Agent Cooper are practically the same character, both played by Kyle McLachlan. Both Lynch's Dune and Twin Peaks are about the elemental fight between Good and Evil, though Lynch's treatment is less complex than Frank Herbert's, which insists Paul's messiah-dom and holy war are bad ideas. Villeneuve touches on it and will probably go deeper in Part 2.
Lynch's version becomes a lot more interesting when you think of it as a rehearsal or unintended embryonic version of Twin Peaks. It's like another alternate version of Agent Cooper and his journey, a weird Science Fiction dream of Twin Peaks a few years before the show – and Lynch as a filmmaker – fully came into focus.
David Lynch's Dune is now streaming on HBO Max along with the 2021 movie.
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