Following the success of The Elephant Man (1980) – which earned him his first Oscar nominations – David Lynch found himself in demand by the major studios. He turned down a chance to direct Return of the Jedi (1983) before he was approached by Italian film producer Dino De Laurentiis for a project that he was developing for Universal. It would turn out to be an adaptation of the expansive Frank Herbert novel Dune, which had been languishing in development hell for some time; the project would change Lynch in ways no one at the time could’ve imagined. Previously released on both DVD and Blu-ray by Universal, Arrow has licensed the movie for a Limited Edition release in both Blu-ray and UHD formats (the latter being the first time the film has ever been released in the format).
The Production: 3.5/5
“A beginning is a very delicate time. Know then, that it is the year 10,191…” – Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen)
In this far future year, a conspiracy is hatched with the Spacing Guild’s blessing by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV (Jose Ferrer) to destroy the House Atreides – led by Duke Leto (Jürgen Prochnow) – and kill the Duke’s son Paul (Kyle MacLachlan), whom the Guild fears may jeopardize the production of the “spice” melange, the most valuable substance in the universe found only on the Planet Arrakis. Meanwhile, House Harkonnen – led by Baron Vladimir (Kenneth MacMillan) – also plans to destroy House Atreides by manipulating someone within Leto’s inner circle. When Arrakis is ceded to House Atreides, it’s really the beginning of the conspiracy that soon takes a turn when Paul survives the ambush attack – along with his mother, Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis) – and over the next couple of years, he learns of his true purpose when the sleeper finally awakens…
The journey to the first film version of Dune is well documented and took many turns. First optioned by producer Arthur P. Jacobs (known for the first Planet of the Apes and the colorful musical Doctor Dolittle), his plans for a film adaptation had the great David Lean attached as director, but those plans died along with Jacobs in 1973. The most noted failed attempt was with a French consortium group with Alejandro Jodorowsky in the director’s chair from 1974 to 1975; the proposed project died largely when funding couldn’t cover the estimated 10-14 hour running time, but the project’s saga is covered in the phenomenal documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013). When Dino De Laurentiis picked up the rights in 1976, he first tried to adapt it with Ridley Scott at the helm working from a Rudy Wurlitzer script (the intent was to split the novel into two movies, which is what Denis Villeneuve has done starting with this year’s upcoming movie); however, an unexpected death in Scott’s family – Ridley’s brother Frank – ended the attempt and Scott went on to do the sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner (1982). Finally, De Laurentiis renegotiated the rights and brought the book to Universal in 1981, where the film we now know came to life and was made. It was also where the film’s eventual failure with both critics and the box office nearly ended David Lynch’s career altogether – in the end though, it was only mainstream filmmaking for Lynch that was the main casualty of this project.
Despite the film’s failure, there’s still quite a bit to like in this flawed adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel. David Lynch clearly has a good grasp of the atmosphere of the book and it’s reflected in the impressive production design by Anthony Masters. Cinematographer Freddie Francis establishes an amazing look to bring that atmosphere to life and the special effects – while clearly dated by today’s standards – are often very effective with a few exceptions especially during the film’s second half; the musical score by the progressive rock band Toto (the group’s only such effort) is also very good, offering up some clear influences by John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith throughout. That being said, the film’s major flaw is in the fact that Lynch tried to fit 10 pounds of novel into a 5 pound movie (in this case, a 412 page novel distilled down to just over 2 hours on film); the first half of the movie is well done but becomes a little more disjointed in the second half due to said distillation, though it’s not dull either. Whether or not you like this adaptation of Dune or not will depend upon your personal tastes, but there’s no denying that this was a game and noble attempt to bring the novel to life, with mixed results; try as he might to avoid talking about this movie, but David Lynch’s distinctive visual touches are apparent here.
Making his film debut here, Kyle MacLachlan acquits himself well as Paul Atreides, the young man who becomes the messiah (Kwisatz Haderach) that the Fremen prophecy speaks of; he is, of course, best known for his work in two other David Lynch projects: Blue Velvet (1986) and the TV series Twin Peaks (1990-1991 and 2017) and its film prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). While MacLachlan serves as the center of the story, he is surrounded by an ensemble cast of familiar faces. Representing House Atreides are Jürgen Prochnow as Duke Leto (Paul’s father), Francesca Annis as Lady Jessica (Duke Leto’s concubine and Paul’s mother), Freddie Jones as Thufir Hawat (the mentat), Richard Jordan as Duncan Idaho (the Swordmaster of the Ginaz), Patrick Stewart as Gurney Hallack (a troubadour and warrior) and Dean Stockwell as Dr. Yueh (the duke’s physician and reluctant traitor). For the rival House Harkonnen, the cast includes Kenneth MacMillan as the sadistic Baron Vladimir, Brad Dourif as the mentat Piter De Vries, Paul Smith as the Baron’s nephew The Beast Rabban, Jack Nance as the captain of the guard Nefud and Sting – in what would become an infamous role – as the more dangerous nephew Feyd-Rautha. Other notable names and performances include Jose Ferrer as the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, Sian Phillips as the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, Silvana Mangano (Dino De Laurentiis’ wife) as the Fremen Reverend Mother Ramallo, Everett McGill as the Fremen leader Stilgar, Linda Hunt as the Fremen housekeeper the Shadout Mapes, Virginia Madsen as the Princess Irulan (the Emperor’s daughter), Max von Sydow as the Fremen planetologist Dr. Kynes, Sean Young as Paul’s lover and, eventually, wife Chani, and Alicia Witt as Paul’s younger sister Alia; look for David Lynch in an uncredited appearance as a Spice worker on Arrakis.
3D Rating: NA
The 137 minute theatrical release is presented in its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negative performed by Koch Films. Film grain is organic throughout, with fine details and color palette also given a faithful representation; there’s little to no instances of issues like tears, scratches, dirt or vertical lines present here. This release is by far the best the movie will ever look on home video, easily besting the previous Universal Blu-ray.
There are two audio options for this release: a 2.0 PCM track – likely representing the wide release stereo track – and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track (likely representing the 6 track stereo used in 70mm prints of the movie). Dialogue is strong and clear, with sound effects and the music score by Toto – with Brian Eno contributing the “Prophecy Theme” – also faithfully represented with next to no cases of distortion, hissing, crackling or popping present on both tracks. This release is by far the best the movie will ever sound on home video, also another improvement over the Universal Blu-ray.
Special Features: 4.5/5
Disc 1 – UHD
Commentary by film historian Paul M. Sammon – Newly recorded for this release, Sammon shares some of his first hand account of the behind-the-scenes drama during the making of the movie.
Commentary by Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast – Also newly recorded for this release, White follows in the more traditional commentary territory of production details and trivia of the cast and crew involved.
Impressions of Dune (39:39) – This archival 2003 featurette – from the Sanctuary Visual Entertainment DVD – looks at the making of the movie, featuring interviews with actor Kyle MacLachlan, producer Raffaella De Laurentiis, cinematographer Freddie Francis, editor Antony Gibbs, film critic David Ansen, production coordinator Golda Offenheim, writer Harlan Ellison, camera operator Gordon Heyman and cinematographer Frederick Elmes.
Designing Dune (8:55) – Carried over from the 2006 Special Edition DVD, a look at the work of production designer Anthony Masters, featuring interviews with Giles Masters, Ron Miller, Kevin Phipps, Benjamin Fernandez & Steve Cooper.
Dune FX (6:01) – This 2006 featurette focuses on the special effects work on the film; featuring interviews with Kit West, John Baker, Trevor Wood, Rodney Fuller, Jon Hatt and Gary Zink.
Dune Models & Miniatures (7:03) – Another featurette from the 2006 Special Edition DVD, this one takes a look at the work integrating the miniatures and models constructed into the final film; interviews include Raffaella De Laurentiis, Charles Finance, Offenheim, Emilio Ruiz del Rio, Brian Smithies and Eric Swenson.
Dune Costumes (4:50) – The last featurette carried over from the 2006 DVD focuses on the elaborate costume work of Bob Ringwood in the movie, featuring interviews with Ringwood, Debbie Phipps, Michael Jones and Mark Siegel.
Deleted Scenes (14:21) – 11 scenes removed from the final cut are presented here, preceded by an introduction by Raffaella De Laurentiis (2:52).
Destination Dune (6:25) – This 1983 featurette was created to promote the film at conventions and other publicity events leading up to the film’s release.
Trailers – Theatrical Trailer (3:09), Teaser Trailer (1:31), TV Spots (3; 1:37) & 1985 VHS Promo (0:37)
Image Galleries – Production Stills (336), Behind-the-Scenes (86), Cast Portraits (262), Production Design (205) and Poster & Video Art (50)
Disc 2 – Blu-ray
Beyond Imagination: Merchandising Dune (22:37) – Newly created for this release, toy collector Brian Stillman (The Toys That Made Us) looks at the merchandising campaign for the movie (not an easy feat) in this featurette.
Prophecy Fulfilled: Scoring Dune (24:52) – In this featurette newly created for this release, film music historian Tim Greiving and Toto members Steve Lukather (guitarist) and Steve Porcaro (keyboardist) talk about the challenges the band had in scoring the movie, along with a demo of the film’s main theme.
Another World (17:20) – This 2020 interview with makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi – who passed away earlier this year – features the memories he had working with David Lynch and bringing the unique characters in Frank Herbert’s novel to life.
Archival 2003 interview with production coordinator Golda Offenheim (26:16) – This interview is essentially the extended version of one conducted with Offenheim for the Impressions of Dune featurette.
Archival 2008 interview with actor Paul Smith (8:50) – This archival interview – taken from a featurette on the Pieces (1983) Blu-ray release from Grindhouse Releasing – has the late actor sharing his memories from the set.
Archival interview with makeup artist Christopher Tucker (3:02) – This interview has the makeup artist from The Elephant Man sharing information about his uncredited work on the film.
Double sided fold out poster
6 double sided lobby card reproductions
60 page book featuring essays by Andrew Nette, Christian McCrea, and Charlie Brigden, a 1984 American Cinematographer interview with sound designer Alan Splet, excerpts from Lynch on Lynch featuring an interview with the director and a Dune Terminology glossary from the original release
Noticeably missing from this release is the 190 minute “Alan Smithee” cut of the movie shown on TV that was included in the 2006 Special Edition DVD (Arrow wanted to include it, but wasn’t cleared to do so by Universal) and brief BBC interview with author Frank Herbert that was present on the Sanctuary Visual Entertainment DVD release of the movie.
Now we come to the elephant in the room here, as this release was to include the comprehensive feature length documentary from Ballyhoo Films’ Daniel Griffiths on the making of the movie: The Sleeper Must Awaken: Making Dune. However, Arrow unfortunately had to drop this from the release due to the fact that Griffiths needed extra time to finish the documentary and the release had very likely already gone to replication in order to make the street date on time. Hopefully, this documentary will be released in the near future as a standalone release here in the US, but it’s still a bit of a letdown that it couldn’t be included on this release.
Despite bombing out at the box office and with critics, David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune continues to inspire debate on whether it’s truly deserving of its flat out failure status or worthy of reappraisal as a misunderstood – if somewhat flawed – sci-fi epic that has merit (I find myself in the latter category). Arrow has done a terrific job of giving the movie a high quality release with a superb UHD transfer and a large swath of new and legacy special features on the film, despite the fact that a comprehensive documentary didn’t make it on to this release. Very highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from previous home video editions.
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