I went into Dune thinking I would see something the critics were missing – I mean, how could the director of Eraserhead and The Elephant Man direct a complete dud? – and… it’s so over-the-top, it manages to not be awful.
The Lynch love of dream sequences, moons, and faces in the sky is all here, and it has Eraserhead’s queasy body horror in the villainous Baron Harkonnen, who is so deliberately diseased, vile and pantomime camp, I can’t decide if he is the worst or best part of the film. Sting does inject some actual menace, but then he appears comically greased and almost naked in a winged cod piece, to his father the Baron’s perverse delight, and spoils it.
Having said that, there is plenty to enjoy in the baroque and sometimes surreal visuals, and a few performances are excellent, especially Max von Sydow as Doctor Kynes, the Fremen liason, and Francesca Annis as Lady Jessica. But the plot is a real mess, and the final half hour is painful.
Lynch wrote seven drafts of the screenplay, his final three-hour cut from the final draft was slashed to two hours at the insistence of producer Dino De Laurentiis, and scenes had to be reshot to make sense of it all. He still declines to talk about the film in interviews. The film bombed, and when Lynch in later life talked about the importance of keeping control of the final cut, he must surely be referring to his time with Dune.