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Dune (1984) Blu-ray review: Dir. David Lynch [Arrow Films]

With Denis Villenueve‘s Dune set to be released this October, read our exclusive IMAX Preview review here, Arrow Video have taken the opportunity to release a new 4K remaster of the ill-fated previous adaptation of Frank Herbert’s influential sci-fi novel. David Lynch’s Dune is perhaps not too fondly remembered, but thanks to the popularity of the source material, the film’s auteur writer/director and the sheer ambition of the motion picture, it has become something of a cult classic, worth of re-visitation all these years later.

I have to say up front that I’ve never read Dune, although the upcoming Villenueve film looks incredibly exciting as both a big sci-fi movie fan and as someone who really liked both Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. I’ve never really gotten into Lynch’s filmography, but the idea that the eccentric filmmaker had attempted his own version in 1984 was certainly intriguing.

Dune doesn’t quite get off to the best start though, with mountains of exposition dumped on the audience by Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen), a character who ends up having no real involvement in the rest of the narrative. Most of the film’s first act features this cumbersome approach, and never really manages to introduce any of the key characters particularly well. From then on, the film is simply rushing from plot point-to-point, with no real interest in developing the complex themes and ideas in the story, or in making anyone in the ensemble cast feel vaguely three-dimensional. Kyle MacLachlan takes a solid stab at being the film’s central hero, but this version of Paul is hardly compelling, and to say that his romance with Chani (Sean Young) is half-baked would be an overstatement; the two barely share a single conversation with one another. It may be 137 minutes long, yet Dune still feels too short, with some incredibly jarring cuts throughout, hurting the overall pace and making the story seem almost incoherent. It’s as if we’re not seeing whole scenes but a highlights reel of a much better film.

Having said all of that, Dune is not a complete failure. The film consistently looks great, with some stellar production and costume design work, some impressive (if often dated) visual effects work, and a great sense of scope. David Lynch may not be proud of the film but he pulled together an extraordinary production, marred only by some terrible editing decisions. Toto’s score is great, the action sequences are really quite something for 1984 and there’s some really fun performances from members of the cast. All of the Harkonen actors (including Sting) are clearly having a ball as OTT bad guys, while Patrick Stewart brings an enormous amount of gravitas to his small role as Gurney – not to mention the moment in which he charges into battle with a pug in his arms. Often, the film feels a bit too overwhelming, too colourful, too over-ambitious, yet somehow it’s always an interesting watch, with plenty of fun to be had. From the looks of it, Villenueve’s film will have a completely different approach to the story, making both big screen iterations of Dune entirely unique entities. If you are curious about Lynch’s Dune, I do recommend watching it – if only to see just how utterly bonkers it is.

For this new Blu-ray release, Dune is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with optional 2.0 and 5.1 sound mixes. The picture quality was very good, with some nice details brought out from the new 4K remaster, and it still retains its original filmic appearance, with no annoying noise reduction. I’m not sure if some of the blue-screen work was cleaned up slightly for this release, although given how obvious the lines around the actors are, I’d say not, which will please purists. Arrow have also produced a 4K UHD Blu-ray version, complete with a Dolby Vision presentation. Fans can purchase Limited Edition versions of the Blu-ray and 4K sets, as well as a Zavvi exclusive steelbook and deluxe steelbook editions.

The Blu-ray also features 60-page perfect-bound book, a large double-sided poster featuring artwork by Dániel Taylor (whose work is also featured on a reversible sleeve), as well as some brand new special features including commentaries by film historian Paul M. Sammon and Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast, Beyond Imagination: Merchandising Dune, a featurette exploring the merchandise created to promote the film, Prophecy Fulfilled: Scoring Dune, a featurette on the film’s score, and an interview with make-up effects artist Giannetto de Rossi. Unfortunately the planned documentary The Sleeper Must Awaken: Making Dune was cancelled earlier in the year, much to the disappointment of fans. Whether or not this extra will see the light of day, it’s hard to say.

Overall, Arrow Film’s new release of Dune is certainly an impressive set for fans of the Lynch film, collecting together a whole host of special features from earlier releases as well as some new and exclusive extras; the new cover artwork looks fantastic, while the picture restoration on the Blu-ray looks very good (I’d be intrigued to see how it looks in full 4K, HDR). The film may be something of a mixed bag, but Arrow have certainly provided a great Blu-ray release for this cult classic.

Dune is released on 30 August and available to pre-order now.

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