Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

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Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby Jodorowsky's Acolyte » 24 Feb 2012 00:47

Out of nostalgic interests, I thought that JACURUTU might find this old review of DUNE by one of the titans of film criticism to be of interest. I don't agree with all that Ebert has to say, and I kind of find some of his reviews to be unnecessarily arrogant, presumptive, and sometimes reactionary. For the films that do suck, I like it when he's like that, but for films aren't really that bad (i.e. FULL METAL JACKET, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, BLUE VELVET, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, and GLADIATOR) he gets kind of weird in his reviews. I'll get to my quips about this review at the end.


http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19840101/REVIEWS/401010332/1023

Release Date: 1984

Ebert Rating: *

By Roger Ebert Jan 1, 1984



"It's like a dream," my friend from Hollywood was explaining. "It doesn't make any sense, and the special effects are straight from the dime store but if you give up trying to understand it, and just sit back and let it wash around in your mind, it's not bad." That was not exactly a rave review for a movie that someone paid $40 million to make, but it put me into a receptive frame of mind for DUNE, the epic based on the novels by Frank Herbert. I was even willing to forgive the special effects for not being great; after all, in an era when George Lucas's STAR WARS has turned movies into high tech, why not a film that looks like a throwback to FLASH GORDON. It might be kind of fun.

It took DUNE about nine minutes to completely strip me of my anticipation. This movie is a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time. Even the color is no good; everything is seen through a sort of dusty yellow filter, as if the film was left out in the sun too long. Yes, you might say, but the action is, after all, on a desert planet where there isn't a drop of water, and there's sand everywhere. David Lean solved that problem in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, where he made the desert look beautiful and mysterious, not shabby and drab.

The movie's plot will no doubt mean more to people who've read Herbert than to those who are walking in cold. It has to do with a young hero's personal quest. He leads his people against an evil baron and tries to destroy a galaxy-wide trade in spice, a drug produced on the desert planet. Spice allows you to live indefinitely while you discover you have less and less to think about. There are various theological overtones, which are best left unexplored.
The movie has so many characters, so many unexplained or incomplete relationships, and so many parallel courses of action that it's sometimes a toss-up whether we're watching a story, or just an assembly of meditations on themes introduced by the novels (the movie is like a dream). Occasionally a striking image will swim into view: The alien brain floating in brine, for example, or our first glimpse of the giant sand worms plowing through the desert. If the first look is striking, however, the movie's special effects don't stand up to scrutiny. The heads of the sand worms begin to look more and more as if they came out of the same factory that produced Kermit the Frog (they have the same mouths). An evil baron floats through the air on trajectories all too obviously controlled by wires. The spaceships in the movie are so shabby, so lacking in detail or dimension, that they look almost like those student films where plastic models are shot against a tablecloth.

Nobody looks very happy in this movie. Actors stand around in ridiculous costumes, mouthing dialogue that has little or no context. They're not even given scenes that work on a self-contained basis; portentious lines of pop profundity are allowed to hang in the air unanswered, while additional characters arrive or leave on unexplained errands. DUNE looks like a project that was seriously out of control from the start. Sets were constructed, actors were hired; no usable screenplay was ever written; everybody faked it as long as they could. Some shabby special effects were thrown into the pot, and the producers crossed their fingers and hoped that everybody who has read the books will want to see the movie. Not if the word gets out, they won't.



The most weird thing he says is where he thinks the tri-faced worms resemble Kermit the Frog (I wonder what that would look like). In the video archive of Siskel and Ebert's review of the film, they think that Kyle Machlachlan looks like he's surfing on the worm (if he was, it's the weirdest surfing stance I have ever beheld). I did like the part where he says the film is like a dream, The ironic part of his review, where he says that the film is an “incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured pointless excursion,” is that the people who really liked it were Japanese, German, and the British. I agree with him that the desert photography of David Lean was what made LAWRENCE OF ARABIA great, but I rather love the dark dusty look of Lynch's desert photography. He overlooked a few shots of Lynch's DUNE where the desert looked beautiful. I didn't think it was THAT obvious that the Baron was being pulled by wires to me. The details for the ships are not as uninspired as he makes them out to be, even though there are shots where the Heighliners and the Emperor's ship look like 2D paintings. I'm not sure that the actors are as miserable as Ebert thinks they are (they were rather pleasant in the Sean Young home movie on the cast). The filming of the picture was chaotic and stressful, but its incomprehensible state was more the fault of the studio putting limits of the film's running time. It's true that it took many drafts for Lynch to settle on one draft he felt could be used, but the screenplay was rather good, and if he had been allowed to film it in its entirety, the film wouldn't have been as confusing as it ended up being (for non-DUNE readers, mostly).
The most thorough Lynch DUNE review I encountered was on a site I don't think exists anymore. I think it was a hosted site, that got lost after the site expired I think. It was biased in its own way, but I liked that it thoroughly compared and contrasted the book and the film.

On a side note, it turns out that Ebert thinks that WOMAN IN THE DUNES has better desert scenery than LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Perhaps that film's cinematography could serve as a template for the look of the new DUNE film?
'...all those who took part in the rise and fall of the Dune project learned how to fall one and one thousand times with savage obstinacy until learning how to stand. I remember my old father who, while dying happy, said to me: "My son, in my life, I triumphed because I learned how to fail."' -Alejandro Jodorowsky

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby Lawliet » 11 Mar 2012 18:58

Perhaps that film's cinematography could serve as a template for the look of the new DUNE film?


What new Dune film? That project was canceled 2 years ago, if i remember correctly.
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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby DuneFishUK » 11 Mar 2012 20:30

Richard P. Rubenstein has a script and a dream. Paramount dropped out, but Byron was eternally optimistic about the line of gentleman callers banging on the HLP door.

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby Sardaukar Capt » 11 Mar 2012 21:14

DuneFishUK wrote:Richard P. Rubenstein has a script and a dream. Paramount dropped out, but Byron was eternally optimistic about the line of gentleman callers banging on the HLP door.


Rubenstein holds the movie rights. Does he even need the HLP involved at all? I wouldn't think so. He just has to find a new studio and director. I think he eventually will. Hopefully he'll keep the HLP as far away as possible.
The name Atreides was also consciously chosen. It is the family name of Agamemnon. Says Herbert, "I wanted a sense of monumental aristocracy, but with tragedy hanging over them--and in our culture, Agamemnon personifies that."
Frank Herbert by Tim O'Reilly
http://tim.oreilly.com/herbert/

Ghanima said. "We Atreides go back to Agamemnon..."
Distracted, Irulan asked: "Who's Agamemnon?"

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

WTF? A BG forgets the Titans?! :)

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby JustSomeGuy » 11 Mar 2012 23:04

Sardaukar Captain wrote:Rubenstein holds the movie rights. Does he even need the HLP involved at all? I wouldn't think so. He just has to find a new studio and director. I think he eventually will. Hopefully he'll keep the HLP as far away as possible.

I hope for the best, too.
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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby Omphalos » 11 Mar 2012 23:22

Sardaukar Capt wrote:
DuneFishUK wrote:Richard P. Rubenstein has a script and a dream. Paramount dropped out, but Byron was eternally optimistic about the line of gentleman callers banging on the HLP door.


Rubenstein holds the movie rights. Does he even need the HLP involved at all? I wouldn't think so. He just has to find a new studio and director. I think he eventually will. Hopefully he'll keep the HLP as far away as possible.


That sounds like an assumption on your part. I'm personally not sure, but movie options are wierd things. It may have reverted back to the prior owner, the original owners or anyone else at this point.

I think part of the original problem is that the Herbert family permenantly sold some rights in the past, so they are no longer the party to whom any option will revert in due time. That means they don't have the right of last recourse, and some slug can just sit back and wait for Paramount to plow a gazillion dollars into a movie project and make them rich. Movie studios tend to do nothing when situations like that exist.

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby Sardaukar Capt » 12 Mar 2012 00:30

http://www.deadline.com/2011/03/paramount-ends-4-year-attempt-to-turn-frank-herberts-dune-into-film-franchise/

From what I've read here and other places the rights reverted back to Rubinstein when Paramount decided to drop out. Now it's in his court to find a studio to finance the project again.
The name Atreides was also consciously chosen. It is the family name of Agamemnon. Says Herbert, "I wanted a sense of monumental aristocracy, but with tragedy hanging over them--and in our culture, Agamemnon personifies that."
Frank Herbert by Tim O'Reilly
http://tim.oreilly.com/herbert/

Ghanima said. "We Atreides go back to Agamemnon..."
Distracted, Irulan asked: "Who's Agamemnon?"

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

WTF? A BG forgets the Titans?! :)

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby Omphalos » 12 Mar 2012 02:40

Thanks.

I still can't believe that moron thought taking Battleship would be a graceful way of getting out of Dune.

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby DuneFishUK » 12 Mar 2012 15:49

Omphalos wrote:Thanks.

I still can't believe that moron thought taking Battleship would be a graceful way of getting out of Dune.

I reckon he made the right choice - Berg is a loud populist director who wants to make loud populist films. By quitting Dune, which was never going to be released any time before 2014, he got himself a great big popcorn movie with a $200M budget (Dune was $175M) and a definite 2011/2012 release date - which lets him plan his future work (he had a fair bit already pencilled in even in the Dune days).

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby Lawliet » 13 Mar 2012 01:10

Who knows if that guy would´ve made a good Dune movie. Probably not. But i wonder, does it take a genius to make a good movie adaptation of Dune? If that´s the case, we´re screwed, and i prefer not movie at all, because there are no geniuses in Hollywood. We can only hope for an extremely talented and capable director to appear.
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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby DuneFishUK » 13 Mar 2012 06:54

Dune needs a clever writer, a good producer and a great cinematographer. A slightly more hack like director would probably do a better job at a truly faithful adaptation. I still like the idea of someone like Neil Marshall (the Descent ) a fan who was Rubenstein's first choice, but paramount vetoed.

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby ULFsurfer » 15 Mar 2012 11:58

I hope there won't be a Dune movie for a long time to come. The Crap of Dune novels need to be judged and moved into the "corner of shame" first which WILL happen although take quite a while.

I can only imagine that teenager who just saw the movie and now scouting the shelves at B&N. And... there it is! "Dune - re-released & revised by KJA". The young fingers eagerly flip through the pages and the whole store hears the loud exclamation "Wow, it's full of action, just like the movie!"

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby lotek » 15 Mar 2012 13:55

ULFsurfer wrote:I hope there won't be a Dune movie for a long time to come. The Crap of Dune novels need to be judged and moved into the "corner of shame" first which WILL happen although take quite a while.

I can only imagine that teenager who just saw the movie and now scouting the shelves at B&N. And... there it is! "Dune - re-released & revised by KJA". The young fingers eagerly flip through the pages and the whole store hears the loud exclamation "Wow, it's full of action, just like the movie!"


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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby Freakzilla » 15 Mar 2012 14:57

A KEVIN J ANDERSON
NOVELEZATION OF THE MOVIE BASED ON THE NOVEL
DUNE
by FRANK
HERBERT
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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby ULFsurfer » 15 Mar 2012 15:59

I'm starting to regret I even brought it up. We shouldn't be giving him any ideas..

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby DuneFishUK » 15 Mar 2012 16:52

ULFsurfer wrote:I hope there won't be a Dune movie for a long time to come. The Crap of Dune novels need to be judged and moved into the "corner of shame" first which WILL happen although take quite a while.

I can only imagine that teenager who just saw the movie and now scouting the shelves at B&N. And... there it is! "Dune - re-released & revised by KJA". The young fingers eagerly flip through the pages and the whole store hears the loud exclamation "Wow, it's full of action, just like the movie!"

Disagree.

Nothing that draws attention to the new novels and KJA's skill as an author can be a bad thing.

A Dune novelisation by him would be amazing! Any remaining illusion of the HLP as a caring literary guardian would be explosively shat into the wind. (Of course such an event would have to be properly 'advertised' ahead of time by a merry band of internet haters :twisted: )

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby TheDukester » 03 Apr 2012 20:25

Thanks for posting the review. I've read a lot of Ebert's stuff, but that review has eluded me.

If anything, he was far too kind. God, how I loathe the Dune movie ... what an utter POS. "Out of control" barely touches the surface.
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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby Jodorowsky's Acolyte » 03 Apr 2012 21:29

TheDukester wrote:Thanks for posting the review. I've read a lot of Ebert's stuff, but that review has eluded me.

If anything, he was far too kind. God, how I loathe the Dune movie ... what an utter POS. "Out of control" barely touches the surface.


You're welcome, TheDukester. :) I'm glad that I brought this neat piece of cinematic review history to the sietch.

I guess he is too kind, but I usually find him to have weird perceptions about a lot of movies I like. He can be surprisingly generous in some of his reviews for some films, and surprisingly hateful against others.
That's not to say I don't think Lynch's DUNE film deserves MST3K treatment: I would love it if some hardcore DUNE fans decided to gather up and do an MST3K fan skewering of the movie (with lots of DUNE oriented in-jokes. I guess it's because I used to watch the film as a child and preteen that I've got nostalgic feelings for it. The film led me to the book, and I was happy that the book contained even greater detail than the film.

I do wonder, if Lynch was able to have complete creative control over the film, if he could have gone deeper into the DUNE story without studio interference. I guess it just wasn't the right film for him to do.
Last edited by Jodorowsky's Acolyte on 01 Feb 2013 23:08, edited 1 time in total.
'...all those who took part in the rise and fall of the Dune project learned how to fall one and one thousand times with savage obstinacy until learning how to stand. I remember my old father who, while dying happy, said to me: "My son, in my life, I triumphed because I learned how to fail."' -Alejandro Jodorowsky

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby Freakzilla » 03 Apr 2012 22:12

Have you seen some of the redubs?

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby TheDukester » 04 Apr 2012 17:26

Jodorowsky's Acolyte wrote:I guess he is too kind, but I usually find him to have weird perptions about a lot of movies I like. He can be surprisingly generous in some of his reviews for some films, and surprisingly hateful against others.

He's an interesting man, and quite a talented writer. I enjoy reading his stuff, even when our thoughts don't align.
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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby Jodorowsky's Acolyte » 04 Apr 2012 21:34

I agree. He IS really interesting. I've got two volumes of his GREAT MOVIES books, and I like how he praises each of the movies. Usually his thoughts are kind of incomplete or brief, but he is a talented writer, and he makes great points about why the films he's writing about are great. Whether it's 2001, 8 1/2, Citizen Kane, The Wild Bunch, Apocalypse Now, or All About Eve, he makes his case in their support. It's amazing that this guy originally started out as a screenwriter for Russ Meyer, the famous director of films about big breasted women! :D :mrgreen:
'...all those who took part in the rise and fall of the Dune project learned how to fall one and one thousand times with savage obstinacy until learning how to stand. I remember my old father who, while dying happy, said to me: "My son, in my life, I triumphed because I learned how to fail."' -Alejandro Jodorowsky

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby gurensan » 23 Apr 2012 12:13

Freakzilla wrote:Have you seen some of the redubs?

This water tastes like ass... and dirt.


I just LOL'd explosively.
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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby jakoye » 03 Jul 2012 06:43

Roger Ebert wrote: and tries to destroy a galaxy-wide trade in spice, a drug produced on the desert planet. Spice allows you to live indefinitely while you discover you have less and less to think about.


Um, no... spice does not allow you to "live indefinitely", it merely "extends" life. This makes me suspect that he didn't read the books.

Roger Ebert wrote:There are various theological overtones, which are best left unexplored.


Why? They're part and parcel of the Dune story!

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby Crizius » 19 Sep 2012 14:11

In case you are to lazy to read

I rarely post because most of the time I feel I have nothing to add

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Re: Roger Ebert's Review of Lynch's DUNE

Postby Naïve mind » 20 Sep 2012 03:57

A very interesting thing to read. I feel the urge to dissect it, not because I think Ebert is such a bad reviewer, or because this review is so bad, but because it represents the perspective of an outsider, of someone who does not approach the movie preconditioned by reading the book.

Roger Ebert's review wrote:"It's like a dream," my friend from Hollywood was explaining. "It doesn't make any sense, and the special effects are straight from the dime store


True, and I think that David Lynch showed good restraint and taste by avoiding a reliance on special effects. Thirty years later, the movie is still visually interesting, but it's because of the carefully designed uniforms, the almost victorian-seeming wood panelled sets, the carefully designed stillsuits.

That being said, some of the special effects really are most reminiscent of 1980s Flash Gordon (not coincidentally also produced by de Laurentiis. The ornithopters in the film are lifeless triangular boxes, not the sleek, bird-like jets pictured in the book. If only they'd had a Doug Trumbull, or perhaps even ILM to help out ...

Nobody looks very happy in this movie. Actors stand around in ridiculous costumes, mouthing dialogue that has little or no context.


As evidenced by the 'Allan Smithee' cut, this is no accident. Most of the scenes cut from the film were pure, bland exposition, with piss-poor dialogue to boot. Given the choice between explaining everything and making the movie hard to comprehend and mysterious, I think Lynch was wise to choose the latter. But nevertheless, that those scenes were filmed in the first place suggests that the script was very poor to begin with.

while additional characters arrive or leave on unexplained errands.


Duncan Idaho being the most obvious example. A character in no way essential to the story, given even less to do in the movie--why wasn't he cut completely? The same could be said for Gurney Halleck. Just apart from the fact that either Patrick Stewart or the director completely botched the character, he serves no essential purpose in the movie. And so he becomes noise.

All in all, I think that any Dune movie, to present an interesting narrative, will have to make drastic cuts to the story, scrapping many scenes and plot points we (as fans of the book) find essential, many characters we hold dear. Lynch Dune tried, very hard, to stay 'true' to the book, and I hold that that, more than the bad special effects, the 'weirding modules' or the editing, was its main mistake.


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