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Universal Studios Home Video presents

Dune: Extended Edition (1984)

"My name is a killing word."- Paul Muad'Dib (Kyle MacLachlan)

Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis, Sean Young, Kenneth Macmillan, Sting, Freddie Jones, Dean Stockwell, Patrick Stewart, Jurgen Prochnow, Everett McGill
Other Stars: Richard Jordan, Max Von Sydow, Jack Nance, Brad Dourif, Jose Ferrer, Virginia Madsen, Sian Phillips
Director: David Lynch

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, adult themes, moderate gore
Run Time: 02h:16m:19s
Release Date: 2006-01-31
Genre: sci-fi

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A B+BB B

 

DVD Review

I know this cinematic version of Dune has its share of detractors, as it has ever since its debut in 1984 when critics buried it and audiences largely ignored it, finding the Star Wars films more their science fiction speed, rather than David Lynch's admittedly offbeat film. Over time, though, it has found a passionate fanbase, as films like this often do. Part of the fascination with Dune resides in its status as a compromised film. Lynch found himself in a situation where he lacked control over the final product, and did his best to put together a finished product made to someone else's requirements. Compounding his unhappiness with the experience of making the film was Universal's hamfisted production of an extended cut for television. The extended version contains several interesting scenes left out of the Lynch cut, but the overall movie is so badly put together, with unfinished effects and repeated use of shots. Lynch understandably removed his name from this version, substituting "Alan Smithee" for his directorial credit and "Judas Booth" (testifying to his feelings of betrayal) for his writing credit.

And so, for years, Dune has remained one of those "what if" titles, and each subsequent DVD release of it around the world is quickly analyzed and chewed over by die-hards online. When word leaked that Universal was trying to get Lynch to piece together something resembling his preferred version, many fans, while skeptical to say the least, held out some tiny hope that it would happen. Needless to say, Lynch decided against working on the film again, but Universal has provided something no one expected, which is a widescreen version of the disdained television cut, in addition to presenting some deleted scenes on video for the first time. If anything, Universal should be lauded for this decision, as it will allow fans to have fun putting together their own ideal versions of the film, something some are no doubt already working on. The billing of this release as the "extended edition" may lead the unititiated to assume the longer version is the better one, but that is not the case.

Adapted from Frank Herbert's classic novel, Dune manages to encapsulate the basic plotline of the book well enough, with some Lynchian additions and an ending that rather goes against Herbert's original intentions. The story's plot was considered complex enough that Universal supplied audiences with a glossary sheet when the film was in its initial release (something they have done with this release as well). I still recall being bewildered at a film I had to read an explanation sheet for prior to viewing, but I don't recall being especially confused by what was going on. What was going on (as simply as possible) is the struggle over the planet Arrakis, where a critical spice, known as melange, is exclusively produced. The Harkonnens (one of the aristocratic "houses" of the universe) have been the caretakers of the planet, but that duty is being passed to House Atreides, a plan set in motion by the Emperor (Jose Ferrer) in order to facilitate the destruction of the Atreides, who he feels are becoming a threat to his power. Mixed into that is a women's religious sect, the Bene Gesserit, who have been secretly manipulating aristocratic breeding to produce a so-called "super being," the Kwisatz Haderach, whom they will control. Paul Atreides (Kyle Maclachlan), son of the Atreides leader, catches the Bene Gesserit's interest, but before anything can be done about him, the Emperor and the Harkonnens have sprung their trap, and the Atreides look to be destroyed. Paul and his mother Jessica (Francesca Annis), a member of the Bene Gesserit herself, escape to the deserts of Arrakis, where they take up with the secret power of Arrakis: the Fremen, a race of desert dwellers awaiting a long-prophecied messiah. Becoming their leader, Paul sets in motion a plan to gain revenge for his father's death and become that which he is destined to be.

I suppose, looking at that greatly abbreviated summary, I can see why some find the movie bewildering, reduced as it is from the source novel. Lynch uses narration and carefully placed expository dialogue to make things as easy to understand as possible, and to my mind, it works very well. It's not a perfect film, suffering from the loss of footage cut to make the film shorter, as can clearly be seen from material included in the extended cut and deleted scenes. Still, what is here works extremely well most of time. Lynch creates a universe that feels recognizable yet still alien, with unique touches to heighten the strangeness. If there's an area in which the film doesn't hold up today, it's in the effects shots, which look pretty cheesy on occasion, compared to the sophistication of what we see today.

A good part of the pleasure I have in watching Dune comes in the performances. Kyle MacLachlan, in his first major role, is impressive as the young Paul, slowly making the journey from callow if intelligent young man to hardened leader. There are so many other enjoyable performances that it would take too much space to single them out, but Kenneth McMillan's relish in playing the Baron Harkonnen is palpable, and hugely fun to watch. The Harknonnens are little better than cartoon villains, but they're great to watch. Patrick Stewart made for an excellent Gurney Hallack, and his extra scenes in the extended version are classic ("They will come, all of them, for violence"). One of the other successes of the film is its art direction, with some remarkable set and costume designs. The designs of the worms are likewise impressive, even if the effects are not always perfect to the modern eye.

Added to this release is the extended cut of the film made for television screenings. To say it's a failure is blunt but true. Seemingly slapped together by uncaring hands, this version of the film clumsily inserts cut footage back into the film, and tries to explain some of the backstory from the book through the use of lame illustrations and a portentous narrator, replacing Virginia Madsen's stylish narration from the theatrical cut. The extended cut has use in that it contains several interesting scenes cut from the theatrical version, which expand the story and some characters. Duke Leto, for example, is seen in a much more forceful leadership role, giving a better indication of what kind of a man and leader he was. And the death of Kynes (Max Von Sydow) makes more sense when we see that he had joined the Atreides, something we never learned in the theatrical cut. On the other hand, the extended cut removes material presumably considered too nasty for television, like the Baron's murder of a young man. Positives and negatives of the story aside, however, the film is poorly put together, with unfinished effects and recycled shots, not to mention some poor re-looping. And did I mention the horrible narration and lame space art? I did? It bears repeating, because it's that bad. Overall, it's something of a mess, but worth one viewing, if you haven't seen it, for the new footage. To be honest, I would have preferred the new footage provided by itself, minus the actual extended cut.

The end question must be: is this worth purchasing? If you're a Dune fan (and I mean the movie, not the book) and you aren't multi-region capable, then by all means. With the anamorphic enhancement of the theatrical cut, deleted scenes, further excised footage in the newly anamorphic extended cut, and the brief but informative extras, you'll get your money's worth. If you're a stickler for video quality, you may wish to hold out for the inevitable HD release, assuming you're an early adopter. This is not a perfect release (the use of a DVD-18 alone makes this problematic—see next paragraph), but it's going to be good enough for most.

One last note about the disc itself. Universal persists in using DVD-18s, despite consumers having many problems with discs freezing up and otherwise not working as advertised. I was fortunate enough to not have any issues with the review copy I received, but multiple DVD site bulletin boards are already fuming with complaints about faulty playback of this disc. So be forewarned, watch the entire disc as soon as you can and save your receipt.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: While there was seemingly a new release of Dune on DVD every few months somewhere in the world, I held off purchasing any of them until the recent French R2 release, which features stunning video quality, albeit paired with the obligatory PAL speedup concerns on the soundtrack. With this release, I hoped to see the excellent sound of the first R1 release coupled with a definitive image transfer. Sadly, that hasn't happened. The image quality on this disc certainly isn't abysmal, but considering the French disc and recent HD broadcasts of the film, it does come as a letdown. Duller and less colorful than the French disc, this transfer suffers from digital noise at times, and from dirt and speckling.

Image Transfer Grade: B
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is fairly good, but doesn't blow the doors off. It has some nice moments though. A French 2.0 track is also hand, but I did not sample it.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
11 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
4 Featurette(s)
Packaging: other
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photographic gallery
  2. insert with Dune glossary
Extras Review: The major value of this release for some will come in the extras. Most anticipated by me were the 11 deleted scenes (17m:18s). Unfortnately, they are not presented in anamorphic widescreen, but are letterboxed within the 4:3 frame. Of significance to the theatrical version are two sequences cut from the final scene, including Thufir Hawat's death and Paul's announcement he would take Irulan as wife after becoming emperor. Both flesh out the finale, and in the case of Hawat's death, provides closure for that character as well as making Paul's sudden calling out of Feyd understandable, since we now see Feyd ordering Hawat to kill Paul prior to the knife fight between them. Otherwise, the remainder of the deleted footage included here is a mixed bag; some scenes are extensions of material already in one of the cuts; an extended version of Irulan's opening narration was very interesting to see, for example.

Following these are four production featurettes. First is Designing Dune (08m:54s), which discusses the international makeup of the design crew, and features numerous drawing and sketches, some by Lynch. Special Effects (06m:01s), which interviews Kit West and several other members of the crew who handled those chores. Plenty of footage of the filming and behind-the-scenes pictures are included. It's quite interesting and worth watching, despite being too short. The same goes for the next featurette, Models and Miniatures (07m:02s), which I found quite fascinating. Among the topics discussed is the challenge in making the worms. Finally, Wardrobe (04m:50s) looks at the plethora of costuming issues raised by the film, including the making of the still suits, and the gruesome revelation that the outfits of the Guild Navigators were made from used body bags, a fact wisely concealed from the actors in question.

Last are two galleries, the first a photographic one that includes numerous behind-the-scenes shots and a nice collection of production design art. The other gallery is a step-through collection of text screens relating information about the book and the film. Not tremedously essential but newcomers will find some interesting material here.

While the featurettes are interesting, the one area in which the extras fall short is the abject lack of anything from the actors. The British DVD of the film included a retrospective documentary on the film with actor interviews; why couldn't this or something like it be included here? Given its troubled history, a recap would have been welcome. Perhaps they're saving it for the next gen release? The upshot for this release is that there is some good stuff here, but some missed opporntunities as well.

There's an insert that details the disc's contents on one side, and explains some of the terms used in the film on the other. This is reasonably helpful, but some terms use other undefined terms within them, which might lead to further confusion by some. A nice idea, though. And, finally, the packaging deserves a mention. Instead of the typical keepcase, Universal has put the film in an attractively designed metal case with a plastic liner for the storage of the disc. It looks classy and is a nice touch.

Extras Grade: B
 

Final Comments

Though many will continue to belittle the film, I find it a remarkable achievement and one of the best science fiction films of the 1980s. This new release from Universal is both a pleasure and a disappointment. The special features include some interesting material, though as a fan I would have preferred more, obviously. The inclusion of the otherwise awful extended version in widescreen was a nice touch, but the overall video quality of the theatrical version remains questionable. So the wait continues for the definitive release of Dune, but fans will find this release worth picking up, certainly so if they only own the old Region 1 release.

Jeff Wilson 2006-02-13