Arrow Heads #88: DUNE 4K

David Lynch’s flawed but fascinating adaptation has never been more resplendent than this new UltraHD release

Arrow Heads — UK-based Arrow Films has quickly become one of the most exciting and dependable names in home video curation and distribution, creating gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging, and bursting with supplemental content, often of their own creation. From cult and genre fare to artful cinema, this column is devoted to their weird and wonderful output.

Dune (1984)has always struck me as the Marmite of movies, you either love it or you hate it. A constrained adaptation of a revered (and often considered unfilmable) text. Certainly flawed in its script and construct, hampered by a vision not met by the technology of the time. But, it holds an undeniable allure. A blockbuster epic, but one dealing with complex themes of religion and ecology, free-will and fate, politics and power, and brought to life by David Lynch (The Elephant Man, Eraserhead, Twin Peaks). Of course it wasn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Even if you dislike it, you can’t help but feel admiration for the fact that it not only takes a swing at such a dense story, but that it actually exists. With a new Dune movie on the horizon from auteur Denis Villeneuve (Enemy, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) approaching, Arrow Video’s timing for this new 4K release seems perfectly timed for us to revisit Lynch’s vision.

It’s the year 10,191. The known Universe is ruled by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV. The spice Melange is the most important substance that exists. It extends life, fuels the prophetic abilities of a dominant religious order, and facilitates intergalactic travel. The Spacing Guild wields phenomenal power, even over the Emperor himself. Their mutated navigators able to fold space and glimpse the future, one they seek to control. Above all else, the spice must flow.

Melange is only found on one planet, Arrakis, also known as Dune. A dry, desolate place, where storms and giant worms make the mining operations a perilous affair. A plot emerges from the Emperor to take down the increasingly popular Duke Leto, head of House Atreides, by charging him with governing the planet , taking over from the previous rulers, and longstanding enemies, House Harkonnen. Taking control, Leto is aware of a looming doom that comes with his ascent. His son Paul (Kyle MacLachlan) finds that his arrival also coincides with the cumulation of a a plan thousands of years in the making by the Bene Gesserit religious order, to breed a messianic figure. Surrounded by treachery, as well as religious and political maneuvering, he finds sanctuary and a personal connection to the prophecy of the native inhabitants of Arrakis, the Fremen. Together, push back against the ingrained order of the galaxy and free Dune from its oppressors and exploiters.

Frank Herbert’s bestselling sci-fi epic Dune is a dense tome. Layers, imbued with history, culture, and detail. A story burgeoning over with roots in thousands of years of buildup, and one that would continue on with a series of further novels. Adaptation is an unenviable task. First (famously) attempted by Alejandro Jodorowsky (The Hold Mountain, El Topo) in the 1970s, that aborted attempt has been well chronicled in the superb documentary from Frank Pavich’s, Jodorowsky’s Dune. A verdant and insanely ambitious project, looking to adapt the story using the talents of Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, David Carradine, Mick Jagger, and Pink Floyd, as well as creatives such as HR Giger, Chris Foss, Moebius, Jean Giraud, and Dan O’Bannon. After its collapse, Dino De Laurentiis and his producer daughter Raffaella obtained the rights, and brought in up and coming director David Lynch to helm a new interpretation. Heads butted, a three hour saga became a 137 minute effort, and Lynch chose never to work in a studio guided picture ever again.

In the aftermath of Star Wars, and studio efforts to craft new sci-fi saga, Dune is frankly too dense, detailed, and dour to paint in such a light. A New Hope is essentially a romp about a farm boy rescuing a Princess from a castle. Dune is about the elevation of a man to God-hood, while touching on religion, colonialism, ecology, racial and sexual equality, and more. The execution is hampered by structure, cuts, editing, and technological limitations of the time. Voiceovers and exposition, inner monologues to help propel the film forward, explain what the hell is going on, or to try and convey motives of thousands of years of political maneuvering and power plays. On top of this, we have an additional layer of Lynch’s particular brand of creativity, which some will love (it me), and some will sit less easily with. Dune is very dry (no pun intended), characters have little warmth or relatability (save Patrick Stewart and his pug). A kinky, perverse vibe permeates proceedings especially in all matters Harkonen. Production and design choices speak to advanced technology, but are rooted in eclectic designs and props clearly lifted from the 80s.

It all sounds negative and daunting, but there is something alluringly enigmatic about it all. Even as it is clunky, the sense of grandeur and scope shine through when it counts. Visuals are weird and wonderful, from the hallucinogenic sequences with guild navigators to the looming sense of scale that comes from the brilliant deployment of miniatures and matte paintings. Harvesters dwarfed by sandworms, spaceships dwarfed by carrying vessels, people diminished by the looming architecture around them. You truly feel a sense of scale, not just visually, but like you are getting a small part of a larger picture. A rewatch pointed me at the bookshelf to take down my copy of Herbert’s tome to take a deeper dive into this universe. Lynch’s effort is undeniably compromised, but it makes up for it with creativity.

The Package

The main reason we’re all here is of course the 4K presentation of the film Arrow have delivered another stonking UltraHD release. A brand new restoration from the original negative, detail is extremely fine, allowing new appreciation of matte paintings, sets, props, detail on the stillsuits, and more. Colors are bright and intense where intended. Deep hues, with an impressive range to the palettes, and the blacks too. The transfer feels very dynamic and vibrant. A fine layer of natural grain hangs over the film, pretty consistent throughout. I noticed a few small flaws/blotches in three scenes, but they were only briefly evident and did not detract from anything on screen, this aside, it looks pristine. If you want to see a better representation of the step-up in quality, my colleague Austin took a nice look at the Blu-ray version here, comparing it to the previous release. Dune has always been a beautiful-looking film, but it has never looked this immaculate.

The film is presented in a package that includes the film and a few associated items in a hard card slipcase. Within is a booklet that contains essays and info on the films productions, interviews with several members of the crew, notably one with Lynch that is well worth a read, and a glossary of terms from the film. There is also a large double sided poster with OG promo imge on one side, and the new artwork by Dániel Taylor on the other. Finally, there are six lobby card reproductions.

Extra Features Disc 1 (4K):

  • Brand new audio commentary by film historian Paul M. Sammon: Sammon is noted as a film historian, but he actually draws form personal experience as someone involved with the films production down in Mexico. Heading up filming for the behind the scenes footage. It’s a very frank commentary, talking troubles of the production, the conflicts between the cast and crew, most notably the issues with Lynch and the De Laurentiis family. But his affection for the film and his experience shines though, especially in regards to David Lynch and some of the other creative talents. Not very succinct, but worth a listen
  • Brand new audio commentary by Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast: An enthusiastic commentary from someone clearly embedded in the Dune universe
  • Impressions of Dune, a 2003 documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with star Kyle MacLachlan, producer Raffaella de Laurentiis, cinematographer Freddie Francis, editor Antony Gibbs and many others: A fairly solid doc with contributions from all the notable names (except Lynch), but its an effort that feels a little cut short
  • Designing Dune, a 2005 featurette looking back at the work of production designer Anthony Masters:
  • Dune FX, a 2005 featurette exploring the special effects in the film:
  • Dune Models & Miniatures, a 2005 featurette focusing on the model effects in the film:
  • Dune Costumes, a 2005 featurette looking at the elaborate costume designs seen in the film:
  • Eleven deleted scenes from the film, with a 2005 introduction by Raffaella de Laurentiis: Here’s your missing footage, and thankfully some commentary about why scenes were cut, and how they were ‘replaced’
  • Destination Dune, a 1983 featurette originally produced to promote the film at conventions and publicity events: Some really cool behind the scenes footage in here, with connection to the Sammon audio commentary above
  • Theatrical trailers and TV spots:
  • Extensive image galleries, including hundreds of still photos:

Extra Features Disc 1 (Blu-ray):

  • Beyond Imagination: Merchandising Dune, a brand new featurette exploring the merchandise created to promote the film, featuring toy collector/producer Brian Sillman (The Toys That Made Us): Considering the serious and heady fare, its amusing to see the merch efforts launched to complement the film
  • Prophecy Fulfilled: Scoring Dune, a brand new featurette on the film’s music score, featuring interviews with Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro, and film music historian Tim Greiving: Having been humming the score all week, I can attest it rips. Great to see a featurette on how it was put together
  • Brand new interview with make-up effects artist Giannetto de Rossi, filmed in 2020:
  • Archive interview with production coordinator Golda Offenheim, filmed in 2003:
  • Archive interview with star Paul Smith, filmed in 2008:
  • Archive interview with make-up effects artist Christopher Tucker:

There is no extended version (the TV cut) of the film on this set, which is something that many fans had hoped for, even if Lynch famously stripped his name from it.. It adds some redundant scenes back and isn’t necessarily a ‘better’ version of the film, but for completions sake, it would have been nice to have. The other slight gripe is that the initial announcement about the release included a new documentary, The Sleeper Must Awaken. That now is only available on the German release of the film. Considering the reported contributions to that effort, it does sting a bit that it couldn’t be included.

The Bottom Line

Sci-fi can be fun escapism, but it can (and at times should) be provocative and challenging. David Lynch’s Dune certainly that. Certainly flawed, it is also fascinating, creative, and wildly ambitious. Returning to Dune in 4K is a treat, and Arrow have put together a hell of a package to celebrate Lynch’s swing at a blockbuster epic.

Dune is available via Arrow Video on 4K or Blu-ray, from August 31st

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