Lynch’s “Dune”, in 1984, an extravagant, battered work, between grandiose and kitsch


While Dune, a science fiction saga imagined by novelist Frank Herbert, is about to make its big comeback under the leadership of Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, with Timothée Chalamet in the lead role, we can also look at the previous Hollywood version , produced in 1984 by a young David Lynch then aged 36, freshly crowned with the success ofElephant man.

Expensive production madness and, on arrival, a resounding oven, disowned by its own director, this first adaptation of the novel published in 1965 drags an aura of curse and has long passed Herbert’s universe as unsuitable.

Yet, seen today, the film is not without charm and beauty. Having to sift through the feature film a teeming universe, David Lynch opts for a form of esotericism, a story full of mysteries and opacities where it is not necessary to understand everything. If not the essential: the confrontation of two houses, the Atreides and the Harkonnen, for the possession of the planet Arrakis, where one collects the Spice, precious substance which ensures longevity and allows to travel in space. Paul (Kyle MacLachlan), heir to the first, discovers, in psychotropic contact with the latter, a messianic vocation with the Fremen, an indigenous people who live in the vast desert regions of the star in question, crisscrossed by giant worms. .

Organic darkness

Where Villeneuve’s film carries the all-digital banner, Lynch’s testifies to a time when Cyclopean sets were built “in hard”, where floating models, artisanal special effects and rough inlays opened up so many possibilities. breaches of the imagination. Dune 1984 is teeming in this sense of finds, of remarkable passages, which work much better in detail, in the face of its generally failing epic aim.

The logic of dreams and nightmares, thoughts (whispered in voiceover) and sensations, weaves on the spectacular costume of the film, too wide, a precious intimate and subjective hem. Geometric shields, an embryo stirring in the flanks of the queen mother, stellar vessels, sandy immensities constitute here an astonishing breviary of transcendent poetry. The whole not being devoid of an organic blackness, like the scenes which touch on Baron Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan), loathsome villain with a face studded with pustules, and his henchmen – including one played by singer Sting, who then prepares to embark on a solo career after the dissolution of his group, The Police.

If it is accepted that Dune is conceived as a “trip” carried by its planing spice, its horizon is that of a neo-Orientalism typical of the 1980s. Its fable with ecological and new age accents can indeed be understood as that of the sick West coming to regenerate in contact with the Orient and its mysticism. Extravagant, battered work, oscillating between grandiose and kitsch, Dune believes above all in the magic of images, of which he orchestrates a sort of illuminated fair. A good reason to rediscover it.

Dune, by David Lynch. With Kyle MacLachlan, Sean Young, Francesca Annis, Sting, Max von Sydow (EU-Mexico, 1984, 137 min). TCM Cinema on myCanal.

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